Episode 7: A Bonfire of Hot Takes

Emily and Heather consider what place opinion journalism has in public discourse today.With Jeet Heer of The New Republic, and Katie Kingsbury of the New York Times, the two ask: Is intellectual diversity possible? Can, and should, legacy news organizations provide thought leadership? When do provocations and thought experiments actually foster debate and when are they just straight trolling? And what’s that smell? Is it the daily bonfire of hot takes? 

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Episode 6: Preparing for the Infocalypse

Heather and Emily hunker down in the journalistic equivalent of a nuclear bunker with Storyful’s Mandy Jenkins and design technologist Rick Barraza to explore the looming crisis of AI-generated fakery that threatens our understanding of what’s real.

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Reading list

  • “That” Obama Video
  • He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse Technologist Aviv Ovadya, who coined the term infocalypse, on our impending information crisis, “reality apathy,” and “human puppets.”
  • Artificial Intelligence is Killing the Uncanny Valley and Our Grasp on Reality A breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks of recent AI research
  • The Verge: Deepfakes Are Disappearing From Parts of the Web, But They’re Not Going Away On the ethics and legality of deepfake pornography
  • What Worries Me About AI Google’s François Chollet on two possible futures for AI
  • ‘The Insider Theme’ by The Insider is licensed under a Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

    Episode 5: What’s in the Sinclair Broadcasting Box?

    A perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes, and a shriveled local media ecosystem. Heather and Emily are joined by Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan and Texas Tribune founder John Thornton to unpack the tricky problem of how to save local news from bankruptcy and bias.

     

    Reading list:

  • Not Necessarily the News — A 2005 GQ article on Sinclair’s news takeover.
  • Big Media Companies and their Many Brands—In One Chart — A 2016 NPR visualization on media consolidation. Right now, the vast majority of media brands are owned by the “Big 6:” National Amusements (aka Viacom), Disney, TimeWarner, Comcast, News Corp, and Sony.
  • America’s Growing News Deserts — An recent interactive from the Columbia Journalism Review.

    Local news audience statistics (Source):

    37 percent of Americans say they frequently rely on local TV for news. Compare to:

    • 45 percent of Americans who say they get news from Facebook
    • 33 percent who say they look at news websites and apps
    • 28 percent who watch cable news
    • 26 percent who watch national nightly news
    • 18 percent who still read print newspapers

    Recent examples of problematic corporate takeover of local media:

      • Sinclair Broadcast Group — The company purchased Tribune Media Company last May, giving it access to about 72% of American households.
      • LA Weekly — A shadow entity bought the magazine last fall, and then fired most of its writing staff.
      • Time, Inc. — Meredith Corporation purchased the company in November, thanks to an infusion of cash from Koch Industries.
      • Digital First Media — The second-largest newspaper chain in the country is the owned by Alden Global Capital, a shadowy New York hedge fund.
      • And, of course, the “Bezos Washington Post.”
  • Episode 4: Propaganda, MisInformation and Tips for Tackling Fake News

    Heather Chaplin and Emily Bell talk to Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale, about misinformation, conspiracy theories, and how journalism can survive in systems flooded with propaganda, with tips on tackling fake news from Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass. And Emily gives us an audio whiteboard sketch of the complexities of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data story.

    Reading list:

    Episode 3: Please Don’t Read the Comments

    In this episode of Tricky, Heather and Emily talk to Sarah L. Roberts, the woman who coined the term “commercial content moderation,” about how elements of online discourse are governed by outsourced and unseen low-paid workers, who sift through “the grossness of humanity.”

    And they ask Andrew Losowsky of the Coral Project whether newsrooms and journalists still have a part to play in fostering civil discourse, on and offline.

    Plus: the bubonic plague, dance mania, Karen Carpenter, and pointy shoes. Read the full transcript below.

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    Heather Chaplin: Hello! This is a Tricky, a podcast where we try to untangle the knotty questions that will determine the shape of the future of journalism. I’m Heather Chaplin, Director of the Journalism + Design program at The New School.

