Tag Archives: Filter bubble

New Media Didn’t Kill the Press, Corporates Did!!

I can clearly recall sitting in a lecture center at the University at Albany. It was the fall of 1989, my 11th and final year as an undergraduate (for those of you who are interested in that story, I’m available for a drink at any time). We had a guest lecturer in our Political Science class and while most students wanted to talk about the revolutionary events that were unfolding in Europe, Lee Mirngoff was trying to tell the 200 students in the room that there was something else happening that deserved their attention.

What Professor Miringoff was trying to tell us was that the ongoing and acceleration of media mergers and takeovers especially of newspapers and television networks would have far reaching implications about how we got our information. More importantly he cautioned that the incentives of non-media companies owning news outlets would create not only a focus on profit over quality of reporting but that these large corporations just might have incentives for suppressing or ignoring certain stories.

This was the era when Westinghouse was buying CBS, General Electric was buying NBC, and Disney was buying ABC. It was almost 10 years before Internet access was common. Heck, cable cost about $15 per month! The rational behind these mergers and the consolidation of the print news industry was that there were limited ways to distribute information and the means of production were expensive. No one saw any anti-trust issues as it appeared that options for citizens to receive news were increasing rather than decreasing.

Of course some 25 years later, here we are. We live in a nation that lurches from crisis to crisis and many Americans seem to wonder why we have more information on Lindsay Lohan than on Lindsay Graham. While many argue that Web 2.0 and the new methods of publishing have destroyed the business model for news, I argue that the traditional news media sewed the seeds of their own destruction well in advance.

Certainly new technology went a long way to destroying existing business models. But lets not forget that the reaction to the Internet of many news companies was a combination of disbelief and/or lets just charge for our service on the web. Of course, most corporate entities did what they typically do best. Lets try to do more with more. The Wall Street Journal, owned by the great journalist, Rupert Murdoch, in a ten year period doubled the amount of stories published while reducing staff.

What suffered? The very thing that made news special in the first place, investigative reporting. In a free society, the Fourth Estate (the press to those of you under 40) has an essential duty to keep government and other institutions honest. Doing this well takes time and effort. As reporters were required to write more and more stories, the time they had to investigate diminished. Whether they were reporting on a drug bust, a cat in a tree, or the 2008 financial crisis, reporters became more dependent on official sources and less dependent on sources that may have shed light on why the official sources were not exactly forthcoming. If you don’t believe me, open up any news paper not named the New York Times and tell me what percentage of stories are filed by that newspapers own reporters and how much says “from wire services”. As for television news, try to watch 30 minutes and then tell me how much time is not devoted to commercials and human interest stories.

While I am sure that this is somewhat reflective of filling audience wants, I can not help but wonder how much real investigative reporting goes undone because of resource issues or because the story would not fit the owners corporatist agenda.

So while it is clear that new media has disrupted the old models of journalism, it is also clear that the seeds of destruction were sewn well in advance.

What is the Future of News? First, do Americans care about the crusading reporter? I know that I do and I believe that many of my friends do as well.

Perhaps those of us who care need to take a multi pronged approach, much like Jay Rosen discusses in the Columbia Journalism Review article, Confidence Game.  Anyone and everyone can be a reporter. All you need to do is the work. Publishing is free. So if you get the story, it will be heard. Also, we need to find a way to secure the sites that do produce quality reporting. So whether it’s the New York Times, the Guardian, or the local guy who reports on your town’s mayor, pay for the service. Heck, pay someone that you don’t agree with for his or her service too.

Lastly, read and listen to as much news as you can and remember, always be aware of the dreaded Filter Bubble!!!

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How do I Coopt my Enemies and Stay out of Trouble?

My decision to attend the Kennedy School was part of a long transition that is focused on doing SOMETHING that would enrich someone other than myself. I hoped (and still hope that) I would learn the necessary skills, to motivate, organize, and drive groups of people to action. This is actually something that I was highly effective at during my career in finance. Of course, the tools and motivations were much different in that realm than in my new chosen world of advocacy and action for the public good.

Presently, I am in the process of taking classes that will help my transition including Strategic Management of NGO’s, Science of Behavioral Change, and of course Power and Politics in the Digital Age. While I am learning a lot about what I need to do, I am also learning quite a bit about the challenges that I face.

These challenges primarily are in 2 areas. First, how can I express my true views and still get interest and buy in from people who don’t exactly share my view. While I like to think that I am reasonable and principled, I am aware that I can be aggressive and impatient.  I also know that I read the New York Times and live in Brookline, Ma, two facts that put me in a very distinct category!! Interestingly, I force myself to read the WSJ and watch Fox News just to see what the other side thinks. The point is, that I have always lived inside a “Filter Bubble”. Of course, I never had any idea how airtight that bubble was until now.

What is a Filter Bubble? Its when online providers, everyone from Google to Amazon, to Facebook give you information based on your previous activity on the net. Its big businesses attempt to target information to you in order to maximize sales. While it has the benefit of making the sheer volume of information on the web manageable, it has the effect of making YOUR decisions for YOU. Most of you don’t know this but you should and it should scare you. Basically every click you make is noted, stored, categorized, and given back to you on future searches.

I know that this scares me because it is yet one more way in which my privacy is invaded. This is the second challenge that I (we) face. Everything I do and say on the internet I assume will be monitored and more importantly, RETAINED for an unknown period of time by not only my government which I don’t always trust, but by many corporations who not only sell information to each other for commercial purposes, but to our governments. For those of us who remember the day when we said, wrote about or took photos of things that we wouldn’t want our mothers to see, those days are over. Anything that you or someone else posts about you is in the public domain forever.

For some one like me that has views that are somewhat anti-institution, the risks could be significant. How difficult would it be to alter my credit score or to alter the balances in my bank accounts? How difficult would it be for some one to create stories about me in order to discredit me and my ideas? The answer is, not very!!  Although we don’t have material evidence of this behavior in the United States, governments around the world use the Internet to propagate their views and discredit those of their perceived opposition. This is especially true in places like China and the Middle East. While I actually would like to believe that the Internet and social media are the great equalizers to corporate and government power, this is not the case.

I perceive that in order to be a successful agent for change, I will need to be a bridger. That is someone who can both create a message that is neither left nor right and someone who can use social media tools to reach out to people who aren’t just like me demographically. I will need to break out of the over educated, East Coast, affluent world to find people who while looking different share the same concerns about our great nation and where WE want it to go.

If I am successful at this, there is no doubt that I will incur risk from the institutions that I seek to weaken or alter. I’m not sure that there’s much I can do to protect myself from this as much of my life is already out there.  This is not something that I am concerned about. You can be certain that I am concerned about the digital world that my children are growing up in. You can also be certain that this is a topic of conversation at the dinner table EVERY night. Hopefully my daughters will use these tools to THEIR advantage while retaining as much of their privacy as possible.