Pressland Is the First Map of the Global Media Supply Chain
Our radically transparent, “farm-to-table” accountability platform will help restore public trust in the media.
As consumers, we demand accountability. Whether it’s knowing the farmer who harvested the eggs on our breakfast table or the factory that made the sneakers on our feet, we expect a certain amount of transparency in the supply chains that lead into our homes.
Why should we expect anything less when it comes to news?
Journalists have a tendency to speak of their profession in grandiose terms. We are the Fourth Estate. We are the sunlight that exposes and disinfects corruption. We are the last line of defense against political overreach. Rare (and not too bright) is the journalist who chooses the job in pursuit of power and money. Ours is an industry of idealists.
But the media is nonetheless plagued by its own abuses, corruptions and structural faults. False news, misinformation, disinformation, hidden bias, conflicts of interests, consolidation of ownership — each, in its way, has steadily weakened the media’s credibility with the public.
When threats of this scale emerge in the food supply, we know what to do. During a salmonella outbreak, say, investigators examine the supply chain for vulnerabilities and failures:
At Pressland, we understand that the media’s day-to-day production of articles, videos, commentary and other content can be visualized in much the same manner:
Public trust and confidence in the media are at all-time lows. And the problem is much broader than political tribes distrusting — and demonizing — the other side. As Max Read wrote in New York magazine, chicanery is rampant and sowing distrust in every corner of digital media:
Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real.
The media’s supply chain has been corrupted, top to bottom. If we hope to regain the public’s trust, we must bring a new level of transparency to the entire production process. Pressland is the first platform to bring “farm-to-table” accountability to the media.
The next question, then, is: What to do with this data?
We’re going to share it.
Pressland is not alone in the fight to win back the public’s trust in media. More than a few startups and nonprofits are touting their own solutions. NewsGuard, started by veteran journalist Steve Brill, for example, is betting on its human-curated “Newstrition” nutrition labels to assign trust. Trive believes that algorithms can do this job. Our.News believes in crowd-voting; Proof combines gambling and fact-checking.
We applaud, and support, each of these efforts. But without a comprehensive data set that includes the entire media supply chain, we’re not sure they can deliver fully on their promises.
Or consider the so-called BUMMER platforms (“Behaviors of Users Modified and Made into Empires for Rent,” per Jaron Lanier) — Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp. The tech giants claim to be waging war against mis- and disinformation, but they’ve so far failed miserably.
Why the failure? Why can’t the world’s largest, wealthiest technology companies successfully protect their users from bad actors, malicious manipulation and bias masquerading as journalism?
They’re not working with the right data, either.
Consider Facebook. To verify news and assign trust, the company continues to rely on its own users’ behavioral and historical data. In the post-Cambridge Analytica world, do we really think 15 years’ worth of Facebook data is a trustworthy or useful datapoint in the fight against false news?
The same goes for YouTube, Google, WhatsApp and the rest of the BUMMERs: Their historical data, algorithms and processes are flawed by bias at best, actively corrupted at worst.
Pressland is offering a fresh start. No matter how the media-trust industry is calculating trust — humans, robots or voting booths — it needs a new source of data that’s accurate, reliable and unbiased.
- With cynicism at an all-time high, the media must actively reclaim the public’s trust.
- To regain this trust, journalists, editors and publishers must embrace radical transparency as a core value.
- Built by journalists, Pressland is a unique platform that accurately catalogs the work of reporters, editors, producers and other content creators.
- Our blockchain-powered index helps news consumers better understand and trust media professionals and institutions — and the work they produce.
- In the battle against misinformation, social networks, platforms and publishers are in desperate need of Pressland’s accurate and unbiased data.
- We are not fact-checkers; we are not assigning trust or truth to articles, authors or outlets.
- We are collecting the agnostic data of media production. From reporter to newsstand, what factors influenced the publishing process?
* Who wrote this article?
* Who edited this article?
* Who else influenced this article’s production?
* Who published this article?
* Who owns the publishing outlet? Who are its executives and directors?
* What conflicts of interest, if any, do we find?
- This data is then offered as an enterprise product to third parties working to debunk false news and stop the spread of misinformation to their own users.
- The future of media is radically transparent.
- Trust equals data plus context.
- Protect privacy above all else.
- No hiding behind black-box algorithms.
- Collaboration yields accuracy and reliability.
- We are veteran media professionals with proven track records of innovation and public-mindedness.
- We are nonpartisan and non-ideological.
- We understand the importance of technological advances when it comes to publishing; we’ve been helping to forge the future of digital media since the days of the Mosaic browser.
- Our team has worked together previously on several successful media-related projects covering the front-end and back-end of the business, in the U.S. and abroad.
- We’re mapping a very complicated global supply chain in real-time; blockchains and supply chains get along famously.
- Blockchain (aka distributed ledger technology, or DLT) makes it possible to securely store sensitive information without sacrificing the accountability necessary to build trust.
- Using our own transactional currency, we can incentivize our community to help update, verify and maintain the index.
- By storing individual and institutional profiles as their own non-fungible tokens, we satisfy the dual needs of verifying ownership and ensuring data transparency.
- As decentralized media platforms gain market share, they will need partners with tech stacks that match their own.
Today’s Trust Crisis
The news media is an institution in peril. Newsrooms around the country continue to downsize and disappear. Those that remain find their work increasingly dismissed by the public they serve.
Not every aspect of this crisis can be addressed with technology. But we believe it can make a difference. This is especially true when it comes to the critical issues of transparency and trust.
It’s naive to think there has ever existed complete trust between the press and the public. People have always understood that their local newspaper publisher had partisan and class loyalties — not to mention direct business interests, partners and allies — that influenced coverage in myriad subtle and not-so-subtle ways. But the public generally trusted their local newspaper and the nightly news as part of a “fourth estate” that occupied an important role in society.
