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.

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

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

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

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

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

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

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

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

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

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

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

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

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

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

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

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

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

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

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

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

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

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

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

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

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

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

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

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

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Hearken   Pivot to people

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

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

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

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

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

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

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

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

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

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

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

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

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

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

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

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

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

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

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

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

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

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

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

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

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

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

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

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

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

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

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

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

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

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

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

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

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

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

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

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

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

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

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

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

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

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

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

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

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

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

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

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

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

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

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

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive