2
0
1
9

Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

“In reality, many forms of both radicalization and infiltration would be more difficult with a media literate audience — particularly if those with the most influence had better skills and habits around assessing reputation and intent.”

A few days ago, YouTube star Pewdiepie recommended his 75 million subscribers follow a YouTube account that was associated with promoting alt-right and anti-Semitic content. He chose the account based on several video essays on films there, but the signs were all there for anyone to read, visual “jokes” about the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, a link to a Gab account that featured comments about the “Jewish question”, and even an Adolph Hitler speech in one of the older videos, apparently. As a result of his recommendation, the channel’s following grew by 15,000 subscribers.

When I talk to people about media literacy, doubters often express some version of what I call the “homeostatic fallacy”: the idea that ultimately we all just share and read things that confirm our beliefs, with no net effect on anything. It’s often portrayed as a hard truth — this is the reason media literacy can’t work, silly rabbit! But it’s actually a profoundly comforting belief to those that embrace it: the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Yet both my experience in the classroom and the increasing frequency of events like the one above give the lie to this analysis. I don’t know how many of those 15,000 subscribers came in knowing they were subscribing to a channel that was likely to push such content to their feed, but my guess is most signed up for Death Note anime analysis, not anti-Semitism. Had they known the nature of the channel, many would not have subscribed. It’s also the case that PewDiePie, who lost major content partnerships when he was accused of anti-Semitism previously, risks losing millions of dollars of income with mistakes like this. He likely wishes he had vetted the channel better. And in our classrooms we find lack of skills to be a far greater driver of mistakes than worldview  — when students are taught basic vetting skills we find little discernible effect of tribalism at all.

Of course, perspectives shift. Once a person subscribes to a page or channel, what Claire Wardle calls the drip, drip, drip of radical content begins to wear at one’s worldview. But this process so often seems to begin through a series of small mistakes, little neglects that eventually lead to more permanent results. In reality, many forms of both radicalization and infiltration would be more difficult with a media literate audience — particularly if those with the most influence had better skills and habits around assessing reputation and intent.

In some ways, the homeostatic fallacy served us well the past few years. It reminded folks of the complex reasons why people might share things that weren’t true. It pointed to the resilience of bad ideas in the face of correction. And it formed a useful counterpoint to naive Cartesianism, which saw bad information primarily as bad input leading directly to bad conclusions, an idea that is now rightfully dead and buried.

But as we watch this slow, uncontrolled skid of a year head towards the gas pumps, it’s probably best we bury the homeostatic fallacy as well. That “bias” part of confirmation bias has always meant something more specific than many realize — the tendency of errors to fall more towards one side or another of an equation. Leave the bias aside: if you reduce the errors, you reduce the drift. And maybe, just maybe, the skid comes to a stop.

Mike Caulfield heads the Digital Polarization Initiative at the American Democracy Project.

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

J. Siguru Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Errin Haines   Say it with me: Racism

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Joshua P. Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Juleyka Lantigua   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Kevin D. Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Hearken   Pivot to people

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Catalina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

AX Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing