Without aligning incentives, we can’t kill fake news or save journalism
Doc Searls

Be the incentive you want to see in the world

Insightful post, Doc. On a day-to-day basis incentives beat rules or laws every time. That applies in all settings, and I recently made a similar pitch that digital security can’t be fixed without aligning incentives, and for the same reasons. See Hack Your Culture, Improve Your Security over at Cylance.

But it’s not just the incentives inside the company, it’s the incentive in the greater market. In security terms, any company that is not deferring risk into a latent pool isn’t competitive. Companies can align internal incentives so individual employees are more likely to do the right thing, but they can’t devote an extra point or to of margin to the task without paying for it in stock returns and price.

Similarly, news media can align journalist incentives to favor quality but that doesn’t change what people click on. Any market based on converting attention to money has no cure for clickbait. Making better news doesn’t guarantee a market for better news and any media that turns its back on clickbait and adtech leaves a bigger pie for whoever remains and does so to their own detriment. It isn’t like they take the market with them when they go.

The incentive we need will be expressed in the form of the market we as individuals choose to make. Adtech’s advantage is it’s hundred year head start on technology that refines attention to cash. Beating them at their own game and finding an attention-equivalent to fund real news will therefore be extremely challenging. The Achilles heel of adtech is that a tiny bit of cash displaces many metric tons of attention. Until there’s an attention-equivalent market, we users who want something better than clickbait should reconcile ourselves to paying for it directly.

In my case, I made a deliberate decision to fund real news through direct subscriptions and micropayments via the Brave browser. (Whenever Brave says it’s about to disburse funds, I go turn off non-news sites in Brave’s recipient list.) If enough of us make such choices we can create a market for news to move to, rather than try to chase them out of the only market that pays them. With apologies to Pogo, I have met the incentives and it is us.