20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
5
2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
6
2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

The Forum we wanted, the forum we got

“Without proper care, public spaces like the Roman Forum — designed first and foremost as a place for commercial and state business — can readily become places of exclusion, rumor, disease, politicking, exploitation and open violence as they steadily approach entropy.”

In 44 B.C., as the Roman Republic was entering its death throes after the murder of Julius Ceaesar, orator and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero argued for the end of tyranny and the restoration of the old ways through a series of 14 speeches — a speech thread, if you will — meant to rally against Mark Antony. By the end of 43 B.C., Mark Antony had his revenge: He had Cicero murdered, and in a final act of brutality nailed Cicero’s head and hands to the Rostra, the section of the Forum dedicated to public speakers. It was a sign to anyone thinking using their head or hands to speak out.

It’s easy, in the popular imagination, to think of the historic Forum as a place for civil discourse, where new ideas manifest through informed and structured debate. Civil matters were indeed discussed in the Forum, but not always in civil ways. Fights broke out. Heads literally rolled — and were then pinned to the walls. This was generally not a place for women or non-Roman men, excepting the occasional slave or Vestal Virgin. It’s where Augustus and countless emperors innovated with new forms of propaganda, where rumors flew quickly, fights and arguments erupted, and graffiti told the people’s thoughts in their rawest form. And just outside the Forum, bathrooms and sewers would have been major vectors for disease.

Today, journalists face the digital era equivalent of Cicero’s hands and head nailed to the wall. They face tremendous violence online and off, as leaders wield hateful and authoritarian rhetoric, whip up mob frenzies, and employ cyber troops aimed at silencing dissent through waves of harassment, doxing, and memetic intimidation. Some of these attacks jump offline through physical violence, legal actions, reputational attacks, and enforced disappearances.

Just as Augustus used visuals in the form of statues and mass spectacles in order to reinforce his rule and imperial politics, digital states continue to innovate rapidly. As I wrote earlier this year for The Economist, modern-day states utilize the entertainment methods of today to confuse and distract, borrowing approaches that range from reality television techniques, such as using strong language and emotions and selling merch, to viral methodologies that blend art and entertainment with power.

Disease spreads on the internet in unexpected ways, as Meedan’s Digital Health Lab’s Nat Gyenes and Megan Marrelli have found, because we built an internet without public health standards of care of mind. This shouldn’t surprise us: The Romans developed basic sanitation infrastructure but didn’t understand the nitty gritty of how disease spread. Some of their practices — like public restrooms — offered key technological innovations without ultimately understanding the attendant social risks. Outbreaks of malaria, dysentery, and other devastating diseases swept frequently through the city.

Indeed, it was not just engineering but slavery that made Rome tick. While the aqueducts, arches, and roads of Rome inspire awe even today, few remember the many hands that built and maintained these structures. Today, the emerging technologies of our day — next-day shipping, fancy gadgets, content moderation, artificial intelligence — require underpaid, overworked hands and eyes to maintain the appearance of seamlessness, at the cost of tremendous mental and physical health costs for a broad digital underclass.

By the end of the Roman Empire, the Forum was sacked and ransacked by competing factions vying for political influence, and new squares arose throughout the world in an effort to decentralize power. Rising armies physically dismantled the Forum for its parts, and the site was popularly known as the campo vaccino — “cow field” — until the beginning of modern tourism. Here, too, is a lesson, as states begin to establish their own digital public spaces, from China to Iran to Papua New Guinea, through new platforms and infrastructure, as Sean McDonald and I have written for Foreign Policy. We are steadily watching the unified internet as we once thought we knew it being dismantled and shaped by geopolitical and commercial interests, with attention economics, mob rule, and state power determining whose voices are heard most and whose are silenced entirely.

Without proper care, public spaces like the Roman Forum — designed first and foremost as a place for commercial and state business — can readily become places of exclusion, rumor, disease, politicking, exploitation and open violence as they steadily approach entropy. In this regard, it seems all but apropos that the Forum remains one of the guiding metaphors for the internet, because that is what we find ourselves with today.

