Everyone's favorite news site
|This is a research project at Wikiversity.|
- This essay is intended as a proposal for actions to try to respond more effectively to the information needs of communities described, e.g., in Lloyd and Friedland (2016) The Communication Crisis in America. It is placed on Wikiversity and listed as a “research project” to encourage a wide discussion of the issues it raises moderated by the Wikimedia rules that invite contributors to “be bold but not reckless,” contributing revisions written from a neutral point of view, citing credible sources -- and raising other questions and concerns on the associated '“Discuss”' page.
- Progress on many and perhaps all substantive issues facing humanity today is blocked, because every countermeasure threatens someone with substantive control over the media.
Can a nonprofit organization or consortium develop a system that makes it easy for people everywhere to obtain the news they need to defend and promote their interests?
This article was written in the belief that this is possible. It was posted to Wikiversity to encourage a wide-ranging debate on this vision and alternative ways of achieving it.
The stakes could not be higher:
- Is it fair to say that elite control of the mainstream media everywhere dramatically limits the public's ability to understand the opportunities and threats they face and pushes them to do things that are contrary to their best interests?
- And this in turn contributes to excessive political corruption that leads to substandard economic performance, crime and even the threat of the destruction of civilization in a thermonuclear war?
- Most investigative journalism is still produced by newspapers, and they are downsizing as they lose revenue and audience to the Internet. Nonprofit web-based investigative journalism organizations are growing but not nearly fast enough to make up for the loss of investigative journalism as newspapers shrink. Most people get news today from television and web sites that serve as aggregators of news produced by newspapers and nonprofit investigative journalism organizations. This decline in the quality and quantity of investigative journalism consumed by the public, especially in the U.S., has created the stage for our current post-truth political environment. One aspect of this problem is that virtually all humans fail to appreciate how much better their decisions could be if they pursued better information on important issues.
A system for responding to this need can be divided into two parts:
- News aggregator(s) helping people everywhere find the news they want and need.
- Organizations producing the desired high quality content written by professional and volunteer journalists.
If such systems are to serve all of humanity, they need substantial citizen control over both funding and governance. The need for control by the bottom 99 percent is visible in the Balkanization and exploitation produced by the current elite control of mainstream media everywhere. For example, Facebook acknowledged in September 2017 “that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin.” The tone of this and similar reports suggests that this kind of interference in elections is fine as long as it's domestic, not foreign. Are divisive ads on hot-button issues acceptable if paid by domestic sources? This essay claims that the world could have less conflict and better governance with citizen-directed subsidies for media that did not make money from this kind of market segmentation (Balkanization) of the electorate and instead attempted to challenge divisive comments without heavy handed censorship.
The following first discusses the need for citizen management of media funding and governance. This is followed by a description of a possible news aggregator and then of encouraging better news production.
Virtually everywhere in the world today, the public has no direct control over the media. Many people think it's free (especially commercial broadcasting). Few adequately appreciate the biases inherent in media funded by advertising or media subject to political manipulation:
- With media supported by advertising, a small portion of much of what people buy, especially from major organizations that advertise, is used to buy political favors that are concealed or minimized by media that would likely lose money from reporting too honestly on what governments actually do.
- The record of government subsidized media is mixed. Citizen-directed subsidies for journalism provided by the U.S. Postal Service Act of 1792 helped encourage literacy and reduce corruption in the early U.S., both of which helped make the U.S. what it is today. Europe and Japan seem to benefit from substantial government subsidies from media, though political interference with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) helped stampede Britain into joining the "Coalition of the Willing" that invaded Iraq in 2003 on grounds that leading media executives knew were overstated at best and likely fraudulent.
This proposal includes creating “Everyone's favorite news” website as a news aggregator with a search capability that users could tailor to their interests with defaults established in part by their geolocation. The news provided would include a variety of perspectives, thereby reducing the Balkanization of the international body politic created by the needs of commercial and government-controlled outlets to segment the market and convince people to vote for or otherwise support policies that please people with substantive control over the media, often against the best interests of the bottom 99 percent.
