My life has been in media — music, newspapers, online, books, investing and education. My primary gig is teaching digital media literacy at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My most recent book, Mediactive, aims to turn passive media consumers into active users — as participants, consumers, and creators at every step of the process starting with what we read.
I’m working on a new book and web project, tentatively entitled Permission Taken, about the increasing control that companies and governments are exerting over the way we use technology and communicate, and how we can take back some of that control.
This week’s Exponential View (it’s an honor to fill in for Azeem) is mostly about—you guessed it—the media, and journalism in particular.
We know how the present looks: gloomy in a business sense but astonishing in many other ways given the array of digital tools we can now use for creation, curation, and access.
DEPT OF THE NEAR FUTURE
The existential threats seem more and more likely these days, so I’ll just offer some optimistic or at least intriguing indicators here of some tech- and media-related things that may turn out better than awful.
As noted above, I’m working on a book about the dangerous (it seems to me, anyway) recentralization of our technology and communications. We need to re-decentralize a lot of this stuff or face major problems down the road. My friend Doc Searls used his Linux Journal column this month to discuss “The Actually Distributed Web,” which I hope will emerge as a real thing, and soon.
📺 It was a small but important milestone in the media wars when Disney announced this week that it would pull (all? most?) material from Netflix (which just bought comic franchise Millarworld) starting in 2019 and start its own streaming service. One of the smarter takes on this move came from the Verge’s Bryan Bishop, who wrote, “Netflix doesn’t want to be a better streaming service — it wants to be Disney.” (Years ago, Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings said the race was on for his company to become HBO before HBO became Netflix.) Will customers agree to pay $10 or more a month each for a bunch of streaming services? I’m skeptical.
📎 Franklin Foer, the former editor of the New Republic, wrote about his experience working for Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder who bought the publication. Foer says Silicon Valley has taken over journalism. I disagree with many of his conclusions, but the piece is well worth reading.
🍎 Remember when Apple was the global leader in protecting customers’ privacy? It just obeyed the Chinese regimes’ anti-VPN edict and pulled VPN apps from its iOS store. This prompted the director of Reporters Without Borders’ East Asia bureau to facetiously share five tips for Apple on how to please China’s rulers.
DEPT OF BOGUS AND INNOVATIVE INFORMATION
We are awash in information these days. As everyone has discovered, though not enough people care, a lot of it is bogus. And a lot of what’s bogus is deliberately so. People who do care about reality and truth are up against expert liars and manipulators, and it’s likely that things are only going to get worse in the near term, though I do have hope in the longer run.
🤥 Even the misinformation ecosystem is complex. Data & Society, a New York City think tank, just published “Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information”—a deep and nuanced report. I hope it’ll help persuade you to never use the expression “fake news,” which is used to cover a host of sins (and worse, it’s been co-opted by people who lie routinely.).
Meanwhile, the BuzzFeed media reporters just published “Inside The Partisan Fight For Your News Feed,” in which they explain how
ideologues, opportunists, growth hackers, and internet marketers built a massive new universe of partisan news on the web and on Facebook.
📹 The days when we could believe video was proof of anything are about to be mostly over. Check out the University of Washington's “Synthesizing Obama” to see what I mean...
It’ll take a while for us to learn how to deal with these kinds of things, and smart people (like the folks at Data & Society) aren’t going to let the bad actors off without a fight. Nor, I hope, will journalists. And it’s noteworthy that a recent poll showed almost three quarters of Americans don’t believe what the White House says. That’s a result of journalism, real journalism.
The near future will be bursting with journalism that uses modern digital tools in innovative ways. I’m a big fan of a genre some call “data journalism,” which is basically doing better reporting by going deep into data. Several recent examples:
✈️ BuzzFeed gets another kudos from me for a project in which it combined human and machine intelligence plus government and aviation databases to unveil government spy planes surveilling Americans. Remarkable work.
From planes tracking drug traffickers to those testing new spying technology, US airspace is buzzing with surveillance aircraft operated for law enforcement and the military.
🍪 More trivial but lots of fun was Eater’s use of USDA and other data to figure out what major food brands are making private-labeled products for Trader Joe’s markets.
The New York Times’ David Leonhardt explained “Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart” with smart graphics and just the right amount of animation.
Want to see more? I’m on the board of the Global Editors Network, which presents annual Data Journalism Awards. This year’s winners and finalists were breathtaking.
It’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with what’s going on in the media/journalism realm, particularly around the collision of media and technology. So I do what you’re doing now: I read a mail list—more accurately, a bunch of lists—and check in at several sites that keep me informed. Here are several of the more useful ones.
SHORT MORSELS TO APPEAR SMART AT DINNER PARTIES
💵 Video visitations in prisons arise as a business opportunity.
Tech’s 8 most dubious promises.
🗽 X-ray maps of NYC subway system.
🚧 Why bother with a user-centered, digital government?
Draft of the climate change report concludes Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change. 😨
Extraordinary story of Britain's early efforts to fund the First World War.
🤓 Using emojis to conduct social media sentiment analysis.