Two cars travel down a two lane road approaching one another from opposite directions. A solid white line sits painted in-between them as they approach each other. One car swerves, crossing the line, then cuts back. 65 MPH and climbing, and the only thing preventing the car from crossing into the other’s lane again is a theoretical barrier painted on pavement. These guiding lines are not a guarantee. They’re more of a social contract, a legal rule that we abide by because it is for the betterment of ourselves, others, and the rest of society. However, this driver chose not to follow the rule and crossed into the wrong lane. What happened? Recklessness.
The media and information industry is in an age of recklessness. Fueled by misinformation, lines are being crossed. And this reckless behavior is taking a serious toll on the trust in and value of the media.
We want to believe in societal norms that govern the free flow of trustworthy information. There are standards that should apply across platforms, publishers, and consumer domains. There is an assumed integrity that applies not only to the words we write, but the videos we produce, and how they are spread throughout the web. But this recklessness has led to a reckoning; and now we must forge a new path forward.
Post-Truth, True Story
Unfortunately, this is clearly no longer the case (‘That’s not altered. That’s sped up. They do it all the time in sports.’). There are now separate narratives, cultures, and communities built around the rhetorics of truth, information and more dangerously, misinformation. Reputation is no longer a default to “trusted” media brands at the domain level. It needs to be re-focused, re-earned, and re-defined.
The role of media institutions today is more important than ever. In the age of recklessness, we need to continue to provide our communities and readers with the knowledge they need to inform their lives, societies, and governments. And it’s the responsibility of the rest of society to process this information and re-paint those lines that define to bring awareness to what is real and what is not. Today it’s more important than ever to understand the information that is being put in front of you. And that understanding runs deeper than images and text, to the source, the context, the delivery channel, and much more.
The revolution will not be qualified; it will be quantified. The media business is positioned better than ever to expose the value of their work and drive their business forward. Putting an emphasis on trust, the value of a media brand is in its operation and its reputation.
Media business leaders need to keep their eye on the road. How can they secure and deliver information that is validated, honest and objective? And through that, expose that their organizations differentiate from other less reputable players in the space.
To emphasize this value, media must prove its worth. That seems frustrating, especially because many of these institutions have been in business for decades, even centuries. However, when you ask someone to pay for something, you must give them a reason why. In order to be successful, the media business must be subscribed to, not just supported. That means creating a product market fit that is both helpful and necessary. To do this, we must expose our practices, and how we seek provenance, validation, truth and every other value that’s standard to the media industry.
Proof of Effort
Building value means exposing the underlying components for all to see. To severely oversimplify: The greatest value of the media industry is in its effort. The practices behind media, and the process by which information is researched, created, edited, and published is what drives its purpose and differentiation from imitators.
However currently, the only way to quantify media’s value is in generalities. How many page views, referrals, visits, and shares does a piece of information garner? This is the opposite of what drives reputation and an institutions’ value, which has everything to do with the actions before a piece of information is published. Because of this, and how information is distributed (social platforms, search, applications), information has become commoditized. The value of a viral video is measured the same as an investigative expose, even though the investment in each is severely different. And gaming that system is how we continue to not just commoditize our worth, but blur the value between information and misinformation.
Media’s recklessness is fueled by misinformation. And because of this, not all media can be valued equally. But how did we get here? The value attributed to media-at-large is dictated by the returns of where it is being distributed. Facebook, Google, and other major platforms have rewarded content based on output mechanics. This has little to do with how the information is created, edited, and published prior to distribution. Because of this, everything appears to be created equal; even though the efforts behind different types of media work and the investments tied to them are all different. We need to refactor the economics of the web and better reward and expose the value in the efforts of creating the good, while in parallel demoting the bad. This starts with quantifying elements of effort as it relates to truth.
A Valuable Proposition
Quantifying the next era of media can be associated in a few sets: attribution, provenance and the effort behind the work. What’s clear is that we know that there is value in a creator’s work. And we, as an industry, recognize what it is but do a terrible job conveying it to our audience and consumers. Building a way to expose the efforts in media and put the value on that input instead of the output will get us there. This is the key differentiation between what can and cannot be trusted; is the way that we got to this information accurate? If so, show it.
This information exposure is the first step towards a path away from misdirection and recklessness. In today’s society, the lines in the road are meant to be abided by because there an understanding how they got there and why they exist. As long as that narrative continues, they will continue to do their job governing the way we as a society move around. The same goes for media. We must remind the world why these practices and principals exist, and how they came to be in the first place. They are the lines that govern information and most importantly, democracy. This must be exposed for the betterment of our world.
All of this adds up to a world in which quality media, information exposure, and great creative translate into good business. It’s the key component to wresting control over news from misinformers, manipulators, “clickbaiters,” and social media hubs and placing it back into the hands of media organizations that want to produce quality information about issues that really matter. We must put value on our effort to build a transparent and healthy newfound ecosystem.
Media is undervalued. It’s undervalued financially but especially undervalued in its role in maintaining a free and open society. Acknowledging and emphasizing its purpose through ubiquitous effort points solves for both. It will enable us to build new platforms, value systems and economies based on our true value and starve misinformers in its wake.
We know why the work that we do is so important. Now it’s time for us to let the world know exactly what goes into it.