Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It takes a village to identify false news

Filloux: A credibility scorecard
Liberal democracies are being tested around the world by the rapid diffusion of misleading or false information designed to influence voters.

It has happened in France, Catalonia, the U.K., and, of course, the U.S.

Many have proposed--for example, the World Economic Forum--that two of the most powerful vehicles for spreading information, Facebook and Google, should be responsible for filtering out material that is demonstrably false or misleading.

But it turns out that this is not easy to do. False information is often irresistibly appealing and moves too fast to be stopped.
Why we're Still in the Dark about Facebook's Fight Against Fake News -- Mother Jones
Nine experts offer opinions on how to fix Facebook -- New York Times
Not an editor, but a scorecard

What's more, it is hard to define false news in a way that can be automated by algorithms. Journalist and media consultant Frederic Filloux has developed the News Quality Scoring Project, which attempts to use automated systems to evaluate the likely credibility of a piece of news content. It doesn't label news as false or fake. It simply gives a credibility score based on a series of indicators such as a publisher's or a journalist's previous reliability.

Filloux's Publication Quality Score criteria


Facebook, Google, and Twitter themselves are working with the Trust Project on an automated system to display "trust indicators" alongside information they share with users.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Chasing clicks isn't bringing in readers or money



Some observations by media economics expert Robert Picard's observations about the challenges of media today, from an interview done by the University of Navarra Faculty of Communication:

Media companies need to develop revenue from many more sources than they did in the past.

Media companies are diluting the quality of their product by chasing reader clicks with light or frivolous digital content. "This is not bringing in money, and it's not bringing in audience."

Maybe 15 to 25 percent of the reading public will pay for serious news, Picard says. These are the people who really want news.

Journalists think their work is really important, and for the journalists, it is. But for most people, they just want to get on with their lives. If something important happens, then they will go online and read it somewhere, but most of the time they won't pay for it.

Newspapers have to stop thinking of themselves as a product for a general audience. The people who still subscribe tend to be the most active politically, socially, and financially in their communities. Newspapers should be selling that aspect of their audience, not a massive audience.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Picard to publishers: get cozy with readers, users

Robert Picard speaking to class at University of Navarra.

Robert G. Picard is one of the founding fathers of the academic discipline known as media economics. The field has attracted more attention lately as news outlets, ravaged by digital competitors, have gutted their reporting staffs and slashed public-service coverage.

Policy makers, media executives, investors, and journalists themselves look to experts like Picard for answers about how to deal with the industry's financial crisis and the diminishing supply of news.

Picard admits that he is unsure of exactly what the future holds for the industry. What he does know is that the people who are running media organizations--TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and even digital outlets--know far too little about their readers, viewers, listeners, and users.

Publishers need to invite these consumers into the processes of creating and distributing content, he said. They need to think about how to create value that will satisfy the needs and solve the problems of their users. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Publishers look beyond Facebook, Google for revenues

A deal with the devil.

A new study by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) confirms what I have suspected for a long time: when publishers rely on Facebook for distribution, they are making a deal with the devil.

"Reality Check: Making Money with Facebook" was based on a survey of an "expert group" of 150 publishers. On average, Facebook was contributing only 7% of their revenues in spite of the fact that much of the publishers' content was being consumed on that platform.

And Facebook is stingy when it comes to sharing revenue with publishers, compared with Google, Spotify, Twitter, and others. It "seems to share proportionally less revenue with content creators than other platforms do."

Loss of branding power

The WAN-IFRA findings are also troubling because studies by Pew Research (see paragraph 4 of the study) and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (see p. 16 of the study) have shown that users think Facebook or Twitter produced news stories that were actually produced by a news organization. In other words, news organizations are losing their brand identities in social media.

If news organizations are going to have a chance of survival in the new digital economy, they will need to rely on the power of their brands  as trusted sources to persuade people to pay for their content.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

'We interrupt this class for news of your ex-girlfriend'

As a professor, I often wonder what effect my class presentations are having on the minds of my students. Honestly, is it really possible for any human being to pay attention completely to a class for 45 minutes? Or does the mind wander?

While I am explaining the theory of market externalities, every media company in the world is fighting for the attention of those students. These companies are desperate to attract eyeballs for their content and their advertisers' messages.

They have developed ever more powerful tools to distract people from what they are doing and look at their smartphones. They use pings, vibrations, badges, flashing lights, lock-screen messages, and who knows what else.

What human being could pay attention to me when they receive a notification on their smartphone that their ex has commented on their new profile photo? Or that there is breaking news about the latest silly statements by a president? It's no contest.

Versión en español

The Notification Experiment

I wondered how this affected my students. So I did a simple survey in my Media Economics class at the University of Navarra. I asked the students to keep track of how many notifications they received from all of their apps and news sources during one 45-minute period.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Women are making their mark in digital news startups

Women are taking a leadership role in the development of digital journalism in Latin America, according to a new study of 100 startups.

The study, Inflection Point, by SembraMedia in partnership with Omidyar Network, offers many clues to achieving the elusive goal of sustainability for new digital media.

Click to enlarge.
One clue is that women have the skills and experience to lead the way: 62% of the 100 organizations in the study had at least one woman founder, and women represented 38% of the total founders of all the media (p. 41 in the PDF version).

Extensive interviews with the founders -- 25 each from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico -- produced data that clarified the elements of successful business models and showed the best places to invest resources and training.

"This finding suggests that women are taking advantage of the low barriers to entry in digital media startups to go around the glass ceilings of traditional media and build their own publishing companies," wrote the directors of the study, Janine Warner and Mijal Iastebner, who are also co-founders of SembraMedia. (Disclosure: I worked as an editor of the study.)

Versión en español


Friday, July 21, 2017

100 digital news startups in Latin America show paths to achieving sustainability


A new study of 100 digital news startups in Latin America by SembraMedia in partnership with Omidyar Network -- Inflection Point -- offers many clues to achieving the elusive goal of sustainability.

Extensive interviews with the founders -- 25 each from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico -- produced data that clarified the elements of successful business models and showed the best places to invest resources and training.

Janine Warner, co-founder of SembraMedia and an ICFJ Knight Fellow, directed the study, which was managed by her co-founder, Mijal Iastebner. (Disclosure: I participated in the study as an editor.) Among the insights:
  • You don't need a lot of money to get started. 71% of the media in this study had startup capital of less than $10,000, but a tenth of those now generate at least $500,000 in revenues (p. 8). 
  • Those that focus on business development do best. Those with at least one sales person reported median annual revenues of  $117,000; those with no sales staff had a median of $3,900 (p. 9).
  • Women are playing a key role in development of new digital media in a region where men traditionally have held almost exclusive control of the industry: 62% of the 100 organizations  had at least one woman founder, and women represented 38% of the total founders of all the media (p. 41).  
  • Differentiation is key. In terms of content, technology, distribution, or style, these media positioned themselves as offering something different from traditional media and independent of political or business interference. In some cases, they exposed the cozy relationships between big media, politicians, and business (p. 25). 
  • Even a small organization can have big impact nationally and internationally. Although these organizations had median staff size of 13 employees, 72% have had their stories picked up by national news media in their home countries and 66% by international media (graphic above).
Versión en español