From the hopeful starts of the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring onward into the techno-pessimism of today, the past decade has shaped and challenged our understanding of what the internet and media can do for society. Moving forward into 2020, it is now time to ask what society — not just technologists, businesses, and governments — can do for the internet and media.

Those of us in the fields of journalism and media have an obligation to adapt our work for the reality we live in, a digital world rapidly becoming as unsafe for anyone questioning the status quo as it was during the turbulent end of the Roman Republic. What’s become increasingly clear is that figuring out how to make the internet safer, more equitable, and protective of basic human rights is the vital work of this new decade.

In 44 B.C., as the Roman Republic was entering its death throes after the murder of Julius Ceaesar, orator and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero argued for the end of tyranny and the restoration of the old ways through a series of 14 speeches — a speech thread, if you will — meant to rally against Mark Antony. By the end of 43 B.C., Mark Antony had his revenge: He had Cicero murdered, and in a final act of brutality nailed Cicero’s head and hands to the Rostra, the section of the Forum dedicated to public speakers. It was a sign to anyone thinking using their head or hands to speak out.

It’s easy, in the popular imagination, to think of the historic Forum as a place for civil discourse, where new ideas manifest through informed and structured debate. Civil matters were indeed discussed in the Forum, but not always in civil ways. Fights broke out. Heads literally rolled — and were then pinned to the walls. This was generally not a place for women or non-Roman men, excepting the occasional slave or Vestal Virgin. It’s where Augustus and countless emperors innovated with new forms of propaganda, where rumors flew quickly, fights and arguments erupted, and graffiti told the people’s thoughts in their rawest form. And just outside the Forum, bathrooms and sewers would have been major vectors for disease.

Today, journalists face the digital era equivalent of Cicero’s hands and head nailed to the wall. They face tremendous violence online and off, as leaders wield hateful and authoritarian rhetoric, whip up mob frenzies, and employ cyber troops aimed at silencing dissent through waves of harassment, doxing, and memetic intimidation. Some of these attacks jump offline through physical violence, legal actions, reputational attacks, and enforced disappearances.

Just as Augustus used visuals in the form of statues and mass spectacles in order to reinforce his rule and imperial politics, digital states continue to innovate rapidly. As I wrote earlier this year for The Economist, modern-day states utilize the entertainment methods of today to confuse and distract, borrowing approaches that range from reality television techniques, such as using strong language and emotions and selling merch, to viral methodologies that blend art and entertainment with power.

Disease spreads on the internet in unexpected ways, as Meedan’s Digital Health Lab’s Nat Gyenes and Megan Marrelli have found, because we built an internet without public health standards of care of mind. This shouldn’t surprise us: The Romans developed basic sanitation infrastructure but didn’t understand the nitty gritty of how disease spread. Some of their practices — like public restrooms — offered key technological innovations without ultimately understanding the attendant social risks. Outbreaks of malaria, dysentery, and other devastating diseases swept frequently through the city.

Indeed, it was not just engineering but slavery that made Rome tick. While the aqueducts, arches, and roads of Rome inspire awe even today, few remember the many hands that built and maintained these structures. Today, the emerging technologies of our day — next-day shipping, fancy gadgets, content moderation, artificial intelligence — require underpaid, overworked hands and eyes to maintain the appearance of seamlessness, at the cost of tremendous mental and physical health costs for a broad digital underclass.

By the end of the Roman Empire, the Forum was sacked and ransacked by competing factions vying for political influence, and new squares arose throughout the world in an effort to decentralize power. Rising armies physically dismantled the Forum for its parts, and the site was popularly known as the campo vaccino — “cow field” — until the beginning of modern tourism. Here, too, is a lesson, as states begin to establish their own digital public spaces, from China to Iran to Papua New Guinea, through new platforms and infrastructure, as Sean McDonald and I have written for Foreign Policy. We are steadily watching the unified internet as we once thought we knew it being dismantled and shaped by geopolitical and commercial interests, with attention economics, mob rule, and state power determining whose voices are heard most and whose are silenced entirely.

Without proper care, public spaces like the Roman Forum — designed first and foremost as a place for commercial and state business — can readily become places of exclusion, rumor, disease, politicking, exploitation and open violence as they steadily approach entropy. In this regard, it seems all but apropos that the Forum remains one of the guiding metaphors for the internet, because that is what we find ourselves with today.

