Public trust for private realities

“How can journalism act as a public service when there is no “public” to serve, only a set of increasingly private spaces that are largely invisible to one another?”

It’s impossible to discuss what 2017 will bring for media without considering how this election has rocked assumptions about journalism’s relationship with both the public and those in power. On November 9, many people found themselves questioning how they had failed to see the scale of support behind Donald Trump. How could it be, when their visible universe was full of convincingly critical articles and friends who were dismayed and dismissive? Alternately, those who supported Trump found his victory obvious, given how thoroughly Clinton had been discredited according to every article they read and every conversation they had.

Call it peak filter bubble: 2016 saw the transition from what was held to be a commonly shared public reality to an extremely walled-off, divided set of micro-realities that never see or speak to one another.

While there’s been discussion about the impact of filter bubbles for years, it still came as a shock to see just how completely splintered our realities have become. How can journalism act as a public service when there is no “public” to serve, only a set of increasingly private spaces that are largely invisible to one another?

In 2017, we will see the media struggle with this splintering, to re-establish a broad public trust and a shared reality. There is a clear need for news sources that readers across the political spectrum can trust, in order to facilitate a constructive exchange of ideas. However, many believe that the traditional approach to “unbiased” reporting has led us into a world of false equivalence that does the public a disservice in communicating underlying truths. There is also a perception that “covering both sides equally” requires good faith by all parties, a good faith that has often been broken. In addition, even the most even-handed reporting can be seen as biased simply due to a reader’s belief about a publisher’s political leanings.

So how do we engender public trust? Some news organizations will bend over backward to become even more unbiased, mollifying their critics at every turn and becoming increasingly risk-averse. Others are moving in the other direction, calling for journalists to be truth-tellers regardless of whether that truth makes people angry. Both of these paths are imperfect. The first can lead to journalism that is unable to act as a check on the powerful because it is afraid to offend. The second may tell truths that no one will hear, except those who already believe them.

One of the causes of this fraught situation is the dire state of media literacy. Fake and inaccurate news proliferates not only because people want to believe it, but also because they have no methods for knowing how to assess the veracity of what they read or watch. That problem is furthered by the growth of distributed platforms for news consumption — Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, and others serve to flatten the visibility of sources and publishers and to give an air of legitimacy to all comers. At a time when media literacy is at an all-time low, these platforms actually strip away the few tools we had to distinguish reliable sources from hacks. One of the most effective things we may aspire to do in 2017 is to find ways to make journalism more legible and interrogable, to make our ethical standards and reporting processes clear and evident. Some of these tools for media literacy may be purely editorial and some may quite literally be tools — technological and design solutions for probing deeper, viewing source material, fact-checking, ascertaining a publisher’s interests, and more.

The answers aren’t clear, but the questions that will shape 2017 are. They certainly inform the goals that are at the heart of Axios, which I joined this past summer. Our mission is to report information and analysis in a clear and straightforward way that engenders broad public trust. A large part of that is considering the needs of our readers foremost in everything we do; serving them first in a media landscape where their trust is often considered secondary to the demands of advertisers or the habits of legacy organizations. We will also be experimenting with editorial, technology, and design approaches to find ways of making those ethics legible to our readers.

It is a year of reckoning for the news media, one in which the trends and pressures of the last two decades of digital culture come to a head. Hopefully it is a reckoning that will lead to a reimagining of the media’s relationship with both government and the governed, a reckoning that will re-establish the power of journalism to provide sense-making and truth in an increasingly fractured reality.

Alexis Lloyd is chief design officer at Axios.

Mary Walter-Brown   Getting comfortable asking for money

Erin Millar   The bottom falls out of Canadian media

David Chavern   Fake news gets solved

Ryan McCarthy   Platforms grow up or grow more toxic

Mandy Velez   The audience is the source and the story

Ken Schwencke   Disaggregation and collection

Almar Latour   Thanks, #fakenews

Guy Raz   Inspiration and hope will matter more than ever

Emi Kolawole   From empathy to community

Olivia Ma   The year collaboration beats competition

Lee Glendinning   A call for great editing

Molly de Aguiar   Philanthropists galvanize around news

Michael Oreskes   Reversing the erosion of democracy

Elizabeth Jensen   Trust depends on the details

Renée Kaplan   Pure reach has reached its limit

Claire Wardle   Verification takes center stage

Andrew Losowsky   Building our own communities

Dan Gillmor   Fix the demand side of news too

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Truthiness in private spaces