    Emily Bell: And I’m Emily Bell, the Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. We think about this stuff quite a lot in our day jobs, but still we find ourselves chatting on DMs, texting, Slacking furiously, about these big questions and the ways we’d like to explore them. Hence this podcast which—

    Heather Chaplin: Emily, Emily—

    Emily Bell: What?

    Heather Chaplin: I got to stop you here.

    Emily Bell: Oh really? Why?

    Heather Chaplin: I don’t know how to say this nicely, but I think you’re violating some Tricky community guidelines.

    Emily Bell: No, really?

    Heather Chaplin: And I can’t be silenced about this.

    Emily Bell: You’re curbing my freedom of expression.

    Heather Chaplin: Don’t silence me please. I mean, Emily, you’re in the hot tub.

    Emily Bell: Oh, what?

    Heather Chaplin: Our content moderator in the Philippines has just alerted me to this fact. And yes, I had noticed it, but you know I just work here. I’m not in charge of these things and I’m not getting paid fifteen dollars an hour to pull videos of beheading humans from the internet.

    Emily Bell: I was told as long as I didn’t behead anyone in the hot tub it would be fine. I’m sorry.

    Heather Chaplin: It does get messy in there.

    Emily Bell: That’s the handbrake turn into this week’s thorny problem. I’m not actually in a hot tub, our listeners will be relieved to hear. That’s fake news, Heather, which your content moderators in the Philippines are not trained to detect, incidentally. But are you maybe hinting at the issue at hand?

    Heather Chaplin: It’s true we are talking about — god, please forgive me for uttering this phrase because I almost drove a steak knife into my heart when you first brought it up — content moderation.

    Emily Bell: Content moderation. Which I promise is so far from the horrible bland as it sounds. It really is key. It’s about the whole nature of how we keep our free society together. ‘Cause you know that we like to tackle tiny problems on this. Conversation, dialogue, health of the public sphere, how we talk to each other, and how we manage all of these unprecedented, online conversations, and this wave of human creativity. I think we should call Sarah Roberts because she’s so smart and she studies this content moderation industry in depth. She’s also assistant professor at the Department of Information Studies at UCLA and she’s been researching this area for years. Hi Sarah.

    Sarah Roberts: Hi, how are you?

    Emily Bell: I’m well. Can you just sort of connect the dots for us on this a little bit, Sarah? When we’ve seen news stories in the past couple of months about Facebook saying, we’re going to add another 10,000 people to look at this problem, you know, we’re going to clean up our platform, we’re going to get rid of fake news. You’ve been studying this for a very long time and you’ve got some pretty directive thoughts about how we could have avoided this situation but also sort of how it started.

    Sarah Roberts: Yeah, for the past year and a half we’ve seen more and more of those statements. When platforms come under fire for content that has appeared on their platforms, or that has maybe been removed, and they’ve gotten criticism. And the response, almost across the board, has invoked at some level, this idea that there will be human beings who are already employed or who will be sought out and employed in sort of this gatekeeping capacity. Interestingly enough, none of the platforms have simply said, oh we’ve got AI tools that we’re going to employ that will resolve this issue. That may be a part of the picture, but each of these big platforms has come out and said, you know, we’re going to bring our content moderation teams up to 10,000. What’s interesting about those statements is for the first time, the platforms are going on record in a very public way — really thanks to the work of a lot of journalists who’ve put them on the spot with numbers. So for many years people have asked me, how many people do this work? And I’ve had to make my best guesses. But now we have, from some of the major firms, numbers in the tens of thousands for each one of their platforms. That having been said, what’s also interesting is what is not told about the circumstances of these workers. Where are they in the world? Are they actual employees of these firms? Or are they contractors or subcontractors? What are their working conditions? What is it like to do this job? Who gives them their directives? How much agency do they have to make decisions themselves? And so on. So that’s the kind of work that I’ve tried to unearth in my research, that has not been forthcoming from the platforms themselves, but has really been something that has been uncovered thanks to workers who’ve been willing to talk, and violate non-disclosure agreements, and so on over the years and share with me.

