More than a decade ago I begged journalists and sharers of breaking news to employ a “slow news” approach. The Kobe Bryant story demonstrates that need more than ever.
What’s slow news? It’s the notion that we should slow down before publishing information we can’t absolutely verify, and before believing what we’ve seen published.
I’m sorry to say that we haven’t made enough progress. Slowing down before publishing is the duty (I believe it should be viewed that way) of journalists and social media sharers. Yesterday’s barrage of misinformation, incomplete information, and guesses demonstrated that we’re not close.
Since we can’t expect journalists to do it, and social media’s vastness guarantees that incomplete or wrong information will spread fast, it’s really up to the rest of us — the “consumers” of information — to adopt a slow-news philosophy.
In our digital media literacy course at the Cronkite School, Kristy Roschke and I ask students to pause before believing or sharing pretty much anything, especially when it’s breaking news or a fast-developing story. We use examples like this to show why that’s needed.It comes down to this:
The faster the news accelerates, the slower I am inclined to believe anything I hear — and the harder I look for the coverage that pulls together the most facts with the most clarity about what’s known and what’s speculation.
Meanwhile, if journalists won’t stop spraying out the latest speculation, the least they can do is to find ways to get updates and corrections to as many of the people who’ve read the early “news” as quickly and broadly as possible.
At the ASU News Co/Lab, which I co-founded a couple of years ago, we’re working on ways to help journalists and prominent sharers do just that. A tool, now under development, can partially automate the process of sending corrections down the same social pathways that the original errors traveled.
We’re in “pre-alpha” testing of the tool, which Ted Han is developing, and it looks promising. More on this work here.
(If you’re in a newsroom and want to get a look at this, let us know!
While the tool is aimed first at corrections of major errors, we see updates in these kinds of situations as an important use case. Sometimes the original information isn’t “wrong” in a traditional journalistic sense — example: the police give out an incorrect death toll.
But the public doesn’t care where the misinformation came from, and a journalistic duty is to get the correct information out there, pronto. So when the news is “developing” — if you see that word on a story, it’s probably changing fast — we may be able to help.
I’m under no illusions that slow news will become the norm for creators of information, certainly not for newsrooms or people who use social media as an attention-getter. But I hope we can make progress and reduce at least some of the rumor-mongering.
As creators and consumers, we all need to reflect on what we’re doing. Please consider adopting a slow news approach.
Whistleblowers are essential players in uncovering wrongdoing committed by the powerful and in strengthening our democracies. As headlines remind us everyday, we owe our knowledge of the truth to many known and unknown whistleblowers all over the world. However, whistleblowers often face legal, physical, psychological, and economic consequences as a result of their actions. Those who risk their lives and livelihoods to bring us the truth deserve our support.
I’m a Board Member of the The Signals Network, an innovative non-profit (501c3) organization that protects whistleblowers who reveal major wrongdoing.
The Signals Network’s Whistleblower Protection Programaffords customized support services to a selected number of people who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing:
1. Legal Support/Representation: to help a whistleblower locate and obtain legal representation.
2. Information Security: to work with the whistleblower and online security specialists to build an environment that enhances his/her digital and real privacy.
3. Media Relations Management: to manage media relations for whistleblowers, helping to develop his/her public message.
4. Advocacy: to advocate for better protection of the whistleblower in different countries.
5. Psychological Support: to provide access to individualized support services, including psychological support and counseling.
6. Safe-Housing: in appropriate circumstances, to provide safe-housing and temporary retreat services to minimize a whistleblower’s exposure to potential intrusion, harassment, and threat.
The Whistleblower Protection Program is now operational in 10 countries with networks of local lawyers, psychological counselors, online security experts, civil society partner organizations, media partners,…
The Signals Network has partnered with major media committed to investigate collaboratively and to reveal major wrongdoing and potential threats to democracy, freedom and justice. Media partners to date include The Miami Herald/McClatchy, The Intercept, Die Zeit, El Mundo, The Daily Telegraph, Mediapart and Republik.