Creating such a website could increase the engagement of the public everywhere to the extent that local conditions allow.
Part of this might include modifying the rules of Wikinews so more volunteers are encouraged to write without sacrificing the standard that contribute to the success of Wikinews. It might also include the development of Wikiblog and Wikisocial to encourage volunteers to write within a Wikimedia system that generally supports a more balanced response to inflammatory comments that otherwise might be exploited by commercial sites and organizations like Cambridge Analytica. While Google may not be evil, it must still ultimately put profit before people.
We can build a better world simply by offering the world better information than is currently available, thereby helping people everywhere solve their own problems.
Everyone's favorite news aggregatorEdit
The most obvious feature of a good news aggregation website is that it could help people more easily find news and other information they want and need.
A more subtle benefit is that a larger audience attracted by better news aggregation website(s) might also encourage people to write more and better news; news production will be discussed further below.
The proposed landing page for Everyone's favorite news site would offer alternatives from hyper-local to international. For each geographical or political jurisdiction, users would be offered the range of available news sources. Part of this could be similar to “allsides.com”, which posts contrasting perspectives on the same topic side by side.
However, allsides.com currently focuses primarily if not exclusively on US national and international news.
The right kind of web application could also make it easy for people to find news about more local events and governmental entities down to individual schools, school boards, city councils, county boards of supervisors, water boards, etc.
This might include a content rating system that could be used in multiple ways:
- Place side by side bloggers with differing perspectives on the same or similar issues.
- Encourage dialog and collaborative research to help the participants better understand each other and produce more thought-provoking articles.
- Help others understand the nature of a conflict and more effectively intervene.
All these could facilitate improved communications, better understanding and conflict resolution.
The defaults for user interests at Everyone's Favorite news site would be determined by geolocation and browsing history. Geolocation would be translated into a list of all the relevant political jurisdictions (see analogy to tailored Open Educational Resources). Users could optionally adjust that by answering questions indicating level of interest in different topics.
From News to Capacity Building and LearningEdit
Imagine news about climate change, new technology, events include sometimes information, terminology or touch scientific topics that might not be clear for everyone. News can be linked to learning and capacitiy building material that allow a better comprehension or could even suggest local activities correponding to the news.
- Hurricane is coming (News), learn about self protection (Capacity Building in Wikiversity),
- Number of Diabetes Patients in Country X is increasing (News), learn about a diet that reduces health risk (Capacity Building)
- News about Great Pacific Garbage Patch (News), What is that? (Wikipedia) and how can I reduce my plastic garbarge? (Wikiversity).
The big benefit of such an approach is that a certain problem, risk or event in the wiki news can be linked directly to the following:
- Capacity building material in Wikiversity,
- Encyclopedic definitions in Wikipedia,
- Citizen activities to support community exposed to risk,
- Trigger humanitarian activities like collaborative mapping (e.g. HOT-OSM Generation of Local Transport Map for Managua or use the Copernicus news for disasters).
A key feature would be to promote a neutral point of view (NPOV), treating others with respect, and providing adequate documentation. This might involve a mix of existing news sources including minutes of meetings and official publications of organizations of all types and sizes from social and religious organizations to small businesses, nonprofits, local governmental bodies and international businesses, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations. It might also link to blog posts showing contrasting perspectives. Potentially inflammatory language would be identified to the extent feasible and matched with other content providing a more balanced perspective.
Consider, for example, the claims of Hutu leaders in 1994 that the Tutsis were cockroaches coming to kill all Hutus. These exhortations convinced many Hutus to preemptively kill their Tutsi neighbors, believing they would be killed if they failed to act preemptively. The claims were mostly but not entirely unfounded: Tutsi guerrillas were destroying property and killing a few Hutus. The threat was, however, massively overstated, apparently to increase the power of exiting elites, including certain international business and geopolitical interests. The result was a major humanitarian catastrophe.
We need something that will effectively counter the divide-and-conquer management of existing for-profit and government-controlled media. Fox has captured much of the right wing of the political spectrum in the U.S. David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, said, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox." A growing body of research suggests that the more that people watch Fox, the less they know. The primary point here is that Fox executives have worked very effectively to maximize profits by segmenting the market with content that attracts a large audience without offending major advertisers.
