Jimmy Wales: Trust by engaging the community

On the final day of the GEN Summit 2018, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and founder of Wikitribune, Ed Williams, CEO of Edelman UK, and Matt Kelly, CCO of Archant Group, took to the stage to discuss the topic everyone is talking about at the moment: trust in media. This article includes a video of the session.

Ed Williams, Jimmy Wales, Matt Kelly © Rainer Mirau for GEN

What does the WikiTribune business model look like? Do people trust traditional media to deliver the facts? What should journalism stand for today? And why is Elon Musk getting involved?

Some of the key takeaways from the session ‘Trust me: Why it is not enough’ from the GEN Summit 2018 have been compiled below.

Less trust in media, more trust in journalism

‘Over the last six years, we’ve seen increasingly declining trust in the media industry’, said Williams. The media as an institution is the least trusted institution Edelman measures, and the numbers have been continuously falling.

But there is a clear deviation between traditional media and social media: trust in traditional itself is much higher, particularly in G8 countries, where it is trusted by 60%. In the UK, according to Williams, trust in legacy media is up by 12 points.

Citizen participation

‘The problems facing journalism are well known: the decline of revenue and the incredible pressures on the industry means we need to find new ways of lowering the costs of doing journalism. One way of doing that is legitimately engaging the community. And not just to get more page views, but to really get to more quality’, said Wales.

WikiTribune is trying to do exactly this by getting their community to join in on the reporting. What does their business model look like, then? The news organisation was launched without ads and without a paywall, but a lot of people signed up to the initial crowdfunding campaign, said Wales.

‘A series of bad business decisions’, Wales joked.

Jimmy Wales © Rainer Mirau for GEN

But professional and amateur content are not always in conflict

‘We never hear people talk about citizen dentistry’, said Kelly. Why do people feel like it’s ok to dabble in journalism on an amateur basis? What are the risks in that?

Williams pointed out that there is a 35 point gap between trust in social media and traditional media. According to him, people find it difficult to distinguish between professional content and falsehoods, particularly in the US, where 70% of people can’t tell the difference between objective reporting and ‘fake news’.

Kelly pointed out that Wikipedia was ‘a joke’ among many people at the beginning, but it has become a source of reliable information.

‘Will WikiTribune have to go to that process?’ he asked.

‘So far, we haven’t been a joke’, said Wales. But according to him, WikiTribune have been tightly controlling what they are publishing. The key challenge at the moment is building a community, whilst making sure that no nonsense is put out into the world.

Wales also pointed out that professional journalism and ‘fake news’ are not mutually exlusive.

‘The Daily Mail prints a lot of bullshit’, said Wales. ‘And everyone knows Wikipedia is written by the public, yet it is very serious and tries to get it right’.

The Daily Mail and progressive media

Kelly said that ‘progressive’ media have an urge to show the other side, while right wing media are much less likely to do this. He referenced the Guardian’s ‘Burst your bubble’, which is a weekly guide providing conservative articles to challenge Guardian readers’ worldviews.

Williams, on the other hand, suggested that the Daily Mail wasn’t all bad. Despite the clickbait, the Daily Mail has a campaigning DNA: they ran a campaign to eliminate plastic bags and they put the killers of Stephen Lawrence on their front page, which placed the story in the heart of public consciousness.

‘But they do print a lot of nonsense’, argued Wales. ‘Their business model drives them in that direction, it drives them to clickbait’.

Elon Musk

Kelly referenced Elon Musk who wants to go to war on ‘fake news’ by getting the public to judge the credibility of news.

‘But letting the public decide is how we got this clickbait shit in the first place’, said Kelly.

The public do want facts and quality, said Wales. The New York Times has seen a surge in subscriptions from one million to three million, showing that the public is willing to pay for it, too.

Williams said that one of the main problems is the perception that media has to be about sides and trying to build a bigger audience. ‘It’s better to be first than to be accurate and that is a problem’, he said.

Media prostitution

Kelly brought up the case of the London Evening Standard, whose editor George Osborne has been accused of selling favourable news coverage to companies, such as Google and Uber.

What happens when that level of prostitution enters our commercial frame?, asked Kelly.

Williams said that the Evening Standard is a great product with a short turnaround each day. If the accusations are true, then it erodes journalism and trust in the product.

What should journalism stand for today?

‘Objective truth’, said Williams.

‘Not education not entertainment?’, asked Kelly.

‘If journalism is to continue to grow and thrive, it needs to be synonymous with truthtelling, analysis, commentary, objective truth, and communication and delivery of facts’, concluded Williams.

‘Facts’, said Wales. ‘Facts can be very interesting and entertaining’. He concluded that not every newspaper needs to be completely neutral. ‘I also want clever and interesting people to analyse a case’.