Info

A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged mainstream

The Guardian’s SnowCuck-General* Martin Belam has hit the nail on the head with some of the problems inherent to the current fact-checking culture in response to a political movement prepared to flat-out lie to us:

[…] I’m reminded of Clay Shirky complaining during the US presidential campaign that, “We’ve brought fact-checkers to a culture war”, and Hussein Kesvani writing recently that “fact checkers are terrible at telling stories”, whereas the neo-Nazi “alt-right” movement is great at building and maintaining a narrative.

Here’s Shirky’s tweet:

Narrative. Culture war. These are important ideas to bear in mind, as you analyse this situation.

Narratives versus facts

Journalism in general is much more comfortable with facts and stories (in the 350 word, inverted pyramid sense) than narratives. The development of a narrative has been a fundamental part of the best digital native publishing, which tends to have a view and a tight focus, and then explore that narrative through posts and links. It’s a difference of form born of the contrast between the daily newspaper and the infinite scroll of the internet.

And right now, we’re seeing a full-on clash of those two cultures. And it’s not going well for the older version.

Belam again:

Infowars, Breitbart, Britain First – the sort of websites and organisations that are spreading the far right’s anti-Muslim, conspiracy-theory-ridden ideology – are not going to be afraid to double-down on spreading their message. Fact-checking their spurious claims is one thing – but what does it achieve? To really challenge the spread of this nonsense we need to work out what we are going to do about more effectively spreading the truth.

It’s a fine distinction, but picking away at the lies that build a political narrative does stop falsehood spreading – and that’s valuable – but it does very little to undermine the central narrative that the extreme right are putting out in the US. This problem is not exclusive to the US – we’ve certainly seen elements of the Brexit-supporting right in the UK do much the same. Given the current success in the States, I’m sure we’ll see more political movements copycatting this approach.

The guerrilla war on truth

However, Martin might be guilty of burying the lede a little – not down in the depths of the article, but in the comments (yes, those much-derided comments):

I started thinking that maybe we just have a rota and instead of us all having two journalists each fact-checking every Spicer appearance, we just have one news organisation with the short straw, and everyone links to their fact-check.

I mean, I can’t see it happening, but it’s interesting if you watched things like GamerGate organising, then they had a distributed crowd who could (mostly) agree on one line to take and then push out. It’s very efficient – and the media don’t really have that collaborative mindset because traditionally it’s been about exclusives and being first.

That latter paragraph highlights a really crucial issue. This battle over the narrative is an asymmetric one on a lot of levels. There’s no doubt that the weight of numbers – people – is still very much on the side of traditional media. Despite the brutal cuts to print newsrooms over the years, in aggregate we’re still talking a heck of a lot of people – especially when you figure broadcast into the equation. But those numbers are being wasted in repetition and duplication. This is the classic “over-supply of news” problem given a rather macabre twist.

Asymmetric information warfare

But it’s worth thinking about this in terms of asymmetric warfare. Look at the “opposing forces” Martin cites in the quote above:

Infowars, Breitbart, Britain First

These are all digital outfits and, in the case of Britain First, Facebook-first. These are people who have been honing their techniques for 15 years on blogs, forums and other online services. They were birthed in the rants against the “MSM” in right-wing blogs in the early 2000s, and they’ve only got more effective as the social media tools have got more powerful.

How many people today are aware of Breitbart’s origin’s as the late Andrew Breitbart‘s blog, where he developed a vision of publishing honed at The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post. Who remembers Milo Yiannopoulos as a would be mainstream right political and tech journalist in the UK? Or as a hanger-on to London and Berlin’s startup scenes?

Too many saw the #GamerGate battle as a side issue, relevant only to techies and geeks. But it was the testing ground for the techniques that the alt-right are using on a much wider scale right now.

This is a classic piece of asymmetric warfare, with a small, but highly-distributed but well-ordinated group of people punching far above their weight because they are focusing on a central narrative, and are using more powerful digital techniques than their sluggish, divided mainstream competitors. The newspapers and broadcast media have very big guns, but they’re all firing them at the same place – and it’s not where the opposition really are.