Thanks to the dedication of many experts to the mission, like top lawyers working pro-bono or at super discounted rate, we are able to provide a maximum level of support to whistleblowers at the lowest cost possible. However, real support still comes at a cost.
TSN receives requests of support from major whistleblowers who have contributed to the biggest stories of our time, from massive corruption to the biggest #Metoo revelations.
So I would like to ask you to make a charitable contribution to The Signals Network before the end of the year.
By donating to The Signals Network, you will directly support the next generation of whistleblowers.
The whistleblowers we support are selected by the Board Engagement Committee who decide the level and duration of support we will provide, taking into consideration the global, human, financial and public interest impact of the information provided to a media organization.
Your support is crucial. Every dollar counts.
Below, you’ll find information on the ways you can donate. Your gift is fully tax-deductible in the US.
If you would like to mail a check, please send it here:
The Signals Network
268 Bush Street, #4216
San Francisco, CA 94104
I can’t remember exactly when I met Craig Newmark, but I distinctly remember what happened when I discovered craigslist. It was in the late 1990s, and I was a columnist at Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, where I focused on technology and its impact. The minute I used craigslist in a transaction, I knew that this supremely functional website, and services like it, would be enormously consequential.
In those days classified ads were by far the most profitable revenue stream for local papers, a function of newspapers having created near-monopolies on print advertising in their markets. I showed craigslist to the Mercury News’ classified ad folks and said something like, “I think we’re screwed,” because craigslist was obviously better for advertisers than what we were selling: There was no limit on space; advertisers could include photos of what they were selling; and the service was vastly cheaper, i.e. free, than what we charged for our inferior, pricey product. The response from my fellow Mercury News employee was something like, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
Craig Newmark, who later became a friend, did not set out to undermine daily newspapers’ business model, and while craigslist (and the many other classified-like sites, especially eBay) played a role in what has happened, it was one among a collection of events and shifts that coalesced into what we have today. Secular market changes, like the rise of ad-supported broadcasting and, much later, the demise of department stores that had been major display advertisers, played an enormous role. So did the 2008 economic meltdown, Wall Street’s (more recently, private equity’s) greed, and the rise of the now all-powerful Google-Facebook advertising duopoly. But it’s fair to say in key ways, the monopoly undermined itself, because the monopolists couldn’t figure out how to adjust once advertisers — who paid bulk of the bills to run news organizations — had reasonable options.
Craig is an exceedingly smart person and happily calls himself a nerd, but he didn’t have a master-of-the-Internet plan to become an information mogul. He started a simple mail list to provide a service, first for his friends and later, when it moved to the web, for anyone who wanted to use it. He was careful not to extract maximum cash from the service that he and his small, talented team nurtured from its beginnings into what it became. Most listings remained free, with charges in only a couple of categories. And as craigslist became the place to start when you were looking for something to buy or sell (or make connections of other kinds) online, he ended up making lots of money anyway. From the beginning, he gave back to his community, in meaningful but not self-aggrandizing ways. From my perspective he is a gentle soul and has true humility. He is the antithesis of many (though thankfully not all) Silicon Valley founders I’ve met over the years.
Craig has become a celebrity in some ways. He’s definitely well known today in the news world, which is a change. In the middle of the last decade, after craigslist had become the default classifieds site in most big cities and a bunch of smaller ones, I gave a talk to some of America’s top editors at their annual national trade-group meeting in Washington. I put a photo of Craig on the big screen and asked, “How many of you recognize this person?” Only a few hands went up. I then asked, “How many of you recognize the name Craig Newmark?” Closer to half of the hands went up.
