Soapbox: publisher's perspective |

Media, Journalism and the Future of Truth

Soapbox: Publisher's Perspective | 14 October 2021

The recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists is far more important than we all perhaps understand. Filipino-American Maria Ressa and Russian Dmitry Muratov got the prize for fearlessly reporting facts in two countries where the leaders are far from happy with any public criticism. Well done to you - and thousands of other real working journalists who literally risk their lives to bring the public-that’s us-the actual truth.

Now let’s combine that with what appears to be an unrelated story but in fact is totally relevant. Former facebook employee Frances Haugen revealed that the tech giants all use algorithms to skew readers to the highest response rate stories, whether or not they were ethical, moral, or even true.

If we then look at the economics of this whole scenario, you will see that:

• Media exists because of advertising revenues.

• Major companies have moved, en masse, to digital platforms because they target and deliver clear demographics.

• Old style media pay reporters and editors to uncover facts and write meaningful and well researched stories, whether or not they are are ‘popular’ or fly in the face of political expediency.

• The new media, the digital giants, rely on the old media for real stories - usually without paying them since they come as part of their massive reader generated content which is honestly 99 percent unproven opinion. They push out the most popular content to get the highest stats and sell those to the advertisers who lap it up and pay them, wait for it, US$ 300 Billion a year in ad sales, making them the most successful media in history, without even having serious reporters on board. Brilliant for business, bad for society.

But here is your dilemma and the challenge for the world’s biggest advertisers: Coca Cola, Toyota, Unilever, etc, do they continue to fund the tech giants in order to increase their sales knowing that the platforms they directly finance, are at best irresponsible and at worst deliberately unethical and immoral, feeding lies to their subscribers, in order to attract more advertising? A vicious cycle if ever there was one.

Why is it your dilemma? Because you are the people who (a) buy their products (b) are part of the billions on the tech platforms creating that demand.

So here is the lose-lose scenario:

• The old media, like us, are losing the battle with the tech giants, but it is only us who are dedicated to the truth, despite the ranting of Donald Trump labelling us as ‘fake news’. He was part of the rot, ironically.

• The tech giants, motivated only by profit, with no regards for people or planet, bombard consumers with whatever hits their ‘sweet spot’, fake or not.

• The advertisers, driven only by profit (heard that before?) give all their money to the tech giants to ensure their brands hit the demographic they seek, without researching exactly what content they are featured alongside.

• The public, sadly, are under the impression that feeds on the major platforms are curated in some way, but they are not, there are only specific regulations on hate-crimes, porn, sexism etc in place, and the occasional “fact check’, so they continue to trawl the airwaves believing far too much, while the old boring, fact-based broad sheets lie discarded, trampled by the feet of the world’s billionaires.

So – wonderfully - the Nobel Committee recognised and brought to our attention two people who have been fighting for the truth, but for the majority of the 4 billion daily digital surfers, that simply doesn’t seem to matter. Nor does it matter to the world’s biggest brands.

 

Does it matter to you? Because if it does, we need to do something about it now or you may never see another politically unpopular fact reported again, leaving the world’s bullies to lie unchecked and that is how wars start. Be very careful.