Fix the demand side of news too

“We can’t just upgrade journalists. We, the people who use media mostly as consumers and sharers, have to upgrade ourselves, too.”

In a time when so much of our news is fake, false, shallow, and out of context, there’s no question of the need to upgrade the supply. At every journalism conference I attended in the past several years, the primary goals were to make journalism better as well as financially sustainable.

dan-gillmorTackling the supply side is always useful. But we haven’t done nearly enough to address the demand. We can’t just upgrade journalists. We, the people who use media mostly as consumers and sharers, have to upgrade ourselves, too. We have to make principles of media literacy, the core of which is critical thinking in our consumption and creation, part of our everyday lives.

Who can help make this happen? Some educators already try. Some organizations work on it, too. (Much of my own recent work has been in this arena.) But the impact has been limited.

Who can do media literacy at scale? Among others, journalists themselves — though, for the most part, they’ve inexplicably failed to try.

Suppose journalists and news organizations had made it a priority in recent decades to help their audiences know the difference between truth and lies. Suppose, more recently, they’d been actively helping the communities they serve deploy critical thinking more widely. And suppose they’d embraced the reality that social media means, among other things, media creation by all of us — and why we all need to navigate that new world with integrity. We might well be fighting a “fake news” epidemic even if they had. But I’d bet anything it would be less virulent.

Optimist that I am, I predict 2017 will be the year when journalists realize what an extraordinary opportunity they’ve foregone, and decide makes these things a part of their mission. They won’t just be doing better by their communities. They’ll also boost their own standing at a time when the general public has so little trust in the craft.

How can media organizations seize the opportunity? The first of many steps is to be more transparent. Among other ways to do this: explain why they’re doing what they do, and how; ask their audiences to be more involved in the journalism, via crowdsourcing and other techniques; have real conversations with the community, beyond troll-infested comments the journalists (and others with common sense) ignore; and fully disclose errors with explanations of what happened and what steps they’ll take to prevent further occurrences. (As I wrote in a media-literacy book a few years ago, journalists who practice greater transparency may be believed a bit less, but they’ll be trusted more.)

Transparency isn’t the only way journalists could help bring media literacy to the public. It doesn’t require big new investments, however, which in the current financial climate should appeal to management.

One of the few people in Big Media who’s even trying to promote media literacy is CNN’s Brian Stelter. On a recent program, for example, he pushed his audience to triple-check the validity of things they’ve seen before sharing them via social networks. His increasingly urgent admonitions in his commentaries have been exactly what journalists should be doing at every organization.

If journalism organizations continue, in general, to ignore what I consider an obligation, there’s another group of players that could take on the mission: the tech platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, among others. Talk about scale: They could make a huge difference in a hurry.

But who better to do the job than journalists? It’s still their duty, if they think about it. And it’s not too late to start now.

Dan Gillmor is professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Tressie McMillan Cottom   A path through the media’s coming legitimacy crisis

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

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

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   News after advertising may look like news before advertising

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

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

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Earn trust by working for (and with) readers

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

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

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Lam Thuy Vo   The primary source in the age of mechanical multiplication

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Mario Garcia   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

An Xiao Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Errin Haines Whack   Chaos or community?

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Trushar Barot   API or die

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

David Weigel   A test for online speech

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Maria Bustillos   “It’s true — I saw it on Facebook”

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls