Why we need to innovate THE News.
As featured in the CoFounder Magazine (Download for iPhone/iPad)
Information is one of the most valuable assets anybody can have, but we need to be able to process information in order for it to be truly valuable. Today, quantity can be a problem. If you are bombarded by a huge amount of information, how can you process it effectively? We can’t. The majority of us, at least, can’t.
So what to do?
We create filters, so we can only deal with the information we have deemed valuable in the past. One may say we create ‘editorial policies’.
And this brings me to THE News.
Press, News Outlets, Mass Media, or any other name you want to use, is a platform. A platform that helps us to filter most of the information out there and give us, based on its own editorial policy, news from around the world.
But what is news? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is ‘newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.’
And using the same source, THE News is ‘a broadcast or published report of news.’
Thus, we can safely say that a press medium is a broadcast or published report of newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.
What filters does a news platform use to sift through all that information? On what basis is an event deemed newsworthy, or in the public interest?
One of the main rules is proximity. The closer the event, the more likely to affect us. This was absolutely true throughout the history of journalism, visible since the early 17th century.
For instance, a bridge collapses in a corner of Europe; this will disrupt the lives of the people around, therefore, is noteworthy information. It can go as far as national, depending how much it affected the people in the immediate vicinity. It can trigger ‘empathy’ further away geographically.
But how does this affect an individual on the other side of the world? It doesn’t! Or to be more exact, it didn’t. Because due to the lack of a lot of economic, technologic and cultural factors, it would have been impossible for him to even know about that 150 years ago.
So what changed in the last century that did not change for the previous ten?
Alvin Toffler theorises that if you apply Kondratiev’s wave of technological breakthrough cycles throughout history, not just to the modern world economy; the distance between each wave grows smaller and smaller as we approach modern days.
He puts forward the idea that up to 1000 years ago we might have needed a few generations, if not more, to go through to the next technological revolution, that in turn creates leading industrial or commercial sectors, changing the way we interact with the environment and with each other. Around 1900, the distance between the ‘revolutions’ is down to 40–60 years, and it can go down to up to 20–30 years after 1990. That means that where our ancestors had a lifetime to adapt and pass on knowledge to their offspring, we could now experience at least a couple of ‘revolutions’ in one lifetime.
Looking back at our beloved platform, THE News, a couple of things changed dramatically in the last century. And, as any other living organism, it tried to adapt, usually by getting the quickest route out, or reacting in self-defence.
First, let’s take the financial ‘nourishment’. As any living organism, THE news needs to find resources to live. The basic one is money. It needs it to ensure its physical existence. At the beginning, the relationship was simple. It was a basic trade between her and us. We would give her a penny and she would give us the filtered news. The deal was, we were ‘feeding’ her, on the condition she will do her best to give us relevant information, gathered by educated individuals, who would ‘objectively’ filter the information, and put it in a pill.
I think that we still trust THE News, based on that simple principle that is the basis of society. I trust that you will return my favour! It is an idea you can read about in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence. It is based on the assumption that when you are granted a ‘favour’, we have to return that ‘favour’, in order for our society to work.
To adapt it to our case: I trust you to give me correct information because I have given you the necessary means you need to continue to exist.
That relationship was embedded in our society for about four generations, from the late 17th century.
What happens when you change the players? How does THE news react to the fact that her nourishment comes from somewhere else? Instinctively, she has to, based on our principle, return the favour to the feeding hand. I know your first thought is to blame the ‘moguls’, and you would not be entirely wrong. But please bear with me, I don’t think it is that simple.
I don’t think the players changed, we just added some new ones, in a very short period of time. We have added a middle man. So instead of giving the ‘penny’ directly to THE press, we are giving it to a middleman who, in turn, passes it over to her. Because it is our ‘penny’, we still believe that we are owed that ‘favour’, but because it doesn’t come from us, THE press does not believe she owes us that favour. In the same time, the middle man is able to stay more or less invisible.
Plato talked about whether an intelligent person, regardless of previous beliefs, would be moral if he did not have to fear of being held accountable for his actions in the Ring of Gyges. Spoiler alert: he believes we can’t.
So what stops the middleman keeping his morals? Nothing, usually.
The question is who is the middle man? He might not be a real individual, he can be an entity very similar to our beloved THE press. He can be, for example, Advertising, Political Entity, or Corporation, each with a life of its own.
If we look at them as a ‘living creature’, we can explain a lot of recent reactions. Thus, based on the favour for a favour rule, THE news feels her debt is owed to wherever her nourishment has stemmed. If advertising was the financial support in this example, THE news would tailor her output to ensure information was valuable for advertisers. Therefore, THE news has lost its responsibility towards us.
