For many Americans, the events of the past week have left emotions raw, tempers hot, and for some, social media accounts deactivated.
It’s a reasonable response by those who believe various social networks allowed disinformation to flourish, or worse: allowed seditious plots to metastasize on their platforms, which led to a mob storming the U.S. Capitol.
The very social platforms that are being (rightly) targeted for their role in fanning the flames of an insurrection are the same ones that drive traffic to news sites. To exist today, newsrooms have little to no choice: social platforms are a necessary evil.
The irony is astounding: a boycott protesting the spread of disinformation could be so harmful to the viability of journalism. This is why we need so desperately to detangle the fates of newsrooms from that of social platforms.
Reliable, factual updates are a requirement for an informed citizenry, and Democracy cannot function without one. And for an industry operating on ever decreasing margins, the page views that come from these platforms are keeping them alive, even as the business models associated with this set up slowly kill them.
News is expensive. Long before any article is written, before any video is shot, reporters spend time on the phone, traveling to meet with sources, often to only find that there is no story there. They do it usually because of a passion for keeping their fellow citizens informed, for striving to uncover the truth. But they also have expenses, and need to be paid.
As ad dollars and traffic coalesce around a few major players online, news websites had to adapt. They have written ever-more catchy headlines to grab attention. The story selection has become driven by trending topics in an effort to appear at the top of newsfeeds. The algorithms behind such feeds make local news even harder to find because, by definition, it doesn’t appeal to the widest audience possible. The sites, in turn, had to make the most of what traffic they could get; covering pages in ads and trackers. It’s a spiral to the bottom.
But, it’s not too late to turn things around.
For those that want to make an impact, please support journalism. Subscribe to your local newspaper.
We need to think about weaning news from platforms that have such a parasitic impact. If we cannot find a viable model for trustworthy news online, we will be left with the only information sources that seem to be thriving now; the least credible of them all.
Our solution is relatively simple. We’re building a platform that takes the best from social media -- the concise updates, the real time streams, and the direct line of communication from reporters, but in a news-friendly way. Our ads appear in between updates, not tying their value to any individual click through, and revenue is shared according to the contributions to the platform, not views. We’re only allowing trusted journalists to post, blocking disinformation before it has a chance to root itself in our systems.
We invite you to join us, and welcome any suggestions or improvements.
Nillium is building Forth, a new news platform based on concise updates from trusted journalists, sharing advertising revenue with the reporters and their newsrooms. To sign up for our waiting list, click here. Newsrooms and independent reporters can express their interest in joining the platform here.