This baseline of trust made it possible for the press to function as a democratic check on abuses of power, locally and nationally.
This is no longer the case. A study published in 2018 by the Knight Foundation found that 43% of Americans have a negative view of the news media. Two-thirds believe media outlets fail to separate fact from opinion, and fewer than half of U.S. adults can name an objective news source. Also in 2018, a Pew Research study found that, when presented with five facts and five opinions, barely one-quarter of Americans could correctly identify the difference.
And yet, a large majority of Americans (80%) still believe “the news media are critical or very important to our democracy.” They still expect the media to keep them informed of public affairs and “[hold] leaders accountable for their actions.”
Much the same story is unfolding around the world.
Citizens yearn for an aggressive and public-spirited media they can believe in. The old faith and trust may have a faint heartbeat, drowned out by the vitriol and noise on social media and cable news, but it’s still there, waiting to be revived.
Reclaiming that trust is no small task; there is no silver bullet. What’s obvious, however, is that the same tech giants who have done so much to degrade the public trust cannot alone restore it. Commercial interests like Facebook and Google don’t really understand journalism or the media more broadly — it’s possible they don’t even care — leaving them ill-equipped to tackle today’s crises.
Other would-be saviors come with their own complications. In May, Elon Musk floated the idea of building a “Yelp for Media.” While the basic idea has some merit, the source rightly gave people pause. It was easy to imagine Musk — a billionaire industrialist who enjoys a gladiatorial relationship with his critics in the media — using such a platform to wield his power to settle grudges, not reclaim trust.
Similar concerns would apply to any initiative headed up by a businessperson or corporation with their money and reputation on the line.
Proposed solutions arising from the government are even more problematic. In April 2018, we learned that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was soliciting bids for a “media monitoring service” to catalog, categorize and surveil the media — particularly those journalists who cover the DHS. Appearing as it did in the context of the Trump administration’s long-running and escalating “war on the press,” most journalists and much of the public found this news deeply troubling. (For more, see “Department of Homeland Security” in the appendix.)
It is not the business of profiteers, the government or billionaires to reclaim public trust in media. This responsibility and challenge belongs to the media itself.
How It Works
Pressland is the first global platform for reclaiming public trust in media. Our radically transparent, decentralized media directory serves as both public resource and developer’s tool to help win the battle against misinformation and false news.
Start with Data
Taking advantage of new possibilities opened up by blockchain technology, Pressland is putting journalism’s entire supply chain into the public record. This, we believe, is the first step toward rebuilding public trust in our work and our institutions.
With Pressland serving as the media’s IMDb, social networks, search engines, fact-checkers and other media analysts can finally answer these questions with confidence:
- Who wrote this article, and what is their history?
- Who edited this article, and what is their history?
- Who else influenced this article’s production?
- Who published this article?
- Who owns the publishing outlet? Who are its executives and directors?
- What conflicts of interest, if any, are evident from analyzing this data?
- Given this information, can I trust what I’m reading, watching and sharing?
This is possible only with a complete accounting of the media’s tremendous minute-by-minute output. We’re the first to admit that this is an enormous undertaking. Fortunately, our team has first-hand experience with massive data sets and computationally intense analysis.
Employing an always-on data collection and analysis engine, we index all media output: print and online articles, videos, blog posts, podcasts, newscasts and segments, social media posts — everything.
At the same time, output is matched with its creators through an accurate and up-to-date collection of mastheads and freelance relationships, maintained by constant monitoring of industry developments and job changes as reported in trades, newsletters, social media posts, media lists, comment sections and web forums.
Pressland employs several techniques and technologies to collate and store indices of this data on a permissioned blockchain. This information is then published on the Pressland platform as a free resource; enterprise-grade tools are commercially available for third parties who need unfettered access to this data.
We’ve already developed technology that collects, analyzes and indexes individual articles. But this is really just a better media-list mousetrap. Our road map is much more ambitious: We intend to catalog the entire editorial lifespan of content, including editors, fact-checkers, producers and other influences on the production process. Think of a movie’s IMDb page that includes everyone from the star to the sound editor.
Planned data sources include but are not restricted to:
- LinkedIn profiles (within legal limits)
- Twitter bios, public tweets and other actions
- Facebook bios and public updates
- Wikipedia entries and citations
- Trade websites, newsletters and forums
- Publisher mastheads
- Publisher RSS feeds
- Commercial media lists (within licensing boundaries)
- Other public resources and directories
Data collection and processing techniques include:
- Natural language processing (NLP) and pattern recognition
- Link, hashtag and keyword analysis
- Always-on social listening
- Entity extraction, categorization and collation
- Contextual disambiguation
- Deep-web indexing and forum-specific data-mining
- Industry-specific signal detection
- Meta-data analysis
- Manual collection and verification
- Human-intelligence microtasks
We estimate that six months of beta testing is required to achieve confidence in the accuracy of historical and current data.
Exact tech specs are still under development and will be published in subsequent updates to this document. In the meantime, Pressland 1.0’s planned architecture looks something like this:
Automation is required to meet the challenge of collecting, collating and indexing the vast, always-on outflow of data that’s thrown off by the media every day. Technology accounts for much of our operating budget.
But scripts and bots can’t appreciate or process the vast subtleties in the media ecosystem. Human intelligence plays an integral role in keeping Pressland current and accurate.
Here the case of Wikipedia is instructive. As the world’s largest community-powered online platform, Wikipedia shows the power of a loyal, productive volunteer collective. Three years ago, like Wikipedia, Pressland had only goodwill and pride to offer contributors for their time and efforts.
Goodwill and pride are no longer sufficient to power the construction of massive online projects. They barely even work anymore for Wikipedia. If Wikipedia were launched today, it would necessarily include new community incentives that did not exist a decade ago.