In the time I’ve known him, Craig has consistently cared about quality information, and by extension journalism. He made it his business to learn about the craft. For several years more than a decade ago, I taught a “new media” course at UC-Berkeley’s graduate journalism school, and he always dropped by to speak with the students. In recent years, as he greatly boosted his philanthropy with a focus on improving our information ecosystem, he’s made it part of his business to help journalists do the best possible job they can. When he calls journalism “the immune system of democracy,” he’s not just coining a clever phrase. He plainly means it.
(I’ve updated this post to reflect a broader context of changes in the media industry, notably that the erosion of newspapers’ dominance in the news and advertising industries began with the rise of broadcasting, and the most recent shift of ad dollars toward Google and Facebook.)
(Note: This is adapted from a Thanksgiving Day editorial I wrote many years ago at the Detroit Free Press and later updated in my San Jose Mercury News column.)
Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, invites us to pause and remember our blessings. It’s also an annual reminder that, as a friend once reminded me, the world needs more pilgrims and fewer turkeys.
The pilgrims I admire take risks. They embark on journeys to new, unfamiliar, and often unfriendly places, with vision transcending fear. But that isn’t all. Their staying power and moral convictions take them far beyond the self-obsessed hunger for wealth and power–and willingness to poison our public discourse–that infects our nation at the highest levels and threatens to bring down the republic.
Because people are complicated, we can be turkeys one moment and pilgrims the next. History tells us that America’s colonial pilgrims weren’t uniformly admirable (to put it mildly) in their deeds or motives. And human nature hasn’t changed.
So as the more fortunate among us give thanks for our bounty this week — as Thanksgiving Day’s culinary surplus gives way to the holiday season’s commercial excess — let’s honor our own good fortune by reminding ourselves of the best in others.
I revere my small town’s teachers and librarians, who spread knowledge through the community. They believe in the power of words, of learning, of discovery. They are pilgrims.
I am humbled by the people who work for relatively low pay, and sometimes at great personal risk, to bring the truth to their communities via a craft–journalism–that we have never needed more. They, too, are pilgrims.
I admire the activists who see a better America, and work every day to create it, than the cruel nation so many of our leaders have fostered over the years. They are guiding us on a national pilgrimage toward real justice.
A friend who died several decades ago built a successful business and then went into public service. Early in his political career he pretty much insisted that if you were poor it was your own fault, period. Holding power helped him understand otherwise. A conservative Republican–back before “conservative” had been twisted into its current status of right-wing extremist–he never stopped trusting that the free market would erase poverty in the long term. But he realized that the rest of us, as volunteers and through our government, had to help in the meantime. He was a pilgrim.
In the Bay Area, where I live, the behavior of some famous technology people might lead you to believe that the tech world has vastly more turkeys than pilgrims. No question, the field has attracted more than its share of both — reflecting its intense, creative style. Silicon Valley does everything in excess, so why not this? But our tech companies’ worst behavior is now intertwined with our national turmoil, and their leaders have barely begun to recognize their culpability. Some of them are in desperate need of pilgrimages of their own.
At times I fear that America, awash in anger, pettiness, greed, smugness, and deceit, has all but lost its sense of exploration, wonder, and justice. But I always come back to the pilgrims who refuse to accept the way things are, who reject pure grasping and complacence, and who are leading us to better places.
My table will overflow with bounty this Thursday. I’m grateful beyond words for my life of relative comfort, for my opportunity to constantly explore and learn.
I hope to sustain this pilgrimage for life, for justice. And as America celebrates Thanksgiving Day, 2018, I wish the same for you.
Yesterday we launched our new initiative at ASU’s Cronkite School, the News Co/Lab. In a post then I explained its genesis, initial funder, and first on-the-ground project, working with the McClatchy news group and three of the communities it serves.
Like the launch funding, this has emerged in part from the “News Literacy Working Group” meeting last March in Phoenix. Over the past few months, we’ve had long and detailed conversations with NII’s Jeff Jarvis and Molly DeAguiar about what we intend to do and how we plan to make it happen. Their questions sharpened our thinking and will make our projects better, and I thank them for that.