Tim Griggs   The year we stop taking sides

Rebekah Monson   Journalism is community-as-a-service

Vivian Schiller   Tested like never before

Liz McMillen   The year of deep insights

Juliette De Maeyer and Dominique Trudel   A rebirth of populist journalism

Ray Soto   VR moves from experiments to immersion

Alice Antheaume   A new test for French media

Geetika Rudra   Journalism is community

David Weigel   A test for online speech

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

Tracie Powell   Building reader relationships

Bill Keller   A healthy skepticism about data

Jonathan Stray   A boom in responsible conservative media

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

Melody Kramer   Radically rethinking design

Zizi Papacharissi   Distracted journalism looks in the mirror

Mark Armstrong   Time to pay up

Umbreen Bhatti   A sense of journalists’ humanity

Hillary Frey   Forests need to burn to regrow

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

Cory Haik   Navigating power in Trump’s America

Corey Ford   The year of the rebelpreneur

Erin Pettigrew   A year of reflection in tech

Pablo Boczkowski   Fake news and the future of journalism

Rachel Sklar   Women are going to get loud

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

Trushar Barot   API or die

Mary Meehan   Feeling blue in a red state

Libby Bawcombe   Kids board the podcast train

Joanne Lipman   The year of the drone, really

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting stratifies into hard layers

Dannagal G. Young   The return of the gatekeepers

AX Mina   2017 is for the attention innovators

Dan Colarusso   Let’s make live video we can love

Helen Havlak   Chasing mobile search results

Cindy Royal   Preparing the digital educator-scholar hybrid

Michael Kuntz   Trust is the new click

Scott Dodd   Nonprofits team up for impact

Javaun Moradi   What can we own?

Tim Herrera   The safe space of service journalism

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-checking bot

Mathew Ingram   The Faustian Facebook dance continues

Jim Friedlich   A banner year for venture philanthropy

Francesco Marconi   The year of augmented writing

Ariane Bernard   Better data about your users

Andrea Silenzi   Podcasts dive into breaking news analysis

Swati Sharma   Failing diversity is failing journalism

Andrew Ramsammy   Rise of the rebel journalist

Laura Walker   Authentic voices, not fake news

Taylor Lorenz   “Selfie journalism” becomes a thing

Juan Luis Sánchez   Your predictions are our present

Amy Webb   Journalism as a service

Annemarie Dooling   UGC as a path out of the bubble

Doris Truong   Connecting with diverse perspectives

Carrie Brown-Smith   We won’t do enough

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

Ashley C. Woods   Local journalism will fight a new fight

Rubina Madan Fillion   Snapchat grows up

Caitlin Thompson   High touch, high value

Sara M. Watson   There is no neutral interface

Gabriel Snyder   The aberration of 20th-century journalism

Sarah Marshall   Focusing on the why of the click

Emily Goligoski   Incorporating audience feedback at scale

Mike Ragsdale   A smarter information diet

Reyhan Harmanci   Bear witness — but then what?

Jeremy Barr   A terrible year for Tiers B through D

Liz Danzico   The triumph of the small

Tanya Cordrey   The resurgence of reach

Mira Lowe   News literacy, bias, and “Hamilton”

Andrew Haeg   The year of listening

Christopher Meighan   Unlocking a deeper mobile experience

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

M. Scott Havens   Quality advertising to pair with quality content

Andy Rossback   The year of the user

Errin Haines   Chaos or community?

Nathalie Malinarich   Making it easy

S.P. Sullivan   Baking transparency into our routines

Matt Karolian   AI improves publishing

Kawandeep Virdee   Moving deeper than the machine of clicks

Priya Ganapati   Mobile websites are ready for reinvention

Millie Tran   International expansion without colonial overtones

Katie Zhu   The year of minority media

Rachel Schallom   Stop flying over the flyover states

Dhiya Kuriakose   The year of digital detoxing

Sue Schardt   Objectivity, fairness, balance, and love

Jon Slade   Trusted news, at a premium

Asma Khalid   The year of the newsy podcast

Carla Zanoni   Prioritizing emotional health

Moreno Cruz Osório   The year of transparency in Brazilian journalism

Ståle Grut   The battle for high-quality VR

Coleen O'Lear   Back to basics

Alexis Lloyd   Public trust for private realities

Jonathan Hunt   Measurement companies get with the times

Samantha Barry   Messaging apps go mainstream

Mario García   Virtual reality on mobile leaps forward

Burt Herman   Local news gets interesting

Laura E. Davis   Show your work

Margarita Noriega   From pinning tweets to tweeting pins

Keren Goldshlager   Defining a focus, and then saying no

Felix Salmon   Headlines matter

Robert Hernandez   History will exclude you, again

Nicholas Quah   Podcasting’s coming class war

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

Aja Bogdanoff   Comments start pulling their weight

Adam Thomas   The coming collaboration across Europe

Kathleen Kingsbury   Print as a premium offering

David Skok   What lies beyond paywalls

Amy O'Leary   Not just covering communities, reaching them

Steve Henn   The next revolution is voice

Sarah Wolozin   Virtual reality on the open web

Sydette Harry   Facing journalism’s history

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

P. Kim Bui   The year journalism teaches again

Amie Ferris-Rotman   Вслед за Россией

Peter Sterne   A dangerous anti-press mix

Ole Reißmann   Un-faking the news

Julia Beizer   Building a coherent core identity

Megan H. Chan   Cultural reporting goes mainstream

Matt Waite   The people running the media are the problem

Alberto Cairo   Communicating uncertainty to our readers

Sam Ford   The year we talk about our awful metrics