Similarly, Les Moonves, chief executive of CBS, told an investor conference on February 29, 2016, said the Trump campaign, "may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS ... . The money’s rolling in, this is fun." This explains why Donald Trump got substantially more free air time than other candidates with comparable poll numbers during the 2016 presidential campaign: Trump drew an audience, and advertising rates are based on audience. And Sanders got very little: Many advertisers do not like his message.
Companies like Cambridge Analytica specialize in exploiting people's preconceptions as discussed in the section below on Wikisocial. This essay is written in the belief that the techniques used by companies like Cambridge Analytica might also be used to build bridges rather than walls, as discussed in the sections below on Wikiblog and Wikisocial.
Encouraging the production of more newsEdit
If better news aggregator(s) attract a wider audience, this increased demand might be met by a mix of professional journalists and volunteers writing for various different organizations. Wikinews might fill a reasonable portion of this potential demand: The low acceptance rate of articles in Wikinews currently suggests that people all over the world would be willing to serve as volunteer journalists if given the right kind of support.
Low acceptance rate on WikinewsEdit
Wikinews strives with reasonable success to offer well-written, credible news that attracts an audience.
However, the vast majority of submissions do not get published. In the 95 days between May 28 and August 1, 2017, the English-language Wikinews published 90 articles, almost one per day. These 90 articles were only 1.8 percent of the articles submitted; internationally, 23 percent of submissions during that period were published.
One suspects that most of the unpublished submissions represent potential contributors, who will on average write less for Wikinews in the future.
What might be done to develop and test alternative polices and procedures that might help people with contributions to Wikinews feel more accepted and supported without sacrificing the journalistic quality of Wikinews, even if a specific contribution does not meet Wikinews standards?
Might it help to survey contributors and n:Wikinews:Administrators for the different language versions of Wikinews on what they think might be done to improve the quality and quantity of the articles they publish -- and what numbers should we consider to try to evaluate that? Might it also help to create a system for classifying reasons why articles do not get published? Conducting research of this nature and discussing the implications might help develop alternative polices and procedures so Wikinews attracts more volunteer journalists and editors ("reviewers").
Before or after such a survey, might it help to create “back pages” that would “publish” articles that may not be as newsworthy (too late or not of sufficient general interest) or whose writing style may not be sufficiently professional, but were otherwise written from a neutral point of view citing credible sources? And might it be appropriate to refer authors not prepared to write from a neutral point of view citing credible sources to sister projects like Wikiblog and / or Wikisocial, outlined below?
This could serve at least three purposes:
- People submitting articles that are currently rejected for these reasons might still get the satisfaction of seeing their work accepted. No journalist expects every article to appear on the front page. There's a huge difference between writing for back pages and writing for a trash can in the impact on one's motivation to write more. In that way, they could be encouraged to write more and improve their skills as a journalist.
- "Back page" articles might serve as references for future articles that might be better grounded, because of the earlier documentation.
- People whose actions are described in such secondary articles might still know that someone's watching:
- Boring articles about boring public meetings might reduce the risks of problems like the "city of Bell, CA, scandal": In 2010 the Los Angeles Times published a series of stories noting that the city manager of Bell, CA, a municipality of roughly 35,000 souls, was the best paid public employee in the nation as far as anyone knew: His compensation package exceeded a million dollars per year, more than double that of the President of the U.S. Local property taxes were similarly outrageous, and the city was near bankruptcy.
- The local newspaper had died just over a decade earlier. The city manager effectively decided, “The watchdog is dead. Let's have a party.”
- Boring reports of meetings of governmental bodies can help reduce the risks of such excitement. Many local chapters of the League of Women Voters in the US have “observer corps” that write about such meetings. Wikinews could provide a platform where such observers could describe what they see at any length as long as it seemed factual and adequately documented. This kind of respected platform might encourage more volunteer journalists.
- In addition, some of the articles on these “Back pages” might help future researchers and criminal investigators searching for hints of problems that later become important. This might be compared to astronomy, where amateurs are making important discoveries by monitoring variable stars, tracking asteroids and discovering transient objects, such as comets and novae.
- Even without that, citizen journalists attending and writing about uninteresting meetings learn what to look for and write about in the future. Then when something interesting happens, they may be better able to see it and describe it in terms that are clear, concise, and compelling -- and to do so more quickly, because of the greater experience in writing.
Might it be feasible to create a sister project that might be called “Wikiblog”, where people could write whatever they wanted as long as it was written from a neutral point of view citing credible sources? The system could try to encourage collaboration between different people writing on the same or similar topics: If each can treat the other(s) with respect, they might together produce something far better than any could alone. Both the collaboration and the resulting article might build bridges for the resolution of conflicts that might otherwise be virtually intractable.
Articles drafted for Wikinews that express opinion could be given the option to move to Wikiblog if they can't or don't want to expunge the biased rhetoric.
Social media have become too important to be ignored. People should be able to share with friends whatever they want in an environment that does not make them a target for exploitation, as long as it's not inflammatory.
The world needs and can easily afford a social media platform that flags and appropriately challenges hate speech. The Wikimedia Foundation could offer a new “Wikisocial” project to respond to this need.
Other social media cultivate and amplify racist, sexist, and homophobic perspectives that too seldom get challenged. These groups are identified and exploited by companies like Cambridge Analytica, who convince millions of people to do things contrary to their best interests.
- Every media organization in the world sells changes in the behaviors of its audience to its funders.
Google and Facebook also make money through advertising and are subject to the commercial imperatives of other media organizations: It's not smart to bite the hands that feed you. It's not good business to let too much information pass that might offend major advertisers.
Of course, if Google and Facebook were too blatant about their commercial nature, they'd lose audience. Still, they have a conflict of interest in blocking ads, infomercials, and other material submitted by organizations like Cambridge Analytica.
We can do better with citizen-directed funding for media, which is essentially how the Wikimedia Foundation works.
As of March 2017, Google had 80 percent of the market for web searches. Google's 2004 Initial Public Offering (IPO) included, “Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains." At least to some degree, Google lives up to its motto by helping billions of people all over the world live better by making it easier for them to get information they want and need. (Google has been criticized for tax avoidance and in June 2017 was fined €2.42bn for abusing “its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.”)
Response to conflictEdit
The web site for the Islamic State (ISIL), for example, is not indexed by search engines, allegedly due to "internet policing of different western powers who kept on working to hide it from people like google, Twitter, FB etc." The official justification for this is to limit ISIL's recruiting.
However, this censorship of search results has not prevented the recent rise in terrorist incidents attributed to ISIL.
Censorship has, however, made it harder for people to understand why anyone would support ISIL. This in turn has pushed Western governments to continue counterproductive policies that manufacture recruits for ISIL faster than they can be neutralized.
Might society get better results by replacing censorship with systems that make it easier for all sides in conflict to get information about the grievances that motivate their opposition? Such systems might help citizens in the world's leading democracies understand the counterproductive nature of certain actions by their governments. This enhanced understanding might reduce the abuses of power that drive people off the sidelines to support their opposition.
To help people understand these things, we need media not controlled by existing elites:
- Anything that might offend a major advertiser is not fit to print in the New York Times.
Similarly, everyone who produces content for any media outlet in the world must flinch before disseminating any content that might offend someone with substantive control over media funding and governance. More research and experimentation is needed in this area.
Google is a media company funded by advertising and must of necessity flinch before offending major advertisers. They may not do it yet, but the commercial imperative is a concern. A lion will not become a vegetarian.
Wikianalytica countering the Balkanization of the body politicEdit
Organizations like Cambridge Analytica have reportedly used microtargeting to amplify and exploit the Balkanization of the electorate. The chief executive of Cambridge Analytica bragged about having "somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual [in the US]. ... So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people. Other sources suggested this helped win the Brexit vote.
Similarly, on June 19, 2017, multiple news outlets reported that Upguard, Inc. found that data on 198 million Americans had been publicly available on an unsecured server for some portion of the time between June 1 and 19, 2017. Clearly, Cambridge Analytica is not the only organization in this market. The article reported that the Republican Party had contracted with firms like Deep Root Analytics, TargetPoint Consulting, and Data Trust to compile these data for use in the 2016 elections.
The good news from this is that if microtargeting can be used to divide and conquer an electorate, other organizations could use the same or similar tools to facilitate honest communications and nonviolent conflict resolution in ways that also reduce political corruption and increase the prospects for peace, democracy, and broadly shared economic growth.
- Cagé, Julia (2016), Saving the media: Capitalism, crowdfunding and democracy, Belknap, ISBN 9780674659759
- Friedland, Lewis A. (2014), "5. Civic communication in a networked society: Seattle's emergent ecology", in Girouard, Jennifer; Diranni, Carmen, Varieties of Civic Innovation, Vanderbilt U. Pr., ISBN 0826519997
- Lloyd, Mark; Friedland, Lewis A., eds. (2016), The Communications Crisis in America, And How to Fix It, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 1-349-95030-0
- McChesney, Robert W.; Nichols, John (2010), The Death and Life of American Journalism, Nation Books, ISBN 9781568586052
- For an extended discussion of this, see the Wikiversity articles on "Winning the War on Terror" and "Net neutrality and 'Restoring Internet freedom'".
- An earlier version of this essay with discussion is available in n:Wikinews:Water cooler/policy/archives/2017/July.
- Some but not all web-based investigative journalism organizations are members of the Institute for Nonprofit News (inn.org).
- This decline in investigative journalism has been documented in many places. See, for example, McChesney and Nichols (2016, 2010) and Lewis, Charles (2014), 935 Lies: The future of truth and the decline of America's moral integrity, PublicAffairs books, ISBN 978-1-61039-117-7 . See also the Wikipedia article on "Decline of newspapers".
- Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for path-breaking research into how people actually make decisions. He's a psychologist, not an economist. He won the prize in Economics, because his research showed that the standard economics models of the "rational person" was not how people actually think. In particular, people too often fail to do research when they should. This contributes to the problems from deficits in journalism. Evidence for this is summarized in the Wikiversity article on "Winning the War on Terror".
- McChesney and Nichols (2016, 2010). Cagé (2016). See also section "3.4. Media funding and governance" in the Wikiversity article on "Winning the War on Terror".
- Shane, Scott; Goel, Vindu (Sept. 6, 2017), "Fake Russian Facebook Accounts Bought $100,000 in Political Ads", New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/technology/facebook-russian-political-ads.html
- The "Iraq Inquiry" largely established that the Blair government deceived the public in the justification for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Prominent BBC personalities were forced to resign for asking too many questions about that justification. See also the Wikiversity article on "Winning the War on Terror".
- We may also need to recruit more volunteer editors ("reviewers"), because a current bottleneck in Wikinews (at least in English) is a lack of qualified reviewers. This might be facilitated by creating a group of Wikinewsians called something like "associate reviewers": They might be authorized to recommend articles to (front page) "reviewers" and approve articles for "back pages" of Wikinews. On 30 August 2017, User:Pi zero rejected the idea of "back pages", claiming, "our ability to review articles to a high level of quality would be sucked out of the project by the distraction of trying to maintain an additional, lower-quality class of articles." Qualifying volunteers as "associated reviewers" might break this bottleneck.
- This might work similar to how Wikipedia works but with a more proactive system for selecting topics and facilitating the assembly of teams with diverse perspectives on the topics in question. The resulting blog posts might later inspire related articles on Wikinews, Wikipedia or Wikiversity.
