The Age of Distributed Truth

by Mathew on June 29, 2017

Smart post from Eugene Wei about how information gets distributed now, and things that were commonly known in specific circles (like a certain VC’s reputation for sexual harassment) become more widely known.

We live in the age of distributed truth, and it’s an environment in which fake news can spread like mold when in viral form. But the same applies to the truth, and if there’s one lesson on how to do your part in an age of distributed truth, it’s to speak the truth and to support those who do. It may be exhausting work—is it really necessary to point out the emperor is buck naked?—but it’s the best we can do for now.

Source: The age of distributed truth — Remains of the Day

Copy editors at the New York Times have written an open letter to executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn, protesting the downsizing of editing functions at the paper. The Times is planning to get rid of its central copy desk, and aims to reduce the number of editors by about 50%.

“Dear Dean and Joe,” the letter begins. “We have begun the humiliating process of justifying our continued presence at The New York Times. We take some solace in the fact that we have been assured repeatedly that copy editors are highly respected here. If that is true, we have a simple request. Cutting us down to 50 to 55 editors from more than 100, and expecting the same level of quality in the report, is dumbfoundingly unrealistic. Work with us on a new number.”

Source: New York Times copy desk to top editors: ‘You have turned your backs on us’ – Poynter

I have a huge amount of respect for copy editors, and editors of all types — the good ones are invaluable, and have saved me from more stupid errors than I care to enumerate. But the harsh fact is that the kind of structure newspapers used to have, in which four or five different editors touched every story, simply doesn’t make any sense any more.

When I worked at Fortune, one editor was responsible for assigning, copy editing and publishing. Obviously we still made mistakes, but not that much more than any other publication I don’t think. As touching and heartfelt as the New York Times editor’s letter is, there is no way to turn back the hands of time and make the newspaper business what it used to be.

This seems like an interesting — and also ambitious — project aimed at developing a kind of crowdsourced journalism infrastructure based on the crypto-currency Ethereum. Instead of a traditional advertising-based model, the group is proposing to monetize the project (known as Civil) using Ethereum “tokens” or virtual currency that could be exchanged in a variety of ways.

We propose a solution called Civil, an Ethereum-based decentralized platform that can be used to create “newsrooms” and “stations”?—?blockchain-based marketplaces where citizens and journalists form communities around a shared purpose and set of standards, financially support factual reporting and investigative work, and substantially limit misinformation through effective collaborative-editing methods. The net result is a self-sustaining global marketplace for journalism that is free from ads, fake news, a

Source: Civil: Self-Sustaining Journalism — Medium

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Facebook has reportedly been working on building support for paywalls and subscription models into its mobile-first Instant Articles platform. And as with so much of what the social network offers to publishers, it will be a giant double-edged sword.

The company is hoping to roll out support for third-party subscriptions by the end of this year, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.

The proposed feature is still in the development stages, so it’s unclear whether Facebook is planning to take a percentage of the revenue from subscriptions that are activated through Instant Articles (as Apple does through Apple News) or allow publishers to keep all the money.

As far as the structure of the feature goes, Facebook reportedly prefers a metered approach where users would get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay. This is the kind of paywall the New York Times offers.

Imposing such a feature could rankle some other publishers who have harder paywalls, however, such as the Journal itself, or the Financial Times.

There’s no question that support for subscriptions, in whatever way Facebook chooses to implement it, could be hugely beneficial to many media companies. As the social network and Google have increased their dominance in the advertising industry, many publishers have turned to subscriptions as a way of boosting their declining revenues.

According to a recent estimate by industry analyst Brian Wieser, the two digital giants now control more than 75% of the digital advertising business, and last year they accounted for almost 100% of the growth in that industry in the U.S.

Subscriptions have also become more appealing because outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have been having so much success with them, thanks to what appears to be a backlash against President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media.