The Meme is the longbow of the 21st Century

Don’t believe me? Look at this analysis of Breitbart’s use of Facebook:

[…] although Breitbart posted 12 times more links out of Facebook than images and videos combined, images and videos account for 79 percent of the total shares out of these top 100 posts. This disparity is even greater when you sum up the total shares of those 100 posts.

Breitbart shares

And this is the most shared post:

Such a simple message. So central to the alt-right narrative. So easily spread. So easily assimilated into your thinking. This is the propaganda power of Facebook at its most might.

These are the digital tools of narrative warfare. Use of memes – and this is what this is – is a fundamental part of the new language of communication. But we’re still fighting with the tools of the last century – the 1000 word article, debunking the lies, but which reaches a tiny fraction of the people as that simple meme above.

Are we prepared to step up and use these tools? Or will be as the French at Agincourt, cut down by the new technology of the age? Then, it was longbows. In the culture wars, it’s memes.

Even when Spicer, Conway and the others use the traditional media, it’s to spread messages that will be picked up and repeated through digital – and especially social media – by their base. They are subverting the mainstream, and turning it into an additional and reinforcing distribution challenge even as they subvert trust in it.

Are you of digital or merely on digital?

At a fundamental level, there’s a war being waged between organisations which are on digital but are not of digital, and those whose very way of operating has been forged in the fires of digital culture wars over decades. And they’re using the power of direct communication – a power that was prophesied as long ago as 1999’s Cluetrain Manifesto, albeit in rather hippier form:

  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  • People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

Politics has fluffed around the edges of this. The Obama years used social media very effectively: remember this?

Great image. But a carefully planned and staged image. Trump has subverted all that by talking like a person – although, admittedly, a particular kind of person – and his voice is undeniably his own. So many of his compatriots in this movement do the same. This has the power to make one of the elite – as Trump’s wealth and status make him – feel like one of the guys. They sound like people. We sound like – brace yourselves – elites hectoring people from our positions of power.

We won’t win the battle for truth with the weapons of the past. We need to take up the longbows of the digital era, and prove ourselves on the battleground of 21st century ideas.

*Sorry Martin, couldn’t resist.

The Tweet Elite

Twitter:

Similar to how we help businesses make advertising simple and effective on Twitter, we occasionally build features that enable these public figures — verified users — to engage more easily with the world through Twitter.

Interesting to see Twitter developing an effective Elite, with tools and services the rest of us don’t have access to. The Blue Tick Elite seems to be mapping pretty closely to to existing media power structures, too. It’s the big media, celebrities, and their ilk.

From disruptive to assimilated?

Fear'n'Loathing

Kevin Anderson pointed out this interview with humorist and newspaper columnist Dave Berry, in which he makes a pretty damning assessment of the newspaper business:

So what role did newspapers play in the decline of humor columns?

Newspapers have had a consistent problem over the past 30 to 40 years that whenever they are offered two options, they always pick the one that is more boring and less desirable to readers.

Personally, I attribute the modern failure of newspapers to English majors. We let our business be run by English majors, but since the model was a foolproof way of making money and the only place for Sears to buy and print a full-page ad, they could do whatever they wanted. This created the notion that whatever they were doing had huge market demand, and when the Internet came along, we found out that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Kevin explores the issues in the second part of that, but it was the first part that struck me. There is, to my mind at least, a streak of self-importance and worthiness in journalism generally, and newspapers specifically, that makes them, well, a touch boring. It’s as if the industry has collectively decided that to be useful dn informative, you have to be dull. And that’s a terrible mistake. One of the reasons that I spend more time in my RSS reader on my iPad than in newspaper apps in Newsstand is that, on the whole, the writing is better – or at least, more entertaining.

It’s like gonzo journalism never happened. Or, at least, that mainstream journalism has so failed to take on its ideas that they left space for it to rise amongst pure-play internet media.  

