A year of reflection in tech

“Where our culture of broadcast media once catered to the center and traded on trust, the age of social media thrives on contagious, memetic ideas replicating via network effects.”

This year, media reckoned with technology’s power over its audience relationships and business model. The climax, a November surprise that technology’s power may have enabled an alternate disinformation reality to influence our election, is unlike any we imagined. In response, the media industry has rallied fiercely to remind of its critical role in holding truth to governmental power. The coming year will be technology’s turn to acknowledge media as that essential pillar of democracy.

erin-pettigrewIn the last few decades of internet growth, technology’s democratization of global media has been a mostly positive force against information asymmetry. It has revealed unheard knowledge, empowered new voices, awakened societies, and assembled communities. In addition to giving voice to individuals, technology has increased the reach and immediacy of traditional media companies and enabled the founding of new, digital ones.

Expectedly, the democratization of media by social and publishing platforms has unearthed disruptive actors and discordant views. Where our culture of broadcast media once catered to the center and traded on trust, the age of social media thrives on contagious, memetic ideas replicating via network effects. In oppressed countries, this opportunistic channel enables needed protest to rise from the everyman. In established democracies, it can be rapidly gamed toward destabilization. For technology companies who vow neutrality in their support of all the world’s voices and governing systems that two-headed dilemma is a difficult one. But technology’s values — openness, connectedness, and the individual voice — show they seek to protect the mantle of democracy.

Notably, social media and digital publishing distribution have barely existed longer than a decade. Within history’s long arc, we stand at the dawn of this digital communication paradigm. Now is actually the right time to establish better grounding for this powerful new media infrastructure. While global technology platforms occupy an unusual confluence of corporate and civic duty, it is consistent with both obligations that they work toward stabilizing platform weaknesses against community manipulation.

Technology companies have provided some initial response in this vein, but the continued impact and spread of disinformation alongside trusted media and well intended individuals suggests more is needed. The ask is most decidedly not for censorship but instead for stronger, abler enforcement of their own community standards. This must be the year that technology platforms internally reflect upon their civic responsibility and remember along with it the value of trusted media in society. While they may owe the media industry little in business terms, they owe their existence to a healthy public discourse.

The burden of ensuring media’s place as the fourth estate, that vital check against governmental power, falls on media companies to act, technology disruptors to support, and government leaders to respect.

In 2017, media must act and already is. Now technology must support. But government respect? Don’t count on it.

Erin Pettigrew is a media and tech consultant.

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Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

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Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Trushar Barot   API or die

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

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Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

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Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

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Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

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Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

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Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

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Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Anita Zielina   The sales funnel reaches (and changes) the newsroom

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

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Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

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Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

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S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

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Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

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Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

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Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

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Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

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Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

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Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

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Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

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Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

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Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

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Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

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Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Richard J. Tofel   The country doesn’t trust us — but they do believe us

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

David Weigel   A test for online speech

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Nushin Rashidian   A rise in high-price, high-value subscriptions

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

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Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

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