- See also "n:Wikinews:Pillars of Wikinews writing"
- User:Pi zero objected to several aspects of an earlier version of this proposal posted on "n:Wikinews:Water cooler/policy/archives/2017/July#Wikiblogs". One such comment claimed that “Wikipedian policies are totally unsuitable for a news project.” In particular, Pi zero wrote that the principle of “assuming good faith” (AGF) “'absolutely does not' belong on a news site.” I think Pi zero interprets AGF differently from how I do: To me, AGF means treating people with respect and not accusing them of biases, etc., without solid evidence, and perhaps not even then. Each Wikimedia project has procedures for dealing with grossly inappropriate editing that still require people to treat others with respect. In particular, I don't see a conflict between AGF and "n:Wikinews:Never assume": We can always demand better documentation for something without being insulting.
- See "Each article is sourced" in "n:Wikinews:Pillars of Wikinews writing".
- "David Frum on GOP: Now We Work for Fox". Nightline. ABC. March 23, 2010.
- Fox and supporters deny this. The Wikipedia article on "Fox News controversies" contains a section on "Tests of knowledge of Fox viewers" that cites 18 sources. Four of those were claims by leading Fox personalities or by a supporter with the Wall Street Journal that the polls were seriously flawed and propaganda. The other fourteen generally supported the claim here.
- He said essentially the same thing the previous December 7, and in 2012, he similarly said, "Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS." Fang, Lee (February 29, 2016), "CBS CEO: “For Us, Economically, Donald’s Place in This Election Is a Good Thing”", The Intercept (First Look Media), https://theintercept.com/2016/02/29/cbs-donald-trump/ . See also the discussion of this in the Wikiversity article on "Winning the War on Terror," accessed 2017-09-01.
- See, for example, the multiple references on this in the "Media coverage" section of the Wikipedia article on "Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, 2016".
- For current statistics, see "m:https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikinews".
- n:User:Pi zero wrote, ”Blogs have no value journalistically.” I don't argue with that. The purpose of Wikiblog would be to provide a supportive venue that would allow people to ventilate in an environment that would respectfully but firmly support dialogue and respect if not reconciliation. Ideally, the system would help people who continue a discussion on Wikibogs to achieve a fuller understanding of other perspectives in the topic that concerns them. Through this process, the contributors may also gain an appreciation for quality journalism and the perspectives of others that could help reduce the level of conflict in society. And contributors might be more likely to write more in the future within the Wikimedia system. n:User:Pi zero also expressed concern that, 'An actual blog has no standards, to speak of, and has no educational merit and doesn't belong on the wikimedia sisterhood. ... If you're talking about something with standards, but less than Wikinews's, then you're actually talking about lowering Wikinews standards. Which does not work, and in that case issues of journalism certainly are relevant.' I respectfully disagree: Wikinews can retain its standards and retain a larger audience because of those standards. Wikiblog can serve a different purpose.
- Ovide, Shira (23 June 2011), What Would 2004 Google Say About Antitrust Probe?, https://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2011/06/23/what-would-2004-google-say-about-antitrust-probe/ . See also the Wikipedia article on “w:Don't be evil.”
- Boffey, Daniel (June 27, 2017), "Google fined record €2.4bn by EU over search engine results", The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/27/google-braces-for-record-breaking-1bn-fine-from-eu . See also Pratley, Nils (June 27, 2017), "Google fine: EU is not waging underhand trade war against US tech firms", The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/nils-pratley-on-finance/2017/jun/27/eu-google-fine-us-european-commission
- Hashmat, Sajawal (January 21, 2017), How can I find the ISIS website?, Quora, https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-find-the-ISIS-website
- See the Wikiversity article on "Winning the War on Terror"
- Graves, Spencer (2/26/2005), The Impact of Violent and Nonviolent Action on Constructed Realities and Conflict, Productive Systems Engineering, http://prodsyse.com/conflict/Nonviolence&Reality.pdf
- See also the Wikiversity article on "Winning the War on Terror".
- Cheshire, Tom (21 October 2016), Behind the scenes at Donald Trump's UK digital war room, Sky News, http://news.sky.com/story/behind-the-scenes-at-donald-trumps-uk-digital-war-room-10626155
- Biddle, Sam (2017-06-19), Republican data-mining firm exposed personal information for virtually every American voter, The Intercept, https://theintercept.com/2017/06/19/republican-data-mining-firm-exposed-personal-information-for-virtually-every-american-voter/