Please note the remarkably diverse grantees and projects NII is funding (they will be doing much more in coming months and beyond). I know many of the people involved in those efforts, and share their commitment — like NII’s — to a better information ecosystem. As I said yesterday, none of us, individually, has the answer or answers. Together, collectively, we will make a difference.
Some news: Arizona State University’s Cronkite School has launched News Co/Lab, a collaborative lab aimed at creating, testing, and promoting innovations that will help make the news ecosystem more robust and valuable for all participants.
Before I tell you more about what we’ll be doing, and who are initial partners will be, some background:</span>Last March, I asked this question: Could we find waysto make media/news literacy universal?
The question, which sounded simple, contained a universe of complexity. But the issues that sparked it went to the heart of what it means to be a Digital Age participant in civic, economic, and cultural life.
By the end of 2016 it became clear to anyone paying attention that misinformation, a perpetual problem in our media ecosystem, had become a crisis. The rise of social media and its split-second posting/sharing culture had given malicious actors their most powerful platform in history. With a few notable exceptions, traditional journalism was eroding. Fierce competition, especially from online platforms boasting enormous scale and efficiency, was undermining the business model. The journalism craft’s longstanding flaws (including, far too often, institutional arrogance) had undermined the public’s trust. Ambitious and already powerful people around the world were doing their best to poison the public even more against journalism and the whole idea of truth; their power and ambitions were best served through spreading confusion or outright lies, no matter what damage that did to our ability to make decisions based on reality.
No one disagrees that a key response to this barrage of badness must be to improve our information supply. But in recent times, in my view, we’ve paid too little attention to the demand side of the equation.
Supply and demand were never entirely separate before the Internet arrived. Now, given the ubiquity of creative tools and access to information–combined with “Big Data,” algorithmic targeting, AI, filter bubbles, and sharing–they are more deeply intertwined.
In this environment, even as we upgrade our information sources, we have to upgrade ourselves–as users of media who consume, create, share, and collaborate in our endlessly complex ecosystem. And we have to find ways to do this at scale–reaching as many people as possible to help them, above all, to be critical thinkers who would use media with integrity.
In that context last March, Facebook and Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication convened a“News Literacy Working Group.” Over a long weekend, we gathered an amazing group from around the world — experts in news/media literacy, journalists, technologists, researchers, funders, and more. My challenge to them was to think of ways we could make news literacy scale, and I suggested that we needed, in particular, a commitment to do this from educators, journalists, and technology platforms. One participant, my friend Jeff Jarvis from City University of New York, thought we should frame the issue in a much wider way than viewing it through the lens of that subset of media literacy we call news literacy. Others had their own ideas on a) what was wrong; and b) how we might address it. We thrashed through some of the issues and came up with along list ofideas. It was an amazing three days.
Since then, the emergency hasn’t abated. On some levels, it’s vastly worse. But a lot is happening in the media world to at least begin to understand what’s happening, what’s at stake, and how we can collectively work to counteract the worst effects of the misinformation poison.
We’ve been doing what we can at ASU, with courses, training, and more. With News Co/Lab (we’re pronouncing it “collab”), we hope to go much deeper, but in targeted ways. I’ll be shifting my time to focus on the lab as its founding director. Facebook is our initial sponsor; more on that below.
We’ll be working mostly in and around the place where supply meets demand. We want to collaborate with anyone–teachers, journalists, librarians, technologists, civic leaders, among others–who shares our goals and wants to work on this. We have no intention of duplicating what others are already doing well. We want to help them do more of it.
To that end, our collaborative lab will start off with a scan of the emerging best practices from the many organizations already doing great work in the areas where we’ll focus. One thing we’re certain to learn: There’s much more work ahead. The nation’s (and the world’s) struggles with literacies of all kinds–civic, digital, media, news, and more–are well documented.
