The state of the Fourth Estate—and who can save it.
Brittany Karford Rogers writes: If hashtags had been a thing, these would have been some #FakeNews whoppers.
The 32 BC Mark Antony takedown: it began with a fake-news campaign masterminded by Octavian, complete with Tweet-like proclamations on ancient coins.
The Simon of Trent humdinger: in 1475 a prince-bishop in Italy set off a story that local Jews murdered missing 2-year-old Simon—and used his blood for rituals. Fifteen Jews burned at the stake.
The Benjamin Franklin special edition: he concocted an entire 1782 newspaper, peddling a fake story about Native Americans scalping 700 men, women, children, and infants.
In short, fake news is old news.
For all the handwringing over fake news today, BYU journalism professor Joel J. Campbell’s (BA ’87) response is more “meh.” It’s another punch for a profession that’s been in the ring for the better part of a decade. Trust in news media is at an all-time low. Revenue models are upended. Reporters are exhausted. Readers are fragmented. And that’s just a short list of jabs.
Looming larger in Campbell’s eyes are analytics-driven newsrooms and disenfranchised readers, who, flooded with content, are living in information silos or, worse, opting out altogether.
So how does one make sense of the crowded, increasingly polarized news landscape? And what’s left of journalism as we knew it?
BYU faculty and alumni practitioners—their collective résumés spanning Fox News, C-SPAN, CNN, the Atlantic, and more—have some ideas.
Before you throw your hands up, consider the forces at play, take heart in journalists’ earnest self-searching, and look in the mirror—because the finger pointing goes all the way around.
It’s worth asking, “Is journalism still doing its job?” But as our panel of experts chimes, there’s an equally important question: “Do the citizens of this country have the will to save it?”
A Happy Accident
Journalism has a lofty goal—one epitomized by the career of R. John Hughes.
The emeritus BYU professor won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his coverage of an attempted communist coup and its bloody aftermath in Indonesia. Over his career as a writer for and then editor of the Christian Science Monitor, he covered revolutions and interviewed world leaders.
“Journalism was almost like a religion to me, to get the story, and get it right, to help evince change,” Hughes says. “It’s a kind of love affair for most journalists, shining light in dark corners.”
Journalists call themselves the watchdogs, the truth seekers. The press is dubbed the Fourth Estate after all, the final check on all three branches of government. Democracy requires informed citizens; the press make up the informants. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” goes the new Washington Post tagline.
That’s the why of modern journalism.
The how—being objective, non-partisan—“is rather a new phenomenon in the history of news,” says Campbell.
It has always depended on who’s paying.
Wealthy traders and merchants underwrote the first news in the Americas, and it was all route intel. In the colonial period political parties footed the bill for most papers—party organs that were far more partisan and acrimonious than what we cry foul at today. It wasn’t until the penny-press era—the 1830s on—that a new funding model developed: scale up the circulation, then sell readers’ attention to advertisers. That advertising revenue could bring the cost of the paper down to something many could afford.
Writing to a mass audience, publishers began to recognize there was a market for real, honest news that could cross political divides and speak with a relatively neutral voice. This paved the way for professional journalism standards. And for most of the 20th century, it made newsrooms the information power brokers.
Then the internet smashed the model.
“For the last decade, we have seen a steady erosion of the advertising economy for newspapers,” says Campbell. That’s the nice way of saying it. Revenue streams have been gutted.
Department stores and auto malls, the go-to advertisers, cut back on ads, facing their own disruptions: e-commerce competition and recession. Craigslist happened to the classifieds. And reader eyeballs, once concentrated among a few media outlets, are now diverted to Facebook, YouTube, and that thing you just Googled—and the bulk of advertising has followed them.
As they say in the industry, the digital transition traded print dollars for digital dimes and, in turn, digital dimes for mobile pennies.
One thing is certain: it’s a fascinating time to study the news. Alum Seth C. Lewis (BA ’02) holds the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media at the University of Oregon and is a leading scholar on the digital transformation of journalism.
“We’ve gone from media monopoly to media disruption and ubiquity,” says Lewis. And in ubiquity, no one gets a sizable piece of the economic pie.
Lewis suggests that maybe the last century of advertising-based news subsidy—which fostered these objective, non-partisan notions—“was just a happy accident. Maybe instead we’re returning to other forms of funding and thinking about the news.”
Is it Time to Make Our Fridges and Washing Machines Sign Non-Disclosure Agreements?
High-tech washing machines and fridges will soon be used by detectives gathering evidence from crime scenes, experts have forecast.
“Doorbells that connect directly to apps on a user’s phone can show who has rung the door and the owner or others may then remotely, if they choose, to give controlled access to the premises while away from the property. All these leave a log and a trace of activity. The crime scene of tomorrow is going to be the internet of things.”
The advent of ‘the internet of things’ in which more devices are connected together in a world of ‘smart working’ could in future provide important clues for the police.
Detectives are currently being trained to look for gadgets and white goods which could provide a ‘digital footprint’ of victims or criminals.
Mark Stokes, the head of the digital, cyber and communications forensics unit at the Metropolitan Police told The Times: “Wireless cameras within a device, such as fridge, may record the movement of owners and suspects.
“Doorbells that connect directly to apps on a user’s phone can show who has rung the door and the owner or others may then remotely,m if they choose, to give controlled access to the premises while away from the property.
“All these leave a log and a trace of activity. The crime scene of tomorrow is going to be the internet of things.”
The new Samsung Family Hub Fridge has cameras that carry a live feed of its contents, so shoppers can tell what they need when they are out at the shop. The dates and times that people logon to the fridge, therefore could provide alibis or prove people were not were they said they were.
Mr Stokes said detectives of the future would carry a ‘digital forensics toolkit’ which would allow them to analyse microchips and download data at the scene, rather than removing devices for testing. Read the rest of this entry »
Online experimentation doesn’t have to be limited to tech companies.
Edward Jung It’s tempting to portray the rapid growth of the Chinese Internet as just one more example of China’s efforts to catch up with the West: Alibaba is the eBay of China, Baidu is the Google of China, Didi is the Uber of China, and so on. But China is actually conducting some fascinating experiments with the Internet (see “The Best and Worst Internet Experience in the World“). You just need to look outside the tech sector to notice them.
The most significant innovation is happening not among Chinese Internet companies but in the country’s so-called “real” economy. Corporations in old-school sectors like construction, agriculture, transportation, and banking are pursuing new business models based on big data, social media, and the Internet of things.
These are some of the largest firms of their kind in the world, yet many are young enough to be helmed by their original owner/founders. They’re like Rockefeller, Ford, or Carnegie with access to smartphones.
So it’s China’s largest residential-property developer—not a tech company—that is pioneering the integration of Internet-based technology and services into fully wired communities. Vanke wants to create urban hubs that supply residents with gardens, safe food, travel, entertainment, and medical and educational services, all enabled by the Internet. Read the rest of this entry »
Hackers took control of home security cameras and video recorders to launch one of the biggest Internet attacks in history this month. The unprecedented attack raised questions about how the Internet will cope with a flood of connected and vulnerable devices expected to come online in the next few years.
And you thought shipping glitter was all the rage.
This month, the Internet has borne witness to the launch of not one, but two major sites that let you ship your enemies—or your friends, for that matter—a bag of gummy dicks…. 715 more words