That’s why, inspired in part by Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Pressland 2.0 will offer bounties on media news.
Here’s how it works. Say one of our news collectors is dedicated to the Der Spiegel beat. Every time a new writer is hired or a new byline appears, that person is paid a bounty to update this data on Pressland. Smaller cascading bounties are offered for verification and dispute resolution as needed. To prevent fraud and abuse, we monitor this process using a combination of algorithms and human intelligence; payments are executed via smart contract.
To create a self-sustaining economy, Pressland also offers paid services to third parties. Let’s say the publisher of a trade publication needs half a dozen tech freelancers to work on a series of articles. They could offer, say, a $50 bounty for a verified list of qualified journalists. The community member who claims and compiles the list gets 75% of the fee; 20% is divided among the community members who verify the information; a 5% transaction fee is paid to Pressland.
In this manner, we create liquidity on the platform.
To build the initial community, we will seed our reward economy according to forecasted demand. Moving forward, this microeconomy is designed to run on its own, supported by a number of revenue streams.
Media as Partners
The most reliable sources of data are media professionals themselves. Everyone featured on Pressland is urged to claim their page and verify the data we’ve collected. They will be prompted to add articles we may have missed and fix any errors.
We also have a mechanism by which they can contact Pressland admin and report any issues related to privacy, abuse or false information. In the event of a dispute, our team will work directly with the complainant to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. For more about our efforts to ensure accuracy and protect privacy, see “Safeguards and Backstops, below.”
To verify their identity, writers are directed to sign into Pressland using a trusted credentialing service such as LinkedIn, a blockchain-based identity protocol or a combination thereof. We will also offer two-factor authentication to prevent account jacking.
Those without social media accounts are provided alternative verification methods. Likewise, the use of pseudonyms are accounted for, where appropriate.
The Role of Blockchain
Pressland is more than just a database. It is a map of the entire media ecosystem — i.e., its supply chain — maintained in something close to real-time.
Supply chains and blockchain tech, it turns out, make perfect bedfellows. Just ask Walmart, Maersk or Canada’s legal cannabis industry. By decentralizing vast, complicated data sets — such as production dates, shipping details, recipient signatures and so forth — it’s possible to retrieve important information more quickly, especially in a crisis.
Using blockchain, it’s also possible to maintain unquestionably accurate retroactive records of all entries.
Blockchain technology is often described as “trustless.” This reflects the absence of a central authority. Instead, network participants determine the reliability of their counterparts by relying upon consensus protocols.
Every blockchain relies on some sort of consensus protocol — as opposed to a central authority — to validate transactions between parties that are otherwise unknown to each other. Preethi Kasireddy has written an excellent primer on blockchain’s trust functions.
Can technological trustlessness translate to the real world?
Yes, it can.
Consider decentralized media platforms. Several blockchain-based startups hope to reinvent the business of media distribution by putting content onto blockchain-powered networks. The idea is to eliminate the need for central authorities and middlemen alike, putting the power of the press — and all the fruits of digital consumption — back into the hands of journalists and other creators.
Direct-to-consumer media platforms are not a new idea. In the late 1990s, bloggers were heralded as a radical new force arising behind the lines of traditional gatekeepers. In aggregate, bloggers were essentially a decentralized media network.
It turned out that many bloggers — especially the more successful ones — preferred not to remain outside of the legacy media institutions. Soon enough, institutions brought them in-house. One of the best examples is Brian Stelter, whose dorm-room TV Newser blog led to a staff job at the New York Times and a CNN show.
This is not to disparage bloggers or criticize previous efforts to decentralize the media. As veterans of independent media — including ’zines and alternative weeklies — we’re enthusiastic supporters of distribution platforms outside of publishing power centers and hierarchies.
But there’s one inconvenient fact that needs to be addressed: A great many media consumers, to some degree, will continue to rely on recognizable logos, mastheads and bylines to determine trustworthiness. That’s why journalists have historically relied on institutional imprimaturs to reach their readers, gain trust and make a difference.
The same will hold true in the coming age of blockchain-driven decentralized media. Whether they’re reading one article they discovered on social media, or they’re voracious readers of everything related to a single topic, news consumers still need fundamental knowledge of the writer, their track record and their integrity in the field they’re covering (or lack thereof).
Pressland is dedicated to providing this fundamental knowledge. By indexing and verifying the media ecosystem, we give readers a reliable, easily accessed means of assigning trust to the news that matters to them.
One of blockchain’s hallmarks is the immutability of its ledger. Because a complete history of every transaction is held by all network participants, it’s virtually impossible to falsify old transactions. This reliability is why supply chain managers are moving their records to distributed ledgers, and why the financial industry is experimenting with blockchain for reconciliation processes.
Applied to journalism, this permanence-of-data is not intended as a tool to hold writers accountable for their every mistake; journalism stored on a blockchain ledger can live and breathe just as it does elsewhere.
Rather, it becomes a tool for improving accuracy and accountability. For example, on a distributed ledger, it’s a simple task to restore earlier data in the event of a data dispute. Likewise, if, after review, a dispute is deemed unfounded, the original data can be restored immediately. This confidence-in-data is much harder to accomplish with traditional centralized structures.
But wait, there’s more. Given enough historical data, immutable versions bring up another tantalizing possibility: a Wayback Machine for the media. The Wayback Machine is the famous digital archive of the world wide web launched in 2001 by the nonprofit Internet Archive. Though not perfect, the Wayback Machine is an invaluable tool for uncovering older versions of websites, particularly during the web’s early years.
With Pressland’s index stored on a blockchain, we can provide a snapshot of the media at any time in the past. Let’s say you wanted to know the Guardian’s Art & Design editor on, say, March 23, 2019. As simple as zooming back through your camera roll, this is possible. One might even trace the career of a popular, contemporary journalist over the past decades.