    Emily Bell: Do you think that the application of those types of numbers and the kinds of contacts you’re talking about is actually going to improve the situation?

    Sarah Roberts: You know, it’s such a complex set of issues and problems that is now being put at the feet of this sort of, unnamed, unknown legion of globalized workers. And so certainly, in order to contend with the vast amounts of material that are uploaded to these platforms minute-by-minute, it’s not possible to attend to that either simply with machines and computation, but 10,000 people is probably still not enough to do a really thorough job. So a number of questions still remain. Simply put, how much of the material on a given platform — on YouTube, on Instagram, on Facebook, et cetera — is actually ever reviewed at all? I would contend that it’s a very small portion. Given the changing political context around the world, given the seeming, and you know, still out out for debate, role that these platforms have played in key, kind of political, debates around the world in the last couple years, there is there’s sort of a natural moment of questioning of their roles. And it gets back to this fundamental point of: What are these platforms actually? Are they a public good? Are they the public square? Are they akin to going down and standing on the soapbox in the park and making a statement? Or is it more like you’re going to the shopping mall and you can be there as long as you conform and behave but you’re really there at the at the whim of the property owner? In other words.

    Emily Bell: I thought of you, Sarah, when I was reading Jack Dorsey’s thread earlier in the week about how he wanted Twitter now to be, you know, a good actor in terms of creating better discussion and a better environment for discussion. On this thread, he was talking about the work that Cortico and Social Machines — which are both, incidentally, they come through MIT — but they’re initially Twitter-backed research projects and introduces of the concept of measuring conversational health. Is measuring conversational health something that we either could or should do? And should we be allowing Jack Dorsey and his research outgrowths to do that?

    Sarah Roberts: You know, again, I find this switch in tone and tenor fascinating. I certainly welcome the senior officials, execs, and thought leaders in Silicon Valley. I welcome their change of heart and change of tune. I should say that, you know, Twitter in particular has been fairly hostile to criticism from academics and journalists and others. And yet it has been at the nexus of a number of sort of terrible expressions of the kinds of problems that we’ve seen online, whether it’s gamergate and abuse towards women, alt-right harassment, the question of meddling, et cetera. And so, you know, actually the Twitter CEO and other parties at Twitter had been, up until recently, fairly intransigent in kind of rejecting the need to engage around these issues. So this, to me, was a fairly significant change in posture. That having been said, I think, as many rightly pointed out, this notion of you know, applying quantitative analytics and you know, ostensibly big data measures and so on, struck many as sounding like more of the same. So what we have here is a platform that sort of invented a problem and will apply tricks from the same bag in order to resolve the problem. There may not only be other answers to the questions that Jack Dorsey and others are asking, but there might be better questions that can be asked that could be informed by other ways of knowing, other disciplines, just other points of view. So you know, when Twitter kind of proposes to resolve its own problems that it can’t get a handle on, by bringing its closest friends into the room and applying some of the same kinds of, you know, computational solutions to what really are social problems, I am concerned about the likelihood of success there.

    Heather Chaplin: I keep thinking, you know, when you when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. And this this came up, well, I think on both of our episodes so far. Geez, it’s almost as if we’re deeply interested in this! But this idea that you could solve a problem as complex as the state of dialogue and discourse today with it — as an engineering problem — just seems ludicrous to me. And the idea that, I feel like, we are so influenced by this one kind of personality. Which is the tech startup guys who see the world as this sort of modular problem that they can solve with the same way that they built these platforms. It’s just not true.

    Sarah Roberts: You know, the only metaphor that comes to mind right now is, you’ve hit the nail on the head, right? I mean that’s it. I’ve been in a lot of closed door sessions of late. You know, I’ve heard industry folks and others make some very curious statements to the effect of, ‘well we really don’t know much about social norms.’ That was something that came up recently in a closed door session.

    Heather Chaplin: What does that mean? What what are they saying?

