2
0
1
9

Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

“Information inequality is not new and it was not invented by Facebook, but the choices made by technologists and social media content producers alike tend to amplify unequal access to news.”

One week before the 2016 presidential election, I was in a coffee shop interviewing a young woman (let’s call her Mariah) about her use of social media for news. We read her Facebook News Feed together, scrolling through 30, 40, 50 posts and more: There was no news. Just days before the election — that election — no posts about politics. No Trump, no Clinton. Nothing but an absence.

Mariah lives in a social media news desert. Her digital feeds provide her with almost no civic information. You, dear reader, probably think that is crazy. Your social media streams are nothing but news — mine too. But Mariah is not alone. In a national survey of online young adults just before the 2016 election, 40 percent said they saw nothing at all about politics on social media in the previous week. What’s worse, across datasets we find that social media news deserts are unequally distributed: The educated see more news on social media than those with less education, the rich see more than the poor, white social media users see more news than non-white users. Exposure to news online is more stratified than offline news use.

Information inequality is not new and it was not invented by Facebook, but the choices made by technologists and social media content producers alike tend to amplify unequal access to news. Less educated, lower income citizens are less likely to seek out news online and less likely to report interest in news and politics. Their friends are less likely to share news on social media. Algorithms create a feedback loop connecting all these behavioral signals to future content exposure, reproducing inequalities over time. News organizations desperate to grow social media audiences have no financial incentive to target marginalized groups. The end result is that some people are more attractive to news online than others. That is dangerous for democracy.

I’m less interested in prediction than mobilization: This year, let’s get mad about who is being left out. Let’s make information inequality central in the public debate about the role of social media in democracy. Platforms should think about information equity when they tweak algorithmic systems. News organizations should think about equity when they target audiences for paid content on social media. Let’s do more content experiments to figure out how to reach underserved populations with high-quality news online. Happy new year: These might be problems we can fix.

Kjerstin Thorson is an associate professor at Michigan State University.

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

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

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

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

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

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

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

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

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

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

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Hearken   Pivot to people

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

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

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

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

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

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

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

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

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

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

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

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

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

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

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

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

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

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

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

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

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

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

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

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

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

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

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

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

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

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

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

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

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

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

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

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

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

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

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

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

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

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

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

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

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

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

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

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

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

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

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

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

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

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

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

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

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

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

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

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

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

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

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

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

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

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

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

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

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

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

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

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

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

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

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

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

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

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