Given access to enough extant historical data, these are very realistic, very valuable use cases for Pressland’s technology.
The Future of Media Is Radically Transparent
Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis famously spoke to the power of transparency:
Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.
To regain the public’s trust, the media must first pull aside the curtain and let the sun shine into our newsrooms and news-gathering efforts. Then, critically, this light must continue to shine — serving as Brandeis’s “efficient policeman.”
We’re not anxious to describe ourselves as policemen, but it’s the function of ongoing transparency that Pressland is built to serve. Speaking as journalists ourselves, we believe media consumers have the right to know who worked on a story and who published it. We also believe that reporters, editors and publishers will welcome the opportunity to stand behind their work and its production. Perhaps not universally, and not immediately, but we believe that radical transparency will become a non-negotiable aspect of media’s evolution and survival.
The issue of transparency is hardly restricted to political reporting or journalism as traditionally understood. From parenting bloggers to war reporters and consumer guide editors, all content creators are susceptible to corruption, bias and inaccuracy — intentional and otherwise.
Meanwhile, content marketing and sponsored content have encouraged even the most reputable publishers to blur the line between journalism and marketing. Affiliate advertising clogs the web and social media platforms with phony reviews, untrustworthy news and other scams.
Publishers should draw a clear line between “pure” journalism and commercialized content, but blurring this line is profitable. Sponsored articles disguised as journalism are more valuable than traditional ads, and referral fees are so lucrative that most media outlets now feature shopping guides packed with affiliate advertising links.
It falls, then, to a trusted third party to accept the challenge of bringing greater transparency to the media ecosystem. That’s why we’re here.
Trust Equals Data Plus Context
At Pressland, we believe that trust starts with data. However, borrowing the legal principle known as noscitur a sociis — “it is known by its associates” — we propose that trust is earned through context.
To clarify: Our mission is not to assign trust. We’re not fact-checking articles. We’re not judging the merits or politics of any journalist, editor or writer. There are other startups with that mission, and we’re eager to support their efforts as partners.
We are instead collecting, verifying, indexing and publishing the data of journalism. We are documenting the media ecosystem agnostically; we’re mapping without prejudice a supply chain that begins with the reporter and ends with the reader.
A news consumer’s political beliefs are of no interest to us. Every time they click on a headline, they should have available that article’s context: Who wrote this article and what is their history?
The privilege of assigning trust belongs to the reader or, when news is consumed through a platform or service, to the gatekeepers who have accepted this responsibility. Whether individual or institution, we ensure they have all the relevant data, presented contextually, at their fingertips.
Protect Privacy Above All Else
Not everyone is crazy about bringing radical transparency to the media, particularly when it comes to their own personal information. Maybe they’re reporting on dangerous people. Maybe they’re giving a voice to oppressed communities. Maybe their race, religion, sexual orientation or gender puts them at risk. For many journalists around the world, privacy is a matter of life and death.
We take this responsibility very seriously. Our understanding of transparency stops well short of doxxing. Pressland does not condone, enable or accept any form of abusive or overly intrusive behavior conducted in the name of transparency.
That said, all public accounts are potentially on the table. Today’s news consumers are within their rights to consider a writer’s publicly broadcast opinions, associations and interests when assigning or withholding their trust. This doesn’t mean every piece of personal data in the public record meets our criteria. Pressland is not interested in bringing to light 15-year-old divorce proceedings. But tweets or public records that reveal commercial conflicts of interest, or Facebook posts that betray a strong and relevant personal bias? Those are fair game.
We admit that this can sometimes be a tricky distinction to make. To ensure Pressland errs on the side of privacy and executes sound judgment, we’ve formed an advisory board that includes media ethicists and legal experts. We’re also partnering with the Independent Media Institute to consult on privacy issues, with community guidelines posted at pressland.com.
No Hiding Behind Algorithms
Pressland is itself transparent. We do not hide behind trade secrets or protected algorithms. The strength of our data rests on it being accurate, transparent and auditable.
To that end, we make available all criteria employed in deciding what data is relevant and worthy of public review. We are available and attentive in the event of inaccurate data entering our index, and prioritize the concerns of those media professionals whose work we feature.
That’s not the case with commercial media-list peddlers who keep their data private and generally lack mechanisms for disputing and correcting information. Cision for example, uses a proprietary system and does not allow writers to submit corrections. The same goes for similar services focused on identifying “influencers” on behalf of marketers.
Collaboration Yields Accuracy and Reliability
A collaborative ethos is woven into Pressland’s DNA. We invite all journalists, writers and content creators to stand up and be counted, and to keep their profiles current and accurate. If we do our job right, the journalist’s Pressland page will stand as the most accurate and referenced representation of their work.
Pressland is committed to being a leader in transparency and collaboration in other ways. Our data is open for use by third parties and developers on a sliding scale, including steep discounts for nonprofits and other public-minded enterprises. We look forward to seeing products built on top of our data.
Benefits to Journalists
For Pressland to succeed, we need the support of journalists themselves. To that end, we’ve gone to great lengths to build a company that considers and serves their needs as well as those of the public.
The most visible benefit is the writer profile page, which we will provide for everyone whose byline is indexed by Pressland. These profiles pages can be claimed and maintained by the writers themselves; they come with built-in perks.
Google can be a poor arbiter of journalistic merit, yet its page-one search results are routinely used to judge entire careers. Because its algorithms are opaque, susceptible to manipulation and built to serve advertisers, the subject of the search has little or no control over these results.
Pressland, on the other hand, believes journalists must be active partners in constructing indices that fairly and accurately represent their work. For starters, articles do not appear randomly on profile pages, but according to weights that provide context and appropriate value to the listed work.
