On Information Inequality and the Real World

I’ve long felt that journalists don’t fully consider how draining it is to consume the news. While the journalism industry (rightly) laments the speed at which journalists are forced to produce ever-more content, we overlook how much time a person would need to fully absorb and understand all that output.

While aggregators and explainers have attempted to address information overload, their target audiences tend to be tech-savvy. These people have a higher income and education level than the national average, while low-income Americans are regularly overlooked.

Not only do low-income Americans deserve the same level of information as their wealthier counterparts, the lack of high-quality journalism harms them more than other communities. Less money means they may lack the tools to access online-only news outlets, while less education may mean that they lack the skills to assess news accurately. At the same time, unscrupulous marketers target these communities precisely for their lack of funds, education, and knowledge of the world.

Looking to the future of news, Kyle Pope, editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote in 2017, “One all-too-plausible outcome is that access to the information the public needs to meaningfully participate in self-governance will become even more two-tiered: The well-off will receive accurate and timely news, while the struggling will have to settle for unprofessional, misleading ‘news’ that costs them nothing but the effort required to wade through a barrage of down-market advertising. This scenario, in turn, will play into the hands of anti-journalism tyrants, who will be able to point — correctly — to a popular press that is ever less credible.”

I believe that addressing information inequality means stepping back from many of the assumptions made about modern media — that the future is always digital, that only audiences who are willing to pay are worth serving, that financial sustainability should be the driving factor in media innovation — and instead looking at the physical world around us. More on that to come…