July 12, 2016
Questions on the Q-and-A website Quora can be pretty hit-or-miss. For every “What can I learn in 10 minutes that will be useful for the rest of my life?” there's a “Why am I so smart, and still don't have a love life?”
But sometimes a misguided question leads to an intriguing answer. That's the case with one question about technology and journalism posted today, “What technology has to happen for objective reporting to win over clickbait?”
There's No Good Answer to This One
Plenty of responses point out that the issue facing journalism today is a lot larger than just clickbait. First, there was never a time when people read the news entirely for the straight reporting: “If anything, news was an eye-worm of information that slipped in between Page Six and the box scores,” one respondent writes.
Today, the business models have shifted. News organizations don't have the massive numbers to make ads as sustainable. They're competing for attention more. And, as a result, “All of the financial incentives for professionals point towards prioritizing the grabbing of attention over delivering ‘fairness' or ‘objectivity.'”
Possible solutions: “Nuclear holocaust? Alien takeover of the planet? Universal Vulcan mind meld?
But An Automated Fact-Checker Would Be Interesting
One respondent, Josh DiGiorgio, actually made an effort to answer the question at face value: What possible technology could perhaps make a difference to journalism in an attention economy intent on swapping page-views for ad dollars?
“If I had to design a technology, for the sake of this hypothetical, that might make a dent in biased, fallacious news sources, I’d work on developing a fact checking piece of software (browser add-on or separate and running in the background) that could accompany the reader as they browse various sources.
The fact checker would analyze the article as the consumer is reading and prepare a report that would inform the reader of any information that is questionable, verifiable, or demonstrably false. The problem is that many readers might interpret those reports to be bias themselves, especially if the firm behind the software was engaged, as so many are these days, in playing politics with their money.
This is all speculation and science fiction anyway. Maybe in the future we’ll see something like this pop up. I think I’d pay for it. Fact checking is a rigorous endeavor which is why most readers aren’t interested in it. The ultimate idea of this technology would be to constantly notify people who get their news from clickbait of just how demonstrably false or questionable their sources are with the expectation that they might eventually change their minds and stop patronizing that website.”
Another problem: Readers might not even care about the facts. They've already demonstrated that they're more interested in their friends and family's news than in the professional kind, anyway.
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