Additionally, verified writers are provided tools for collating and sorting their bylines. Just about every writer has at least one article that they believe muddies their image, dilutes their oeuvre or in some way misrepresents their life’s work. Maybe it’s early-career blogging or a spate of content marketing that paid the bills in a crunch; or maybe it’s a body of substantive work that just doesn’t jibe with the writer’s current career focus.
Having these articles appear prominently in search results can be a problem for writers seeking assignments. Worse, they can detract from a writer’s reputation. Google doesn’t know that an award-winning investigative series into high-level political corruption should not appear beneath (or even necessarily beside) a short travel piece cranked out for beer money. What’s more, Google doesn’t care.
Working with Pressland, journalists are empowered to arrange individual articles in a way that best represents their career accomplishments and current focus.
Independent, Direct Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding platforms like Patreon make it possible for performers, podcasters, writers and other artists to solicit support directly from fans and followers. The goal is to create sustainable sources of income for independent content creators.
But managing a crowdfunding page is no easy task. In Patreon’s case, supporters are all but required to become sustaining members. It’s not designed for one-off donations, let alone microdonations.
We can help. Because we have a native transactional currency, it’s a simple matter for media professionals to accept donations — from small “tips” to more significant underwriting — directly from their supporters via their profile pages.
The minimum donation is just $1, and Pressland does not charge any fees for this service. We provide embeddable buttons for those writers who publish on their own platforms.
We’re not trying to compete with Patreon, Kickstarter, GoFundMe or anyone else. We see the Pressland donation link — let’s just call it the Tip Jar — as a complement to crowdfunding sites. In fact, we’ll be including options for embedding Patreon and other support buttons on Pressland profiles.
Better Eyeballs on Your Articles
Of the many unseen forces that dictate how we consume information online, recommendation engines are among the most important. They’ve been around since the web’s earliest days, but it was Amazon’s engineers who struck e-commerce gold with a simple box that announced, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”
Today’s recommendation engines are critical to driving discovery, increasing user engagement and upselling customers. Whether it’s a new restaurant on Seamless, or comedians to follow on Twitter, “Recommended for You” sections work.
This holds true for journalism. Twenty years ago, editors and publishers discovered that WordPress’ tags and categories could be used to suggest similar articles to their readers. In the years since, recommendation technology has grown more sophisticated. Suggested stories might be based on your search history, personal details or even what your friends and family are reading.
But this technology is still far from perfect. As in the above example, even the Apple News app has trouble distinguishing turkey from Turkey.
By incorporating Pressland’s comprehensive datasets into their algorithms and calculations, media recommendation engines can dramatically improve their accuracy. This is to the benefit of both publishers and journalists: The right readers are more engaged, more likely to trust and more likely to share.
Project Support and Grants
Everyone at Pressland has spent time in the freelance trenches, working for criminally low rates and suffering through endless waits on payments. We can’t solve those problems, but we can help in another way: with cold, hard cash. Pressland will issue annual grants to media projects that serve the public interest, with preference given to independent journalists and local organizations with a proven commitment to investigative journalism.
Grantees are selected by the Pressland advisory board.
First Amendment Advocacy and Support
Pressland is committed to actively supporting the First Amendment rights of journalists. Led by civil liberties attorney and Pressland advisor Jason Flores-Williams, we will offer free support services for journalists targeted with intimidation tactics, or those who believe their rights are under threat or being suppressed.
Among the ideas currently under discussion are a legal hotline for journalists in the field and the establishment of a fund to litigate on behalf of members of the media against spurious or unconstitutional subpoenas and indictments.
Safeguards and Backstops
Abuse and misuse are top-of-mind for everyone at Pressland, and we’re aware this can take many forms. We are committed to preventing the use of our data and tools to discriminate, harass, intimidate or surveil anyone working in the media.
Beyond our commitment to not publish sensitive information, we are taking specific steps to prevent and remedy abusive behavior. In the event that abuse occurs, Pressland admin will handle the matter immediately.
Instant Data Dispute
As mentioned above, one of blockchain’s defining features is its immutable ledger — essentially a giant record of transactions that goes back to the very first transaction recorded on the network. This ledger’s immutability is critical for building trust.
In Pressland’s case, recording our index to a public blockchain means we can retain an accurate and complete record of all our data. This gives us the ability to instantly roll back to previous versions in the event of a complaint.
For example, we are designing a “Dispute This Data” button, available to all users. Once triggered, this button sends a request for the previous version of this subject’s profile to go live. At the same time, a message is sent to our in-house dispute team, who follows up directly or via the Pressland community of analysts.
If the data is found to be inaccurate, it is flagged and never made public again. If, on the other hand, the dispute is deemed frivolous, we can reinstate the newer version. We carefully examine every complaint and, as appropriate, ban egregious and repeat offenders from our platform via direct and/or API access.
Pressland makes the dispute process public as long as an individual’s security, safety and privacy are not compromised. The precise form of this process will be published during product development.
Strict Anti-Surveillance Terms
In addition to banning hateful and discriminatory speech from our website, platform and future applications, Pressland blocks any use of our data for the purpose of surveillance. Our policy is based on Twitter’s Developer Agreement and Policy:
User Protection. Content and information derived from Pressland content may not be used by, or knowingly displayed, distributed or otherwise made available to:
- any public sector entity (or any entities providing services to such entities) for surveillance purposes, including but not limited to:
a: investigating or tracking Pressland’s users or their Pressland content; and,
b: tracking, alerting or other monitoring of sensitive events (including but not limited to protests, rallies or community organizing meetings);
- any public sector entity (or any entities providing services to such entities) whose primary function or mission includes conducting surveillance or gathering intelligence;
- any entity for the purposes of conducting or providing surveillance, analyses or research that isolates a group of individuals or any single individual for any unlawful or discriminatory purpose or in a manner that would be inconsistent with our users’ reasonable expectations of privacy;
- any entity to target, segment or profile individuals based on health (including pregnancy), negative financial status or condition, political affiliation or beliefs, racial or ethnic origin, religious or philosophical affiliation or beliefs, sex life or sexual orientation, trade union membership, data relating to any alleged or actual commission of a crime or any other sensitive categories of personal information prohibited by law;
- any entity that you reasonably believe will use such data to violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (located at http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html).
