The Future Of Online Journalism

We’re Going To Break Format Again Today, Since One Of The Chaos Report’s Editors Spent Last Week At An International Digital Journalism Conference In Korea, And Wants To Talk About It. (We Still Have The Day’s Headlines For You At The Bottom)…

 Not Surprisingly, A Lot Of Time Was Spent Discussing Distrust Of Mainstream Media And “Fake News”

There was a lot more talk about how to fix what’s perceived as broken, than how to innovate going forward.

Representatives from Google and the Korean portal giant Naver (which controls an even bigger share of its home market), were downright defensive, and seemed genuinely frustrated. Part of which we understand: we’re sure this focus on “fixes” is keeping a lot of innovation out of the pipeline. But slowing the pace may not be a bad thing right now. Sometimes you need to take a step back especially when wrestling with platforms, technologies and issues that have very much shaped the world recently, inarguably at least partly in a very negative way.

And hey, at least they were there, and Google at least is actively participating in efforts to educate and work more closely with journalists. However, really good journalism: journalism which leads an audience to question, to feel, to seek out deeper understanding and multiple viewpoints remains fundamentally antithetical to their business model (Facebook even moreso): which strive to keep people in ever-narrowing tribes in order to maximize the targeting they can provide to advertisers.

Working to truly broaden their audience’s horizons at the very least confuses this model, and it probably needs to be disrupted entirely to reach a level we as journalists would be comfortable with. But we are finally seeing some acknowledgement and effort.



What’s Your Best News Source? You!

Another interesting aspect at the event, where we were hosted by the Korea Press Foundation, was something we’ve talked a lot about since the Presidential election in the US: while the internet makes it far easier to disseminate disreputable and misleading information, it also provides users with unprecedented tools to dig down and decide for themselves. As we like to say (in fact, we just said it above): “What’s your best news source? You!” A presentation by Iain Martin of Storyful, pointed to simple ways of going about doing that. And there are a surprisingly large number of off-the-shelf tools–most of which are free–that can provide a user with help determining the validity of various types of content. The problem being not many users have heard of many of them.

We intend to help address this by spending some time in the next several weeks introducing you to some of these tools, so you can at least play with them and assess if they have real value to you. So stay tuned for that…



What Really Jumped Out At Us And Some Predictions: A Shift From Where The News Is From To Who The News Is From

We think publications themselves will become less and less important as people increasingly seek out individual journalists and influencers instead. That will give over even more power to portals: we feel one in particular is poised to benefit the most.

We live part of the year in a shore town in Massachusetts. Our source of local news is people we meet on the beach in the morning, and at the coffee shop. And it doesn’t take very long at all to know who usually has accurate information, who doesn’t, whose judgment is clouded by various biases, and who is completely wack-a-doo but so entertaining we want to hear everything they’ve got to say anyway.

We feel our approach to mainstream media is becoming very similar to this recently, and wasn’t always. With a publication being “the town” and the different reporters being “the citizens”  What we mean is these days we assess the trustworthiness of stories based more on who they’re from than where they’re from. We seek out “Ryan Lizza”, not “The New Yorker” or “Sarah Kliff”, not “Vox”.

And while that still certainly benefits the underlying publications or sites, at some point it’ll stop mattering. If we like a particular writer or podcaster, we don’t really care if they are working for anybody or nobody. Also, with lots more news accessed through sharing (“friend-as-curator”), via portals, and incidental to other online activities, we’ve seen a lot of data demonstrating it’s already becoming less clear or important where the news is from for most users, but the byline will (or should) always be there.

What does that mean?

It means after being left for dead a couple of years ago, we believe Twitter may be best positioned to become the most prominent distributor of news content on the internet, if it plays its cards right. Heck, prior to the 2016 Presidential election, the only thing we were really using Twitter for was to check out Trump’s Tweets. Now it is our primary go-to source when there is big, breaking news and we want to see how the reporters we trust the most (and politicians we respect the most)–or even people who aren’t either at least not right now (for instance, Preet Bharara) are reacting to and/or covering it. It is so much easier to do this on Twitter than anywhere else. That’s because Twitter naturally favors the individual over the institution. (Facebook does the opposite).

Then we can stop worrying about the overall bias of a particular news organization, and consider the individual point-of-view of each reporter or contributor (kind of like the people in our “small town”).

There’s evidence this is at least a nascent trend in some of the research we saw at the conference. According to this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report, while only 20% of the global internet audience uses Twitter, about half of the people who do, access news on Twitter. That’s a far higher ratio than any other social media or messaging app except for Facebook (which has far greater market share). Moreover, Twitter seems cognizant of this opportunity and is actively chasing it, with products such as Twitter Moments: which is still kind of indiscriminate editorially, but with some focus could be killer (and still keep all the lucrative cute stuff!)

We also found a presentation by Korean social interaction giant Kakao to be vitally important. Believe it or not, the Korean public has even less trust in mainstream media than Americans. In fact, it’s the lowest in the world (tied with Greece). So Kakao actively encourages people to follow their favorite reporters, not publications. It even crowd-funds news stories. A Journalist will pitch a story (or respond to a pitch from a user), and then will collect funds for it, and when they’ve got enough, will go out and do the story. Or some do blanket monthly subscriptions (which are almost always “pay what you want”). That way reporters don’t have to work “for” anybody. This is mostly for investigative work, but we could see this model applying to breaking news as well, where a particular reporter could be funded for a daily “beat” report vs. a single-subject deep dive.

We believe a lot of audience in the U.S., especially younger users, would be open to this type of approach (although perhaps not yet as broadly). We interact with millennials on a daily basis and they are always looking for influencers in all areas, and want to get as close to them as possible (that’s part of why podcasts are so popular: it’s a big step more intimate than print). In some ways this is a very old-fashioned compulsion: it’s the same reason their grandparents tuned in to Walter Cronkite. But it’s more: they want intimacy but also star power. In this case: “J-Stars.”



Now For Some Headlines

Trump declares North Korea a “state sponsor of terrorism”. As a practical matter this doesn’t mean very much. However it does open the possibility the U.S. could start cracking down on international businesses that interact with North Korea, for instance Chinese banks in the U.S. Although that would almost certainly lead to retaliatory measures by China. At the same time, South Korea’s spy agency said today it has evidence North Korea recently conducted a type of audit of a top military agency, resulting in two   leaders being “punished”.

• The Trump Administration is ending temporary residency status for 60,000 people from Haiti living in the U.S. since the 2010 earthquake there. They’ll have 18 months to leave the country. This despite appeals from lawmakers in Florida, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, to allow them to remain. A majority are in that state. The New York Times speculates many may try to arrange a move to French speaking parts of Canada.

Finally a (somewhat) clear (or at least less blurry) picture of exactly what happened between Rand Paul and his neighbor, courtesy of GQ. Short version: they’re both jerks.

And Trump still silent on Roy Moore. Remember, when first asked about the Senate candidate from Alabama who’s been accused of making sexual advances toward a 14-year old girl when he was in his 30s, Trump used the excuse “I’m in Asia” and therefore hadn’t heard much about it. But now he’s been back for a week; still hasn’t said anything. And his people’s talking points are softening: there’s a good story on this from The Daily Beast.

This worries us a little: Trump’s a very good reader of public sentiment. Maybe he’s assessed that with still 3 weeks to go before the special election, this could blow over, like “Access Hollywood” did. And if it doesn’t he can still say he never supported Moore. As we’ve been saying, the one thing that would put the nail in Moore’s coffin is a photo of a thirtysomething Moore making time with a teenage girl.