This can be applied to any of the relationships she has with the other players, and things do go dark.
This is one of the main reasons that the credibility of mass media has diminished radically. Because we feel betrayed.
You can explain using the same relationship, why millennials trust social media more that THE news. Because there is a different, more direct trade system. We interact with news a way we have never been able to before, giving likes, views and retweets in exchange for something that we consider noteworthy. Although the definition of noteworthy has been changed dramatically in the past 50 years, ironically by the one we trusted the most (THE news), our control of the trade forces us to trust more the information we receive from social media.
Let’s move on to our second reason that things changed for our friend. With the advances in technology, we have managed to delete, within the last 30 years, one of the main rules of any editorial policy: the rule of Proximity.
We can now talk and connect to anybody on the planet without being physically next to him, for example. But more important, individual actions, have an almost immediate impact, beyond our physical reach. Be it on a cultural, economical, political or an individual level.
A quick note before we go further. The news is noteworthy to us if it triggers a reaction in us. There are a lot of different types of news and a lot of reactions that they precipitate in us. It can be happiness, sadness, laughter etc. But the one I think that is vital is ‘empathy’, because when we feel it we tend to act to do something to help because we can relate to that.
Is Kim’s ass newsworthy? No. But her success paints a picture of how THE News has been corrupted and stripped of it’s original definition! Hal’s series, portrays the society better and more accurate than the initial image.
That feeling is another key element to us being successful as a society, because it triggers a lot of other emotions that put together are too powerful for us to cope with and we need to act, to solve the problem, so we can feel better. For the majority of our history, the amount of events in our lifetime that would trigger a strong emotional response would be limited to a geographical area.
Now we have abruptly deleted proximity from the equation, we are faced with a huge wave of news, that would normally provoke ‘empathy’, that we cannot cope with.
So as previously stated, we apply filters in self-defence. The most simple defence mechanism is to fill up with ‘noisy’, irrelevant information that would not leave a place for anything else.
So how does THE press, our favourite filter, cope with this? She reacts in self-defense as well. And what it does is to apply the same rules as before, but to change the perspective, so both us and she could cope with emotional responses.
What she does is to dehumanise anything that does not pass through the proximity rule. She provides the same information, but it ‘rephrases’ it to protect. It reacts as we would do.
Let me give you an example. Take 1 mile around you. If in that one mile something tragic would happen, you would feel compelled to act in a way or another. It will trigger some emotion, powerful enough to force you to react.
Yet this kind of events happens every day, around the world. So why don’t we react in the same way? Because when we read about them, on our favourite platform, they are dehumanised. Take for example a headline from a big paper last week: “Hundreds feared dead in migrant shipwreck off Libya”. What it does, is to offer a philosophical term and a number, something we can deal with. Now imagine you knew a few individuals that were on that ship. What would be your reaction then?
This is not an evil reaction. It is a self-defence mechanism to a series of events, that we as a society did not manage to adapt to. Our self-defence reaction is to take the easy way out and not to deal with it.
Unfortunately, due to this and a few other reasons, some more dark than others, THE News, has been shifted away from journalism. What used to be the lifeblood of Main Stream Media, is now pushed to the side. It is making a comeback, it finds alternative platforms because it has ‘empathy’ and it reacts to its environment, and even if it will take some time to adapt to the fast moving scenery, it can’t stop.
There is a new entity that can help a lot. Startups, or to be more exact the Startup Environment. The reason behind this organism is very simple. And it is not money, as some would like us to think. It is a simple statement: I have a problem, how can I fix it?
Regardless how financially successful startups become, the mentality of what is now a movement that drags in more and more individuals, spanning continents, cultures and generations, is always the same: find a problem, engage with it, find a solution.
It did not have to adapt to the new rules, or lack of rules because it was born in it. So it embraces the fact that we are not bound by physical proximity. It is proactive and lives on change and innovation. It is still a child, and will have the tantrums of a teenager. But this is good because that is the age where you challenge everything! And even if you are not always right, you learn you adapt, and, more important, you have the energy to make all of your ideas happen.
So what can THE News learn from Startup Environment? One thing can be the ethos of not taking the easy way out. Try not to focus on the next second, and focus on the long term. Innovation does not come from spreadsheets. The simplest solution works, but it usually the hardest to achieve. Educate your audience, and give them something inspirational that they can use to challenge the world around because they are bound to return the favour!
THE News needs to go through a ‘revolution’, an innovation stage. Innovation does not happen by taking the same tool, and painting it a different colour, and giving it another name. That is simply marketing.
Innovation is when you understand that not the colour or the name are the problems. It is when you try to understand what they are and find a solution to fix them! And in the process, you will make the world a better place for all, as any Startup does.