(Final language subject to change.)
We examine every complaint and, as appropriate, ban violators from our platform via direct and/or API access.
Funded by Pressland and administered independently by the nonprofit Independent Media Institute, the public editor serves multiple functions:
- To be our “north star”
Hold tight to the company’s principles and — particularly as we grow — ensure these principles are not compromised
- To act as our unbiased ombudsman
Consider all serious complaints against Pressland and work with the advisory board to find solutions that satisfy all parties involved
- To contribute as an ethical strategist
The public editor is expected to raise any concerns over privacy protection and our other core principles
The public editor and members of the advisory board convene quarterly. Notes and other assets from these meetings are made available to the public. The position can be held by the same person for no more than one year consecutively.
As Pressland expands to fulfill its mission internationally, we will bring local working journalists on as advisors to help us navigate these new cultural waters and media ecosystems.
Our production timeline will be updated and expanded on an ongoing basis at pressland.com.
Our goal for Pressland is self-sustainability by year three. To that end, we’re incorporating a number of traditional and innovative revenue streams.
Pressland’s data is available to partners and third-party developers via an Application Programming Interface (API). Commercial clients pay licensing fees based on data consumption and their intended use of this data.
Qualified nonprofits and media partners receive discounted or free access; basic public access via our website, extensions and future apps will always be free. Standard safeguards such as data and search limits may be implemented to prevent abuse.
Operating exclusively atop Pressland’s publicly available media index, this paid package offers professional-grade tools and features. Membership is ideal for recruiters, agents, researchers and others who work closely with the media.
- Custom media lists
- Bespoke market intelligence
- Media network analysis
- Improved search and sort functions
- Job change alerts
- Permissioned outreach tools
Subscriptions, metered pricing and per-use pricing options are available.
Transaction fees are collected for all payments made between commercial clients and the community of media news collectors, collators and analysts.
High-quality display and affiliate ad opportunities are available on the website, within newsletters and on future apps.
Industry Intelligence Reports
Produced quarterly, then more often as demand increases, Pressland publishes in-depth, bleeding-edge industry reports on the state of media. The reports provide commercial clients with fresh insights, research and intelligence tailored to their interests and needs.
The Pressland engineering team is available for custom applications that make use of our unique data sets.
In the earliest days of Pressland, we recognized an intense demand for this service overseas. Though we’re building on the U.S. market initially, multi-language support is already on our minds, and we’re actively recruiting overseas advisors.
Thus far, we’ve focused on the public’s distrust of media. The problem is actually more pervasive: No one believes anything they read online.
Take online reviews. By 2013, most people understood that Amazon reviews and review sites could not be trusted. The problem has only gotten worse over the last five years.
The review business desperately needs a reboot. When it happens, it won’t be Yelp cleaning up its own house. Instead, the reinvention might be accomplished by an innovative blockchain upstart that prioritizes trust and transparency.
The media-trust industry is robust — and growing. Though several startups in this space share our concerns about the future of journalism, none are direct competitors. In fact, we recognize them as potential partners who are missing a critical piece of the puzzle: our accurate, reliable, unbiased supply chain data.
Indeed, each highlights how Pressland serves an important role, one that is both complementary and vital in its own right.
According to The New York Times, “The face of web tech today could easily be a designer, like Brian Chesky at Airbnb, or a magazine editor, like Jeff Koyen.”
Pressland’s founder and CEO, Jeff Koyen, is an award-winning investigative journalist, editorial director, content strategist and entrepreneur. He built his first BBS on an Atari 800, in 1982; he was the first zine editor to publish freely on the web, in 1993; his first startup, Assignmint, was a pitch-to-payment workflow platform built specifically for freelance writers.
His journalism has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, Crain’s New York, New York magazine, The Guardian, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, Adweek, Forbes, Penthouse, Fortean Times, Fatherly, Maxim UK and many others.
Alexander Zaitchik is a journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years’ experience working on both sides of the editing desk. He has lived and worked throughout the U.S., Latin America, South Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe. He is the author of two books on politics and the media.
Alex and Jeff Koyen first worked together in the Czech Republic in the early 2000s as co-editors of The Prague Pill, a newspaper. They have since worked together at numerous other publications, including New York Press.
Nicholas Zaillian is a New York-based software developer and consultant. He writes on topics relating to software development, management, philosophy and more at hackernotes.io. He has a BA in Computer Science from Columbia University’s Columbia College and, for the past eight years, has helped some of New York’s fastest growing startups develop infrastructure and scale teams.
He believes deeply in the power of software and open protocols to transform societies and bring people closer together.
Daniel Sieberg is a strategic advisor for Pressland in his capacity as principal at Scout Ventures, CEO and co-founder of iO and former entrepreneurial “ethicist” for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Ars.Technica and others.
Sieberg is also a former Google News Lab and Google spokesperson, a former science and technology correspondent at ABC News, CBS News and CNN, a former tech-civics-business reporter at the Vancouver Sun and author of The Digital Diet. He currently sits on the Board of Trustees at Saybrook University.
A Cannes Lions Grand Prix winner who’s held senior-level positions at Refinery29, McCann Worldgroup and Viacom, Neena Koyen specializes in developing internal and outward-facing strategies for executives and brands at Fortune 100 and 500 companies.
Alissa Fleck is a Brooklyn-based reporter and editor who specializes in finance, advertising and media.