From the hopeful starts of the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring onward into the techno-pessimism of today, the past decade has shaped and challenged our understanding of what the internet and media can do for society. Moving forward into 2020, it is now time to ask what society — not just technologists, businesses, and governments — can do for the internet and media.

Those of us in the fields of journalism and media have an obligation to adapt our work for the reality we live in, a digital world rapidly becoming as unsafe for anyone questioning the status quo as it was during the turbulent end of the Roman Republic. What’s become increasingly clear is that figuring out how to make the internet safer, more equitable, and protective of basic human rights is the vital work of this new decade.

Tanya Cordrey   Saying no to more good ideas

Carrie Brown-Smith   Engaged journalism: It’s finally happening

Logan Jaffe   You don’t need fancy tools to listen

Felix Salmon   Spotify launches a news channel

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting finally creates another mega-hit show

Stefanie Murray   Charitable giving goes collaborative

Candis Callison   Taking a cue from Indigenous journalists on climate change

Monique Judge   The year to organize, unionize, and fight

Doris Truong   The year of radical salary transparency

Helen Havlak   Platforms shine a light on original reporting

Jeremy Olshan   All journalism should be service journalism

Richard J. Tofel   A constraint of the reader-revenue model emerges

Bill Adair   A Nobel Prize, a Brad Pitt film, and a Taylor Swift song

Mike Caulfield   Native verification tools for the blue checkmark crowd

Craig Newmark   Formalizing newsrooms’ battle against disinformation

Alexandra Borchardt   Get out of the office and talk to people

Anthony Nadler   Clash of Clans: Election Edition

Mario García   Think small (screen)

Catalina Albeanu   Rebuilding journalism, together

Jonas Kaiser   Russian bots are just today’s slacktivists

Kathleen Searles   Pay more attention to attention

Irving Washington   Leadership isn’t something you learn on the job

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, collaboration in a time of state attacks

Jeremy Gilbert and Jarrod Dicker   A call for collaboration between storytelling and tech

Steve Henn   The dawning audio web

Colleen Shalby   Journalists become media literacy teachers

Mariana Moura Santos   The future of journalism is collaborative

John Keefe   Journalism gets hacked

A.J. Bauer   A fork in the road for conservative media

Emily Withrow   The year we kill the news article

Jasmine McNealy   A call for context

Heidi Tworek   The year of positive pushback

Joshua Darr   All that campaign cash will make the media’s problems worse

Cristina Kim   Public media stops trying to serve “everybody”

Rachel Davis Mersey   The business of local TV news will enter its downward slide

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Power to the people (on your audience team)

Marie Gilot   This is fine

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists get left behind in the industry’s decline

Kerri Hoffman   Opening closed systems

Matt DeRienzo   Local broadcasters begin to fill the gaps left by newspapers

Beena Raghavendran   The year of the local engagement reporter

Brian Moritz   The end of “stick to sports”

Lucas Graves   A smarter conversation about how (and why) fact-checking matters

Meredith Artley   Stronger solidarity among news organizations

Tom Glaisyer   Journalism can emerge newly vibrant and powerful

Linda Solomon Wood   Everyone in your organization, moving toward a common goal

Annie Rudd   The expanded ambiguity of the news photograph

Geneva Overholser   Death to bothsidesism

Sue Robinson   Campaign coverage as test bed for engagement experiments

Nushin Rashidian   Are platforms a bridge or a lifeline?

