Decentralized journalism

Had an idea the other day.  I think it could be a big one.

Decentralization is something I’ve paid a great deal of attention to over the years.  We’ve seen it tackle the taxi industry, hotels, and several forms of media.  Next, I’m keen to see how it tackles things like energy and currency.  In each case, the premise seems rather simple:  Make better use of the resources we already have, and let technology shoulder the workload of keeping things organized.

Every great business is a solution to a very real problem.  In this case, the solution is to the problem of modern journalism.  Currently, journalism places a greater emphasis on being first than it does on being right.  Sensationalism has replaced accuracy.  Journalism has become more about producing ammunition than telling a story.  And it needs to change.

There’s a curious link between humans, size, power, and corruption.  The bigger we get, the more power we’re inclined to have, and the more power we’re inclined to have, the more susceptible we are to corruption.  The news industry in America became tremendously powerful over the decades, and was far more centralized than most people realized.  Even today, organizations like Sinclair and Fox are making significant moves to expand their political reach.  Anytime an industry gets big and corrupt like this, it’s time for decentralization to save the day.

My idea is a news platform which would allow journalists to earn a living while maintaining their independence and their integrity.  While also holding them accountable.  I realized that while I knew the names of all these news anchors, I couldn’t name the author of a single article I had read in the last week.  The twisted thing is that I barely watch any cable news – and I real a lot of articles.  Why didn’t I know their names?  It was because they were promoted as secondary to the organization they were reporting on behalf of.  I wonder what journalism would look like if journalists were front and center for their work?

Similar to a Google news feed or Reddit, your feed would be a collection of news articles curated around your interests.  What would make it different though, is that the person behind the article would also be well profiled.  These individuals deserve to be recognized for the work that they’re doing.  By letting good journalists be closely associated with their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing and build a reputation for it.  By letting poor journalists be closely associated for their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing as well.

How these journalists would be profiled is a very interesting question.  An overall 5 star review system would probably be part of it, but maybe not.  Maybe the 5 star rating system is a better predictor of popularity than competence.  I know that for me personally, the biggest concerns in journalism are honesty and accuracy.  So maybe the first thing that gets added to the profile is a bullshit meter.  If you used alternative facts in a story you wrote, the people reading should know that and be able to hold you accountable.  And that becomes part of your profile..

Most of our news today is delivered to us through a TV personality, quoting another news organization, using a piece of information gathered by one of their journalists, who used an anonymous source to report what they heard.  By the time you hear it, you’re not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.  Who knows by the time it makes it to you.  But what if the journalist who broke this news, had an immaculate track record with their news releases?  What if they used anonymous sources?  Would you care if they’ve always been accurate?  Personally, I don’t mind the use of anonymous sources if they’re being verified by someone who I trust.  Not all anonymous sources should be treated equally.

So we would want everyone to be held accountable to the same standards of honesty.  How that would be accomplished exactly, I’m not sure.  I think it would probably do well to partner with an existing fact checking organization, but the best solution would involve the community holding its own community members accountable.  Something I enjoy thoroughly about the comment section on Reddit (depending on the subreddit), is that the most upvoted comment is often one that adds more clarity to the article.  Sometimes it’s for calling out the article on inaccuracies, sometimes it’s by providing additional sources to elaborate on a point.  I think that a community like this would be imperative to this platform’s long-term success.

The next thing I’d like to see on journalist prifles are accuracy of speculative statements.  If you have someone who’s always telling you how things are going to turn out, it’s important to know how often they’re right.  Those who are able to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy should probably be listened to more.  Those found to be crying wolf too often, should probably be heard less.  Allowing for people to be held accountable to these speculative statements will hopefully drive more practical discussions and limit unreasonable fear mongering.

However this profile ends up looking, it’s purpose is to give the audience context about who they’re hearing the story from.  It’s to help create an informed reader, while encouraging journalistic integrity.  Especially in a climate like this, I’m confident in the value of honesty.  I’m confident in the peoples’ value of journalistic integrity and honesty, but I’m also sympathetic to their distrust of large media corporations controlling the dialogue.  This would be a big step in separating the two.

I think this would have to work in tandem with a user profile as well.  One of the biggest issues we run into in modern media are thought bubbles and echo chambers.  Perhaps a way around that is having an algorithm track your bias.  For example, if your political bias shows that you’re off center, the algorithm would include some of the most credible articles that might disagree with your views.  A balanced perspective is key, and there’s no evidence to suggest that everything in your news feed should be something that you agree with.

Another element of this platform is that it would welcome all sources of media.  Podcasts are the new radio.  YouTube is the new TV.  This is about inclusivity of talent, and allowing merit to drive the spotlight.

Now how would you go about attracting all these high quality reporters away from their existing jobs?  Promise them the flexibility and freedom to write about whatever they’d like, at whatever place they’d like to write at?  Too easy.  Tell them they get to work from where ever they’d like, as little or as often as they’d like?  Meh.  Promise them that they’ll be the one’s who are recognized for their articles and that they have the ability to build a personal brand around their craft?  Maybe.  Or maybe tell them that they’ll have a 50% revenue split with all ad revenue generated by their articles.  Bam.

People might say that democracy is dying when Trump is elected while half the American voting population stays home.  Yet we’re liking, and up-voting more than ever.  I think we enjoy voting, it’s just that there’s a bit of a cost reward calculation going on.  Putting some big up-votes behind some talented journalists who aren’t afraid to put their neck on the line to expose those big truths… we could bring them to the mainstream.  We could make heroes out of them and remind ourselves of the ideals we should be striving for.  We could give journalism the home it deserves.

So where to start?  School news papers of course.  I\ve learned that when looking to the future, look to the kids.  Go to the high schools, universities and colleges, and show them how easy it is to move their school publication on to this platform.  Instead of having to run everything through the bureaucracy of a normal news paper or site, have your journalists operate independently.  Teachers might not be into it. Some parent’s might be concerned.  But that’s the point.  And the fun.  Have the conversations that they don’t want you to have.  Talk about the things that you’ve been told not to talk about.  Dig into the real.  And imagine how real that gets at a university paper.  And imagine the power of a platform like this taking hold at an academic level, and producing the fierce, confident, intelligent, rational journalists that are capable of providing us with an honest and accurate view of the world.

Wouldn’t that be something.

The Future of Advertising

Part of my degree was in marketing so I tend to see advertising through a different lens than most.  The other part of my degree was in psychology so I can’t help but see the psychological component as well.  One dynamic which I find particularly interesting is in how we actively tune out the noise for traditional advertising, but when we see someone we respect engaging positively with a brand, we take note.  The Starbucks cup or the Lululemon tote bag may be a bit played out today, but both are great examples of how this works.

Years ago, I was watching TV and noticed how the characters on the show had to avoid mentioning specific brands – likely because they didn’t have approval and seeking approval would’ve required legal paperwork and perhaps a fee.  In certain instances, it actually made for rather awkward speech.  In reality, we actually reference brands and products on a regular basis, in our regular speech, for the sake of accuracy.  Which means that not being able to use brand names in certain areas of media actually hurts the dialogue.  Wouldn’t it make sense to write the dialogue as you would naturally, and then approach the brands mentioned in a positive manner for ad revenue?

There are certainly some complexities to this strategy, but I doubt they’re beyond our ability to solve.  Based on how I’ve seen things progress, I think this is actually being done now to some extent.  What a concept, letting a character talk about their Mercedes or BMW, let them talk about their iPhone or Android, let them talk about their favorite restaurant or coffee shop.  Script writers would have to maintain integrity so that it didn’t come off as a plug or mini-infomercial, but I don’t think that would be too difficult.  The idea isn’t about sneaking an advertisement into something we’re already paying attention to, it’s about letting a brand impression exist where a brand impression would already naturally exist.


So maybe we’re starting to turn that corner, but where does it go from here?  I have an idea.

Right now, AI and computer vision allow YouTube to recognize most copy-written material and then defers action to the original owner.  As AI and computer division develop further, they won’t just be able to recognize the content, they’ll be able to recognize what’s in the content.  Watching a movie, and see a sweet car that you’ve never seen before?  No problem, hit pause, hover your mouse over the car and see a few quick details.  Super interested?  Click on the details and you’ll head straight to the website.  Now imagine being able to do that with clothes, foods, toys, and everything else.

If we approach this correctly, I can’t help but think it would be a massive win-win for everyone.  No more advertisements.  No more commercials.  No more jingles.  And especially no more manipulation of public perception in the hopes of earning a sale from someone who doesn’t actually need or want your product.  If this done correctly though, I think the biggest winners may actually be the businesses.

Rather than guessing at where to advertise, how to advertise, and how much to spend on advertising, just paying per click.  Every time someone sees a piece of media that includes your product and someone wants to know more about it, there’s your point of monetization.  Next-level pay-per-click advertising.  Effectively, you’re only paying to connect people to your product, when they’ve shown an interest in your product.  Not only is that a more streamlined approach, it builds trust rather than degrades it.

Efficiency is my North Star.  When someone sees something they’re interested in, they want to know more about it.  If they learn more about it and they want to buy it, they want a quick and easy way to complete that transaction.  Businesses want to provide those details and the option of that transaction to potential customers, however, they would prefer to only spend their advertising budget on people who are interested.  This strikes me as a remarkably efficient approach compared to what’s out there now.

Thinking it through a little further, I know there are bound to be a few hiccups.  What happens if someone you don’t like is wearing or using your product?  What if you’re just getting started and you need to get your product out there to begin with?  I could come up with a few other issues that would exist in today’s unspoken rules of advertising but I can’t help but think that it’s just not that complicated.  If you’re on the alt-left and someone on the alt-right is wearing one of your products?  Grow up.  Appreciate the extra revenue, and appreciate that if they’re wearing your stuff, you may have more in common with them than you might think.  Just getting started?  Send free products out to influencers who would appreciate them.  If you have solid product, they’ll show it off and you should end up with a cascading effect.  If you send your product out to the people who would appreciate it, and they don’t?  Maybe you picked the wrong influencers, or perhaps your product just isn’t very good.  Regardless of what obstacles I come up with, the solutions don’t seem very far away.

I’d estimate we’ll have the tools to do this within about 10 years.  Whether or not major industry players are interested in challenging the status quo is a different story though.  But this is why ‘revolutionary’ has become the holy grail of doing business.  Whoever breaks that mold, I’m rooting for you.