Peter S. Green is a veteran journalist who’s written on everything from wars and hurricanes to politics, drought and the economy. A former foreign correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, he covered Central and Eastern Europe for the New York Times and has been an editor and reporter at the New York Post, Bloomberg News and Crain’s New York Business.
Jason Flores-Williams is a civil liberties attorney with a long track record of defending the constitutional rights of journalists and activists. His high-profile cases include Anonymous v. Steubenville, in which he quashed spurious subpoenas against journalists and drew attention to this growing trend among prosecutors.
He has been on the front lines against efforts by the government to claim the right to define journalism and deploy computer fraud statutes to prosecute reporters for their research. Jason is also a published novelist and essayist. He lives in Denver.
Brentin Mock is a veteran journalist currently on staff at CityLab, an urban-focused publication of The Atlantic. He started his career at the Pittsburgh City Paper in the early 2000s and has since written investigative features and series for a long list of print and online publications, including American Prospect, Grist, Next American City, Pacific Standard and ColorLines.
In 2012, he was lead reporter on The Nation’s Voting Rights Project, covering the challenges presented by new voter ID laws and other attempts to suppress voter turnout. He lives in Pittsburgh.
David Holthouse is a veteran journalist and researcher with a hard-won expertise on the subject of privacy and journalism. He has gone undercover to report on neo-Nazis and has been pursued by extremists across state lines for his work.
He spent a decade as senior staff writer at Intelligence Report, an investigative quarterly published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and has written for a range of national publications, HBO documentary projects and radio programs, including This American Life.
His autobiographical essay, “Stalking the Bogeyman,” has been produced for the stage in New York and London. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
Independent Media Institute is a nonprofit organization that educates the public through a diverse array of independent media projects and programs. Working with journalists and media outlets, IMI shines a spotlight on stories that are vital to the public interest, using multiple media formats and distribution channels.
The leading community of freelance writers, journalists and other creative professionals, Study Hall has partnered with Pressland to promote collaboration over competition in media.
Superset is a technology consultancy and product studio specializing in product strategy, application implementation and infrastructure and full-stack development.
GrandArmy is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary creative agency whose client list includes Justin Timberlake, 24 Films, Beyoncé, ESPN, NASCAR, Nike, Taco Bell, Target and the X Games. The New York City-based shop is responsible for Pressland’s brand identity, and they are expected to consult on product design.
Membit is a geolocative photo sharing app that allows pictures to be placed and viewed in the exact location they were captured. Membit’s patented Human Positioning System allows for markerless Augmented Reality to be used anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Pressland is working with Membit to establish journalistic integrity on their platform.
Blue Chip PR is a leading New York City-based communication firm that specializes in public relations for financial and blockchain companies.
As Pressland’s parent company, 360 Blockchain Inc. (CSE: $CODE) provides capital support, as well as legal counsel, accounting, investor relations and growth planning.
A fellow member of the 360 Blockchain Inc. portfolio of companies, Blockchain Ranker is launching as industry’s preferred resource for top-rated blockchain software, service providers, platforms and developers. Pressland’s enterprise platform will receive priority placement and the highest level of promotion to Blockchain Ranker’s community.
Another member of the 360 Blockchain Inc. portfolio of companies, ICO Ranker is the industry standard for token sale reviews and ratings. In the event of a Pressland token sale or offering, it will receive priority placement and the highest level of promotion within ICO Ranker’s community.
Currently under development, Arcology is building a radically new blockchain architecture that is hierarchical, self-organizing and enterprise-grade. As a fellow member of the 360 Blockchain Inc. portfolio of companies, Arcology’s world-class engineering team is available to Pressland.
Pressland is fully owned by Blockchain Media Tech LLC, a subsidiary of 360 Blockchain Inc., a publicly traded company based in Vancouver (CSE: $CODE).
- George Tsafalas, Chief Executive Officer
- Tatiana Kovaleva, Chief Financial Officer
- Brian D. Keane, Chief Compliance Officer
- Rick Skeith, General Counsel
- Jeff Koyen, Strategic Advisor
We don’t use Facebook.
Appendix: About “Fake News”
In an official report on our digital age media crisis, the Council of Europe describes the term “fake news” as “woefully inadequate to effectively capture the complexity of the phenomenon of information pollution.”
Originally, the term “fake news” described articles that were carefully crafted to go viral on social networks. Given inflammatory and frequently false headlines, these stories proved irresistible to millions of Facebook users, who in turn shared them with their friends.
The most successful of these articles were political in nature, but the goal wasn’t really to influence voters or sway elections. The first fake-news publishers were after something more mundane: ad revenue. They wanted to drive traffic to their sites, which in most cases were so-called “ad farms,” exploiters of turnkey advertising platforms like Google’s AdSense that make it possible for any website operator to insert ads.
For a few months, “fake news” described a socially destructive and wildly profitable business model. Then, in the final stretch of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the term was co-opted by presidential candidate Donald Trump, who deployed the term as a weapon in his “war on the press.”
“Fake news” became shorthand for dismissing any reporter, media outlet or news story that clashed with one’s preferred political narrative on a given topic. It has since become indelibly associated with Trump’s escalating demonization of the media (with the notable exception of Fox News).
The phrase and the politics behind it have spread to the U.S. diplomatic corps and foreign capitals. The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, has dismissed accurate reports of his own comments as “fake news.” Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte cries “fake news” against media outlets investigating allegations of his and his administration’s corruption. Examples continue to multiply.
There is, of course, a long history of bias, exaggeration and outright lies in the news business, perpetrated on both individual and institutional levels. Consider a single year in the life of the New York Times. In 2003, Jayson Blair resigned from the Times in disgrace when he was caught inventing scenes and subjects, and plagiarizing other journalists. That same year, the paper’s editors allowed Judith Miller to peddle false and planted stories from government officials about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
There are good reasons for people to approach the media with suspicion. But never have we seen such a rapid erosion of public trust in the press as an institution and democratic idea, of the very notion that facts exist and should be verified and reported.