Our first on-the-ground project goes to the foundation of journalism: local news and information. We’ll be working with newsrooms and the communities they serve, to collaborate on experiments that increase transparency, engagement, mutual understanding, and respect.
Our media industry launch partner for that project is McClatchy. This makes me happy for several reasons. While McClatchy has suffered as much as any company in the local news business as it tries to make the wrenching transition from print to digital, its leadership and its journalists haven’t lost sight of the service component of what they do. The first McClatchy community where we’ll work will be Kansas City, where I worked for the Kansas City Star* early in my journalism career.
We also have an in-house partner, of course: Cronkite News. It’s the news arm of Arizona Public Broadcasting, and is part of the Cronkite School. It produces news for a variety of platforms, including a superb evening newscast for Arizona residents, and has bureaus in Washington and California. The students and faculty of Cronkite News are constantly experimenting, and we’ll be working with them to broaden their (and our) horizons even more, again aimed at creating deeper connections with the community.
There’s more coming from the lab, and we’ll be telling you about it in the days and weeks ahead. We’re beyond jazzed to be getting this initiative off the ground.
Which brings me back to our launch sponsor: Facebook. The News Co/Lab emerged from that March weekend and the subsequent conversations with people at the company and elsewhere. Facebook faces challenges for all kinds of reasons, but I’m convinced that the people I’ve worked with there are sincere in their wish to help solve the hugely difficult information-ecosystem problems we face individually, in our communities, in our companies and other institutions, and in nations around the world.
A special word of thanks to Áine Kerr, whose unbounded energy, commitment, and goodwill made her a joy to work with over these months. I wish her the absolute best as she heads back to her home in Dublin to co-found a news startup called Neva Labs. She’s earned the goodwill of news people, who will miss her in the post she’s so ably filled at Facebook. She has been part of a collaborative team there. I’m confident that her Facebook Journalism Project colleagues intend to push these kinds of projects forward, and more than hopeful that the people they work for share that commitment.
I also need to say, and this seems like the right place, that my relationship with Facebook over the years has been…complicated. As I said in March, I have longstanding and deep misgivings about Facebook’s (and Google’s and other giant platforms) overwhelming dominance in the media world–not to mention the troubling issues that stem from centralization in general. I don’t plan to stop talking about that, nor offering advice to journalists and Internet users in general on how to navigate toward a future where they, not the people running highly centralized technology platforms, control their own destinies. I’ll keep pushing the platforms to use their reach to help “upgrade us.”
But for all the disagreements, we agree on some vital goals. And to achieve those, I’m glad to collaborate. My participation may not sit well with some people, and I respect that. But I’m comfortable with this decision.
Finally, none of this would be happening were it not for my ASU colleagues. Eric Newton, the Cronkite School’s head of innovation, is the lab’s co-founder; we’ve collaborated on putting it together, and he’ll be working with me, staff, and partners as we proceed. The behind-the-scenes folks at the school, in development, legal, and other areas, routinely handle things that are out of my depth. And Dean Chris Callahan has been, as always, consistently strong and helpful along the way.
So much is happening now in the news ecosystem. Our lab will be among a host of new and existing efforts to make things better. None of us, individually, has the answer or answers. But we have ideas and energy, and an abiding belief in the value of reliable information in a world that so desperately needs it.
Individually, we will make some dents in the problem. Together, we will make a difference.
*I worked for the Kansas City Times, which was the Star‘s sister paper and was later folded into the Star.)
I’m happy to say I’ve signed a contract with MIT Press for my next book, tentatively entitled Permission Taken: Recapturing Control of Our Own Technology and Communication. This has been bubbling up in my mind, though not enough from my word processor, for a long time. Now it’s on, and there’s a deadline. It’ll be part of a series edited by my longtime friend and colleague David Weinberger.
I’m especially glad that the book will be done in an open-access format, meaning that it will be available much more widely than traditional publishing normally permits. More details on that to come…