    Sarah Roberts: In terms of what things could be measured or how platforms might adequately contend with what, I think, we ought to agree are actually social phenomenon and social problems. And they’ve sort of had a sense of of these being issues that are intractable or otherwise unexplored. And you know, meanwhile there was a whole bunch of social scientists and others at that very table who raised an eyebrow to the statement and it was like, well there’s there actually is a deep kind of tradition of looking at these issues from a number of perspectives. Certainly not to exclude the field of journalism, right? Which may not be completely one-for-one mappable onto online spaces, but certainly has something to say about, you know, the terms of engagement with the public on issues, or how we present information, or what it means to have a code of ethics — whether or not those are adhered to — at least we can gesture at them, and so on. So it’s sort of like there’s this sensibility that all of this stuff is brand new and no one’s ever thought about it before and I’m not sure that’s the case.

    Heather Chaplin: And I think one of the things we are very interested in here is sort of acknowledging that these problems are so complex and so difficult. It’s not about fixing them. Give us an intervention. What’s a little something we could do that might make a difference?

    Sarah Roberts: Well one thing I like to point out, in terms of how we might collectively improve where we are today, is simply the fact that the way we have ceded our interpersonal and a lot of our public engagement to for-profit platforms was not a foregone conclusion, right? It didn’t have to be that way. Which means it doesn’t have to always be that way. We have to remember the collective imagination is very powerful. So is ingenuity of people. And there are other reasons that we might invest or engage that could be other than, you know, sort of taking our thoughts, and our affect, and our interpersonal behavior, and monetizing that for someone. You know, there were online spaces that existed before the internet became commercialized and they looked different, and they had governance, and they had rules. And some of them were draconian spaces that were almost impossible to be on because of the rules. Some of them were laissez faire to the point of being anarchic, and there were things all the way in between. But those norms and rules were perceptible, intangible. There were human beings who were responsible for them. Those kinds of things could be identified and perceived. Whereas what we have now is an internet that has been built up — and built on — a notion of unfettered free expression and the free circulation of information that, I would argue, has never been the case on these platforms and yet has been sold to the public on those grounds.

    Heather Chaplin: Well I was really struck on that Jack Dorsey thread that you guys were talking about before. That all of the comments to him seemed to be people like you know, ‘fuck off Jack’, like, ‘we have a right to free speech.’ And you’re just sort of like, whoa, what’s going on here?

    Sarah Roberts: And the platforms really are largely responsible for for those notions because that’s how they sold their utility to the public, right? Especially when we’re in a context of fewer and fewer public, or quasi public, outlets for expression. So I don’t think it’s a mistake, for example, that we’ve seen the rise of these platforms, and people using them as primary information sources, when we’ve seen the shuttering of, say, local dailies in communities, right?

    Emily Bell: Right on.

    Sarah Roberts: Or a shrinking, kind of, full-time professional staff on the state government beat, for example.

    Heather Chaplin: Are there any other times in history where the the public square has kind of been handed over to for-profit ventures?

    Sarah Roberts: I mean, I am not a historian or a legal scholar so I’ll put that—

    Heather Chaplin: You don’t know all things?

    Sarah Roberts: No, I’d put that content out there—

    Heather Chaplin: I’m deeply disappointed.

    Sarah Roberts: But I’ve certainly been someone who’s wondered about that and read about that. And you know someone like Jamie Boyle, who’s a legal scholar at Duke University, and has written on the enclosure of the English commons, for example.

    Emily Bell: I’m keeping very quiet here because that’s exactly what happened with the enclosure of the commons.

    Heather Chaplin: She’s like shrinking under the table.

    Emily Bell: I come from a farming family so it was probably me who actually did it.

    Sarah Roberts: Who actually enclosed commons, who actually shot the foragers out of out of your land. You know, I’ll give you another example that’s kind of close to my heart and close to, you know, my everyday work which is to work with and teach future librarians and information professionals. There’s been this ripple effect with the proliferation of online information sources, that are commercial and commercialized, that has actually become become an impetus, or a sort of a reasoning, for those who would like to see the public library, for example, receive less funding or even disappear altogether. In other words, I have students who are who are in training to go be public librarians, or otherwise be in this shrinking public sphere, whose own family members say to them, ‘why do you why would we need librarians anymore when we have Google?’