The risk in Facebook’s new feature, however, is the same as it is with almost every other Facebook offering: Namely, that it will pull media companies even further into the giant social network’s orbit, and thereby give it even more control over their fate.

Instant Articles itself, which formats news articles so they load faster on mobile devices, is exactly this kind of Faustian bargain. It solves a huge problem for many media companies, many of which can’t afford to come up with their own mobile solution, and it offers the potential of reaching Facebook’s massive 1.8-billion user base.

At the same time, however, it gives Facebook an enormous amount of control over the content that publishers produce and how they make money from it. And over the long term, it risks turning media companies into commodity suppliers of news to the social network.

Surveys show that large numbers of people who get their news from Facebook—including the millennial audiences that many media companies are so concerned about reaching—can’t remember the original source of the news they read on the site. The only source that matters is Facebook. What effect does that have on a media company’s brand?

The social network also has a history of changing its mind when it comes to features it offers to publishers. A number of years ago, many bet their future on so-called “social reader apps,” which lived on Facebook and for a time brought in millions of new readers.

That worked until Facebook decided to de-emphasize those apps in the news-feed algorithm, however, and all of a sudden huge numbers of users never saw those apps or the articles within them.

Reaching the billions of users Facebook has is a huge lure for publishers, and understandably so. But building your business—or at least a significant part of it—on someone else’s land can have very real consequences. Facebook may genuinely want to help media companies. But it also wants to help itself. How long until the latter clashes with the former?

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As a number of legal experts warned they might, Donald Trump’s tweets about his “travel ban” helped convince an appeals court to block the controversial order. It’s the second time his own comments have helped the courts knock down the proposed legislation.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision on Monday, ruling that the Trump’s attempt to block immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries “exceeded the scope of the authority delegated to him by Congress.”

In their ruling, the judges cited a tweet from the president that was posted after the recent terrorist attack in London, in which Trump argued that the U.S. needed a travel ban “for certain dangerous countries.”

The Trump tweet was cited in a footnote in the decision, at a point where the court was questioning the justification for the ban.

“The Order seeks to ban people from specific countries, but it does not provide any link between an individual’s nationality and their propensity to commit terrorism or their inherent dangerousness,” the judges said. “In short, the Order does not provide a rationale explaining why permitting entry of nationals from the six designated countries… would be detrimental.”

The court also noted that press secretary Sean Spicer recently confirmed that Trump sees his tweets as official statements from the president of the United States, and therefore they should have the same effect as a statement from the Oval Office.

Immediately after the president posted his thoughts on the travel ban in the wake of the London attacks, a number of people were quick to respond that this was probably unwise, given the fact that the immigration order was still before the courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, warned in a tweet that it was planning to use Trump’s tweets as evidence in its ongoing fight against the order.

Even someone fairly close to Trump — George Conway, a New York lawyer and husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway — suggested that posting such a comment was unwise. “These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters. Sad.”

Conway went on to say that he was a big supporter of Trump and of the immigration ban, but added that tweets on legal matters “seriously undermine Admin agenda and POTUS.”

To make matters worse, Trump didn’t stop at one tweet about the ban (which his own administration had argued vociferously was not actually a ban, and shouldn’t be referred to with that term). The president said that he supported his original order, not the “watered down, politically correct version” that his own advisers had convinced him to sign.

That earlier version of the law was struck down by two lower courts because it was targeted at Muslims, and blocking travel based on a person’s religion is unconstitutional.

“I think he shot himself in the legal foot,” Cornell Law School immigration professor Stephen Yale-Loehr said of Trump’s comments about his preference for the original version of the ban.

One would think that the Trump administration or the president himself might be more careful with posts on Twitter about a legal case, since this isn’t the first time that his tweets have been used against him in a court decision blocking his immigration order.

A lower court in Hawaii that blocked the most recent version of the order, in the case that led to the current ruling by the court of appeal, also cited tweets from the president, as did an earlier 9th Circuit decision on the previous version of the ban.