Bloggers versus Journalists: subject matter

[Created by Flowton from Pew data, discovered via We Are Social]
These appear to be US figures, but it’s still interesting reading, particularly at the points of vast difference. Bloggers are far more interested in Science than the mainstream media, but significantly less obsessed with health stories. To their credit, bloggers care more about the environment, but run up a serious demerit for their celebrity obsession. 

There’s an interesting post over on Kottke.org by guest blogger Aaron Cohen that points out that the speed from launch to mainstream media adoption of new social web tools is growing ever faster.

I’ve been chuckling ever since I read it, because it’s left me with the image of “old media” as your embarrassing uncle, desperately buying albums from new bands in an attempt to cling on to his long-gone youth…

Andy Ihnatko on why the term “Mainstream Media” is meaningless:

You waste your shot by blaming it on The Mainstream Media instead. When I get to the end of your heroic screed I’m tempted to click the “Comment On This Post” button and ask you to explain what role, precisely, the Kansas City Star played in this hypocrisy and how they benefitted.
“Oh, all those Mainstream Media organizations behave the same way,” you counter. Ah. Is that why you won’t rent an apartment to one?
Again I say: it’s a meaningless term. Look at the state of publishing today. Does this look like an industry that’s good at working together on any kind of a common agenda?

Well worth a read, whatever side of the discussion you perceive yourself as supporting.

The comment volume on our blogs is waaaay down this week. And half the office are about to go on holiday. And that got me thinking:

Do blogs now have a silly season?

In the early days, us obsessives would keep the reader and comment levels high right through the summer. But as blogs become part of mainstream reading habits, are more mainstream trends going to be seen?

Should I save all the serious stuff for September, and leave August for less weighty blog posts? Like, say, about a notional blog silly season? 🙂

In many ways, I think Shane’s following post hits the nail more accurately on the head:

This seems to be a change in direction for a blogosphere. Instead of bloggers trying to reach the elite on their own, they are now selling into bigger entities, bringing their audience and hoping to gain from being part of a larger whole.

This is a win-win equation much of the time. When we brought Flightblogger into the Flight Global stable, we gained the traffic and skills of a great blogger, and he gained the resources and brand name of a long-established publisher to back him up. And more to the point, we gained a great example of just how powerful, how journalistic and how traffic-generating great MSM-backed blogging can be. 
I really hope that in the coming months we’ll finally see the blogging versus journalism meme die, and we’ll start to see the true fruits of the great symbiosis between a profession and a style of publishing that the meeting of the two entails.
Time to get some work done. 🙂

There were a couple of interesting, but ill-attended talks yesterday before lunch, which I wanted to draw together.

June Cohen

June Cohen of the TED Conference made some interesting points about media, and in particular, about technology just drawing it back full circle.

“We think new media is new,” she said. And it is. “But old media is astonishingly new in the whole of human history.”

Using the clock metaphor for human existence, “old media” appears about two minutes to midnight.

“Before that, all media was social,” she suggests. Without mass media to carry messages, people communicate on an individual or group basis, in the same place as each other. The mass media age has, against expectations, created an anti-social media. Media delivered from on high is new and “frankly, really horrible”. TV has isolated us, Cohen suggested..

“US 50 year olds watch 40 hours of TV a week – that’s a full time job”.

She also had bad news for the big bloggers like Mr Scoble (thanks for the link!). “Ordinary, connected bloggers are more interesting than big, famous ones,” she suggested, because they return more closely to the social model, rather than the big media one. “Big media will become smaller,” she concluded.

2 things change us: technology and people (leaders). “We have an extraordinary opportunity to connect thought leaders of today to people who are engaged online, withouth the need for big companies or big government.”

jonathan MedVed

Jonathan Medved of Vringo build a compelling case for the desire of the tech-savvy younger generation wanting to extend their personality both onto and into their devices. His service is based on the idea of being able to inlfuence how you appear on other people’s mobiles based on what you do on yours.

This intrigued, because, in the context of Cohen’s speech, it implied that there is a generation who now accept internet communications as part of their life to such a degree that their main concern is imposing their own sense of identity into those communications, and perhaps seeing the media they consume and create through their assorted devices as part of who their perceive themselves. And that’s a major transformation from the era of defining personality through consumption.