Given the multi-headed nature of the beast, Pressland has adopted the Council of Europe’s term “information disorder” and their three-pronged classification of the problem:
- Mis-information is when false information is shared, but no harm is meant.
- Dis-information is when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm.
- Mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere.
It’s not as if Facebook, et al., are unaware of the problem. Indeed, those who helped cause the current mess are now those proclaiming most loudly to care about solving it. Their ideas are, let’s say, in need of outside assistance.
In July 2018, YouTube announced an ambitious strategy to fight false news and scam videos. It involves spending millions of dollars on video-journalism grants to reputable news organizations; tapping celebrities for educational public service announcements; and providing reference links to third parties, including Wikipedia.
We applaud YouTube’s efforts — particularly when it comes to flagging, burying and deleting knowingly false and inflammatory conspiracy videos of the sort that can lead to violence — but relying on Wikipedia for fact-checks is ridiculous. Even with its many safeguards against abuse, Wikipedia is publicly editable by design. There’s little to prevent a coordinated disinformation campaign from pairing falsified Wikipedia entries with well-timed video distribution. In the minutes or hours it takes for Wikipedia’s volunteer editors to discover the false information, the damage might already be done.
Wikipedia may indeed have a role to play in the fight against false news. But as a fundamentally unreliable reference, it cannot be a primary source when assigning trust.
Facebook believes in the wisdom of the crowd. Facebook also believes this crowd can help fix the problem of false news on its platform. Speaking in a promotional video, Dan Zigmond, the company’s director of analytics for the news feed, said, “The community is the best defense against misinformation in the long run, and so by informing the community we can make that defense a little stronger.”
Perhaps the crowd does have a certain amount of wisdom. Say, when it comes to reviewing your local plumber or rating food trucks. Beyond that, we’re not so sure. The unrelenting flood of “mis-information,” “dis-information” and “mal-information” makes crowd-based verification a practical impossibility. Factor in malicious intent, trolling and shitposting, and the crowd is outclassed.
Facebook’s trust in the crowd doesn’t stop there. As shown in their “Facing Facts” infomercial, Facebook (like YouTube and others) believes Wikipedia to be an accurate resource. With apologies to the well-meaning Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia, this alarmingly common faith reveals a seemingly willful ignorance to what, exactly, constitutes a trustworthy resource.
The trust-in-media crisis demands new transparency tools, built and run by those who understand and still believe in journalism’s institutions, functions and mandates.
In 2018, Facebook’s messaging app announced an aggressive approach to the problem of false news. “Suspicious” links will be marked in red to flag spam or potentially false content, as judged by background checks conducted by the app. It’s not yet clear how these checks will be done, or by whom.
These changes were inspired by incidents in South Asia, where viral videos of questionable provenance fueled violence against minorities and other vulnerable communities. This forceful approach to false news is a reminder of the problem’s global scope. More than 1.5 billion people use the app, but its growth as a news source has occurred mostly outside the U.S.
It’s also significant to note that the messaging giant placed ads in traditional print newspapers to announce its plan. Print may be dying, but it retains a certain level of trust earned over decades. News consumers in India, in this example, trust their local papers to clarify uncertainties they encounter online. The same is true, to varying degrees, of legacy media institutions around the world.
We’re not Luddites at Pressland. We’ve been helping chart media’s digital future since the days of Mosaic. But we also understand that legacy media and the blockchain-powered networks of tomorrow are not mutually exclusive. Far from it. They will depend on and interact with each other in ways that are familiar, just now coming into view and difficult to foresee.
Appendix: Deep Fakes
As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed, Pressland can’t and won’t remain focused on yesterday’s problems. Pressland is forward-looking and seeks to keep up with and get ahead of changes in the media landscape.
One problem no longer relegated to dystopian sci-fi is the rise of so-called “deep fakes,” or computer- and AI-generated videos that depict events or speeches that never happened, but are imperceptible from the real thing.
This BBC News report is instructive:
Dealing with the coming crisis in deep fakes will require authenticated provenance. This means answering the following questions:
- Who made this video?
- Who distributed this video?
- Who stands behind this video?
- Has it been authenticated and by whom?
A number of startups are attempting to create authentication protocols to help answer these questions. Amber Video, for example, is working on a fingerprinting technology.
We expect Pressland’s supply chain technology and robust data sets to become valuable additions to these products.
Appendix: The Department of Homeland Security
In April 2018, Bloomberg reported that the Department of Homeland Security was soliciting bids to build a “media monitoring service” that could:
track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents.
The report noted they were also looking for a watchlist of “media influencers” searchable by “location, beat and type of influence.”
Journalists and privacy advocates were rightly outraged. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has since filed a complaint on the grounds that the DHS failed to conduct a required Privacy Impact Assessment.
Pressland shares their concerns, and we oppose such government projects as profoundly dangerous. This is not a partisan issue. Whether they’re reporting for The Nation or Breitbart News, no journalist should feel as if their government is monitoring them as a potential threat to national security.
Pressland is not building a centralized database that’s vulnerable to attack, manipulation and other abuses. Indeed, by using blockchain technology, we’re creating a distributed ledger that’s auditable, editable and maintained by the network itself. Openness and accountability are inherent in our design.
If we detect any actions that violate our strict Terms of Service — by the Department of Homeland Security, other public agencies or any private interest — we will take immediate steps to publicly and permanently discontinue their access to our data.
Last edited: January 22, 2019
Author: Jeff Koyen
Editor: Alexander Zaitchik
Copy Editor: Michael Quinones
Artwork: Marko Ilic
Additional Editing: Reed Korach, Daniel Sieberg, Peter S. Green