    Emily Bell: Right.

    Heather Chaplin: Oh my god that literally just made me nauseous. Sorry, I’m having a moment.

    Sarah Roberts: And I mean if nothing else we know through the work of people, like Safiya Noble and others, the deeply problematic nature of Google Search as the primary source of information for all people. You know that presents grave, great informational inequity problems, and other kinds of issues.

    Heather Chaplin: Let me ask you, I sort of before said, you know what’s a small thing we could do? And I really loved your answer of just sort of remembering that this is a designed system and that it could be redesigned. That it didn’t, you know, spring full-formed from from the earth. Let me ask you, even more specific, are there any little concrete things that people who are concerned about this can actually do?

    Sarah Roberts: I’m at odds sometimes with my closest colleagues and peers in these spaces who kind of continue to argue for the internet as a free speech site. I wonder, and I might suggest, that a better tact would be to acknowledge that, in fact they might not be that. They might be something else. And given that, if we change our understanding about what these platforms are and are not, maybe we can assert other kinds of pressures that come from a different place. So, what I mean is, for example, in the case of Twitter or YouTube, you know, I would assert that these aren’t the public square. Despite the fact that these platforms may not be the public square, they can still be held accountable to the public. And certainly the platforms, as you’ve seen, are very receptive to public opinion because what is their ultimate fear? To lose their users because of what they do or don’t do. So that’s kind of the first thing that I would say. The second thing that I would say though, that is more in direct relationship to the research that I do, is around the workers themselves who are tasked with dealing with this information removal, cleaning, deletion, and so on. Which, frankly, is a miserable job. It’s a horrible job as you know. It’s fraught with, sort of, the danger of being exposed to all sorts of things that are traumatizing and disturbing. We don’t know what the long-term ramifications are for these workers. And so people have often asked me over the years, you know, gosh what could we possibly do? And I will just quote one worker who does this work on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Her name is Rochelle LaPlante, and she simply said when asked this recently, ‘pay me.’ You know what I mean? Pay me appropriately, pay me so I can get the psychological care I need. Give me that in the workplace, support me, give me the right kind of pay, so that if I need to take time off I can do it. Give me benefits, don’t make me a precarious worker.

    Emily Bell: We may well drag you back onto Tricky at some point because there are so many things that you touched on there which I know we are going to want to talk about.

    Sarah Roberts: I can’t help it. I’m here in southern California I find myself invoking Karen Carpenter all the time, you know. We’ve only just begun.

    Heather Chaplin: Is that what happens when you move to California?

    Sarah Roberts: I guess. You know, we’ve only just begun with this kind of rethinking.

    Emily Bell: Thank you Sarah.

    Heather Chaplin: Thank you Sarah.

    Emily Bell: We have only just begun.

    Sarah Roberts: Alright, thank you folks.

    Heather Chaplin: You know, I’ve recently been very interested in moderation as a value. Mostly, I think, because it’s not one that we hold very highly right now. Like online, everybody is either crying or outraged all the time. And this whole conversation, it just really been reminding me of the bubonic plague. But seriously, if you were a person in 1347 to 1351, those were some rough years. There was the black plague that wiped out about a third of the population. It was a very difficult time for lots of reasons as well as that. But the thing that has always been so interesting to me about that time is the way people reacted and the word you would have to use is excess. People were freaking out. Not surprisingly, a lot of dead bodies, a lot of crazy shit happening. But start with fashion. So these—

    Emily Bell: Fashion in 1347.