Rachel Schallom   The value of push alerts goes beyond open rates

Kevin Douglas Grant   The free press stands against authoritarians’ attacks on truth

Imaeyen Ibanga   Let’s take it slow

Greg Emerson   News apps fall further behind

Nathalie Malinarich   Betting on loyalty

Rick Berke   Incoming fire from both left and right

Nico Gendron   Make better products if you want to reach Gen Z

Hossein Derakhshan   AI can’t conjure up an Errol Morris

Talia Stroud   The work of reconnecting starts November 4

Errin Haines   Race and gender aren’t a 2020 story — they’re the story

Sarah Schmalbach   Journalist, quantify thyself

Jeff Kofman   Speed through technology

Peter Bale   Lies get further normalized

Simon Galperin   Journalism becomes more democratic

Barbara Gray   Join local libraries on the frontlines of civic engagement

Knight Foundation   Five generations of journalists, learning from each other

Dannagal G. Young   Let’s disrupt the logic that’s driving Americans apart

Kristen Muller   The year we operationalize community engagement

Cindy Royal   Prepare media students for skills, not job titles

Jakob Moll   A slow-moving tech backlash among young people

Mira Lowe   The year of student-powered journalism

Joanne McNeil   A return to blogs (finally? sort of?)

M. Scott Havens   First-party data becomes media’s most important currency

An Xiao Mina   The Forum we wanted, the forum we got

Millie Tran   Wicked

Julia B. Chan   We 👏 take 👏 breaks 👏

Sarah Marshall   The year to learn about news moments

Joe Amditis   Collaborative journalism takes its rightful place at the table

Brenda P. Salinas   Treating MP3 files like text

Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor   Think twice before turning to Twitter

Meg Marco   Everything happens somewhere

Lauren Duca   The rise of the journalistic influencer

Alana Levinson   Brand-backed media gets another look

Jim Brady   We’ll complain about other people living in bubbles while ignoring our own

Fiona Spruill   The climate crisis gets the coverage it deserves

Joni Deutsch   Podcasting unsilences the silent

Raney Aronson-Rath   News deserts will proliferate — but so will new solutions

Laura E. Davis   Know the context your journalism is operating within

Matthew Pressman   News consumers divide into haves and have-nots

Josh Schwartz   Publishers move beyond the metered paywall

Cory Haik   We’re already consuming the future of news — now we have to produce it

Masuma Ahuja   Slower, quieter, more measured and thoughtful

Michael W. Wagner   Increasingly fractured, but little bit deliberative

Margarita Noriega   The platforms try to figure out what to do with single-subject newsrooms

Sonali Prasad   Climate change storytelling gets multidimensional

Ernie Smith   The death of the industry fad

Ståle Grut   OSINT journalism goes mainstream

Bill Grueskin   Our ethics codes get an overhaul

Nicholas Jackson   What’s left of local gets comfortable with reader support

Don Day   Respect the non-paying audience

Pablo Boczkowski   The day after November 4

james Wahutu   Western journalists, learn from your African peers

Kourtney Bitterly   Transparency isn’t just a desire, it’s an expectation

Seth C. Lewis   20 questions for 2020

Elizabeth Dunbar   Frank talk, and then action

Heather Bryant   Some kinds of journalism aren’t worth saving

Madelyn Sanfilippo and Yafit Lev-Aretz   News coverage gets geo-fragmented

Zizi Papacharissi   A president leads, the press follows, reality fades

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   A changing industry amps up podcasters’ ambitions

Christa Scharfenberg   It’s time to make journalism a field that supports and respects women

Monica Drake   A renewed focus on misinformation

Whitney Phillips   A time to question core beliefs

Carl Bialik   Journalists will try running the whole shop

Victor Pickard   We reclaim a public good

Tonya Mosley   The neutrality vs. objectivity game ends

Sarah Stonbely   More people start caring about news inequality

L. Gordon Crovitz   Fighting misinformation requires journalism, not secret algorithms

Alice Antheaume   Trade “politics” for “power”

Sarah Alvarez   I’m ready for post-news

Tamar Charney   From broadcast to bespoke

Dan Shanoff   Sports media enters the Bronny era

Sara K. Baranowski   A big year for little newspapers

Francesco Zaffarano   TikTok without generational prejudice

Nikki Usher   All systems down

John Garrett   It’s the best time in a century to start a local news organization

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting gets listener relationship management

Jennifer Brandel   A love letter from the year 2073

Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young   The promise of nonprofit journalism

Ben Werdmuller   Use the tools of journalism to save it

Adam Thomas   The silver bullet

S. Mitra Kalita   The race to 2021

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The business we want, not the business we had

Elizabeth Hansen and Jesse Holcomb   Local news initiatives run into a capital shortage