Spending a day at Misinfocon at MIT on Feb. 25 piqued my curiosity about the tradeoffs between ensuring correct information and censoring media expression. I left convinced that supporting diversity and deemphasizing clicks are two upstream solutions.
Before I arrived, I was concerned the event might focus on technology-driven responses and not engage in enough social science. As it turned out, we combined the two, which was productive.
After attending, I think we need to strengthen our focus on addressing the production of poor-quality news upfront. This is because it is much harder to detect or analyze errors after articles are produced than to make sure they are good at the outset.
In the first workshop I attended, we discussed fear.
We talked about how fear about safety issues can motivate people to help others in their communities.
We discussed the effects of segregation on fear. Some people at the table had worked at Racialicious and other environments where they had seen visceral fear about interracial interaction and immigration issues.
I talked about how desegregation can help reduce bias. I expanded on that in two other project-related conversations later.
I also mentioned Solutions Journalism Network's approach to reporting on proactive responses to problems. We are using solutions journalism on both of our websites where I work because global warming is a topic that causes people to shut down.
The second workshop I attended was led by a researcher from Stanford. Her basic thesis was that the existing system of letting news websites’ funding models dictate their behavior toward their audiences is flawed. She said all news websites should move more toward a business-oriented marketing model in which editors consider the value they provide readers, segment their markets, listen to their readers, and not use vague statements about a “general audience.”
I said that if you have an audience-oriented editor who understands business-friendly behavior, then the newsroom can implement the model the researcher described regardless of whether the team has VC, grants, subscriptions or advertising. For one of the websites I edit, we did partial market segmentation based on an initial survey.
We were discussing reader loyalty. The question of loyalty to a newsroom’s brand came up tangentially. Brand loyalty is something places like NPR inspire, but not every newsroom invokes it. It seems as if most newsrooms cannot rely on brand loyalty easily.
We also discussed bundling subscriptions with other purchases. I have brought this up when talking with other editors before online. Bundling is a very important marketing technique.