    Heather Chaplin: So fashion in 1347, not joking here. These are all facts, pointed shoes Emily. Now, I’m not just saying pointed shoes, I’m saying pointed shoes that were so long and pointed that the people wearing them could not walk. And these shoes became so controversial that clergymen would rage about them from the pulpit. Or take another example of excess: this was not a good time for the Jews. There was a rise in, what we would now call pogroms, in Strasbourg. They murdered 2,000 Jews over one weekend. People couldn’t explain what was going on around them, so they were turning to all kinds of crazy things, like astrology or, you know, there’s a conspiracy of Jews to poison all the wells in Europe. And then this is my absolute favorite, all-time example, of immoderate reactions to stress which was dancing mania.

    Emily Bell: Dancing mania.

    Heather Chaplin: Do you know about this?

    Emily Bell: I think I’ve participated. Could have happened in 1347, that’s quite a long time ago.

    Heather Chaplin: So, 1347 in the Rhineland. This phenomenon — the Germans are kind of behind everything but that’s another another show — so 1347, the Rhineland people just started dancing like crazy. This is all true. Like hundreds of people, thousands of people, would just go from town to town on public squares, and they would dance and dance and dance until they dropped to the ground with exhaustion. At which point, they would start moaning and clutching their limbs and shouting about the devil and god and, I’m not kidding, the evils of pointed shoes. So doesn’t that kind of sound like how people act online?

    Emily Bell: I would rather have dance mania and pointed shoes than Nazis and misogynists. But yes, it does sound a little bit like that.

    Heather Chaplin: My point being people react to fear and uncertainty and the sense of chaos or, you know, I think in Barbara Tuchman’s amazing book, A Distant Mirror, the way she describes the 14th Century as a period of anguish where there was no sense of an assured future.

    Emily Bell: Right, so to make sure we don’t end up with plague, which I hear is very unpleasant, I’d like to talk to somebody about whether civil discourse is even possible and how journalism publishers can facilitate it. We have Andrew Losowsky, who is the Project Lead on the Coral Project at Mozilla, which was founded in collaboration with The New York Times and The Washington Post. Andrew welcome to Tricky.

    Andrew Losowsky: Thank you. A longtime listener, first-time caller.

    Emily Bell: This is amazing. We’ve been— Andrew was our listener for the first episode. So you may have heard, Heather was just ranting about the bubonic plague, and dancing mania, and pointed shoes, and some of the stuff I tuned out of. With this sort of return of tribalism and point of change and uncertainty that we’ve seen online, are we actually capable of moderation or will the extreme always dominate online conversation?

    Andrew Losowsky: So I think it really depends as to where online you are talking about and for what purpose. Right now, we’re in this phase where we have these enormous platforms, as you say that have incredible scale, and that’s really the benefit for investors and also for the users. And yet, at the same time, this question of, does scale make it actually more difficult to be able to have more measured conversations or more respectful conversations. And I think that’s one of the questions we really need to ask is, are these the right kind of paradigms, are these the right kind of platforms, to be able to have civil conversation, if that’s what you want. And there’s a lot of people who may not want it.

    Emily Bell: Before we had platforms, we had gatekeepers that were journalists — maybe — a bunch of white male gatekeepers, and they probably felt that they were facilitating civilized discourse. So, you know, the Coral Project connects with newsrooms and you can tell us a little bit about that work. But what’s the role, now, of journalists in shaping or at least engaging in a civil way of public discourse? Because in a way newsrooms have backed away from this.

    Heather Chaplin: And what do we even mean by civil?

    Emily Bell: Right.

    Heather Chaplin: Because do you mean polite?

    Andrew Losowsky: So the question of civil is an important question. Because I worry about, are we tone-policing people who, in many situations quite reasonably, now have more extreme language or ways of behaving because they haven’t been listened to at all in the past. This question of white, male gatekeepers is very well-taken. The overall question of, ‘what is the role of journalism within civil discourse or within community?’ I think, we need to step back a little bit and think, first of all, what is the role of journalism in society? Why should we have journalism? What is the benefit to, right exactly, what is it for? How do our communities benefit? How do we as individuals benefit? What’s the mission of journalism? And that’s going to change from organization to organization. And, what I’ve found, as part of the Coral Project, we’ve talked to more than 150 newsrooms in 30 countries. And one question that actually is very hard from most organizations to answer is the simple question: What is your mission? Because their general mission seems to be to survive and continue the legacy that they have. And the legacy isn’t a mission, it’s only a history. And so the idea was saying, well what is it that we do? What makes us different from anyone else? So the work that we do at the Coral Project is to bring journalists closer to the communities they serve in order to make the communities healthier, in order to make journalism more trusted, in order to increase diversity, and so on.

    Emily Bell: The iron core of journalism is really reporting. It’s the thing that we do that nobody else does. You know, we get up every day, and we try and find things out, and then we try and write them down or make a video of them and show it to people. Does the fact that, when you’re talking about conversational health, et cetera, you know, kind of that broader sort of benefit to the community— is that just becoming too attenuated from what the really, sort of core purpose, of journalism is?

    Andrew Losowsky: I think that what we need to remind ourselves is that at the core of journalism is also listening. And that when you’re talking about, well, what we do is report, well reporting is listening of a kind. The question is, who were we listening to? For whose benefit? And at what stage in the reporting? So much of the idea of conversation is after the reporting is finished, the piece is published, then the community gets to have their say. And in the meantime, the journalist is over there doing something else. Rather than thinking about it as a continuum, and a continued conversation, and to continue back and forth.

    Heather Chaplin: I feel like, Emily, what you are kind of trying to get at is guys, let’s not forget we’re actually supposed to be like holding powerful people’s feet to the fire and re we putting too much energy, maybe, in this idea that we’re supposed to be conversation facilitators. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I feel like maybe is that attention that we’re not necessarily acknowledging, and just assuming that this is what we want?

    Emily Bell: Right, and Andrew you’re very close to newsrooms because you’re trying to implement this. I’d be very interested as well to hear, on the back of that, has the receptivity of newsrooms to the work that you do in the Coral Project do changed, as we’ve seen things like the business models of journalism change? Where you actually need a more engaged audience, both to look at the things that you’re doing, but also to give you money.

    Heather Chaplin: Right, right.

    Andrew Losowsky: Has it changed? Not much I would say over the past three years that we’ve been in operation. There is some greater willingness to understand that there is something that the newsrooms have been missing. Certainly post-election, there was a sudden surge in interest, and then saying, wait maybe we are not as close to the communities we serve as we thought we were. Maybe there is a distance. You’re absolutely right about holding people in power to account. But the question, again, comes back to: in what ways? And are we holding power to account on their own terms? Or are we doing it in a way that is actually addressing the real questions that people want answering in order to have the information they need to make their own lives better.

    Emily Bell: What about this move away from commenting systems? So the Coral Project sort of came at a point when lots of newsrooms were just saying, we’re not going to do that anymore, because social media does it for us. And we’ve actually been hearing about how social media doesn’t really do it for them, that it doesn’t have that mission to shape conversation. But I know all too well the conversations that happen within news organizations, about the amount of effort they have to put into curating a community or moderating comments. And suddenly we have people just saying, we’re not going to do it, we’re going to we’re going to just go back to just publishing articles. Was that a misstep by the news industry?

    Andrew Losowsky: I think it was. I think it was also a fundamental misunderstanding of what you need to have in order to have a sustained onsite community. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And this is one of the big things that I face, is that a lot of newsrooms have said to me, ‘look, we didn’t have the resources to do 24/7 moderation on every single article on our site, so we took off all comments and now we do nothing.’ All right, well that’s a huge space in the middle where you could have a weekly discussion, where you open comments just on one page, or Q and A’s with journalists once a day, or you know, there’s a whole range of other things you can do. And you can do that on your platform or on someone else’s. If you do it on someone else’s, then yes with going to primarily Facebook and Twitter and other spaces, you do get the benefits of there’s a lot more people on there and people can find due. But what you’re also doing is handing over the ownership of the direct relationship between you and the reader to a third party that will monetize that and sell it back to you. And that’s a really precarious position to be in.

    Emily Bell: And that raises another thing about journalism, which I think bothers all of us, which is, are we to some extent just becoming very marginal in all of this? You know, that we can enjoy your work and look at, you know, kind of the great conversations that take place in threads on New York Times or whatever. But it’s not where the main event is. And that’s actually, you know, these kind of commercially moderated, vast platforms where again, you know the kind of governance structures don’t really have a journalistic mission or even a mission particularly to listen.

    Heather Chaplin: Or a public good.

    Emily Bell: Or a public good mission.

    Andrew Losowsky: I think that we also need to think about who are the audiences that we serve? And does that have to be as big an audience as possible to have the impact and the change that we want to have? So if your mission and your goals is to try to create policy change around a certain idea, or to create active engagement within a particular community, or to have impact in the courts, or to have certain kinds of reach, or something else, you can. There is an open question about, is it better to focus more keenly on a smaller committed number of people? Or is it better to try to go for full scale? At which point you can end up in click bait and other spaces too.

    Heather Chaplin: When you say better, are you talking about the business model of the news organizations, or are you talking for, you know, democracy?

    Andrew Losowsky: I’m talking about the business model, I’m talking about the mission that the news organization is trying to do, and then the way in which that organization serves democracy.

    Heather Chaplin: What role should journalism be playing in facilitating public dialogue? I’m trying to get at the question—

    Emily Bell: It’s the public sphere question.

    Heather Chaplin: Exactly. So what’s actually at stake? Like who cares about public dialogue? Why is it important? What’s at stake if it, you know, if the system that facilitates it is not healthy?

    Andrew Losowsky: I mean I think that journalism ultimately needs to be making people’s lives better and helping empower people to make their own lives better. And doing it in a way that creates a healthy society to enable everyone to be able to do that. And so, as a result of that is to say then, well what is the role of discourse in conversation in that? Well obviously, it needs to be at the core because how do you know what makes people’s lives better? How do you know if you are making their lives better? How do you know if you’re able to be the fact-checker, the investigator, the person who they turn to to say, is this true is this not? And if you’re not in dialogue, you are in danger of just creating the things that you think other things that people want. And especially when we end up with a great lack of diversity in newsrooms, we end up with very easy to get into groupthink, and in certain ways of seeing the world and certain people who we think are our audience, because we think that we are representatives of our audience.

    Emily Bell: We’ve seen this rash of initiatives to fix conversation and to fix the public sphere. Often coming from places that don’t, as far as I can see, have many credentials in terms of fixing anything. How are we meant to sort of think about all of these new initiatives? And I wonder what your perspective is, as somebody who’s been working on this for a long time, which actually even predates the Coral Project.

    Andrew Losowsky: You’re absolutely right, there’s a lot of different initiatives. And on the one hand, this is an unprecedented moment in terms of digital communication and conversation. We can have conversation at a scale, in a speed, and a reach that we’ve never had before. And so it churns and moves forward in ways that we’re still trying to understand. So I’m very— I think it’s very important that there are a range of different approaches and these approaches are tried and studied and and so on. I think that one of the issues that we also face is the question of, are we hitting conflicting incentives? And I think that’s something that actually was talked about in the first episode of Tricky.

    Emily Bell: Oh, he is a listener.

    Heather Chaplin: He’s good, this one.

    Andrew Losowsky: It was some point after the small bottle of gin appeared from the box.

    Emily Bell: It was actually a very large bottle of gin, but you’re not to know that, it’s an audio thing.

    Andrew Losowsky: So this idea of, is it in the platforms’ incentives to have better discourse online? And there’s this moment now where suddenly they’re realizing, maybe it is from a civil perspective, but it hasn’t been from a monetary perspective.

    Emily Bell: Yeah. And when you mention monetary perspectives, one of the things I remember from my Guardian days is just that putting resource into curating good conversations online, is you know is pretty resource intensive. So at a time when news organizations are under a lot of cost pressure, how can you make the argument in newsrooms that it’s actually worth hosting conversations or worth moderating? You know, really worth putting resources into moderation rather than reporting results.

    Andrew Losowsky: So I see moderation as being a part of reporting resource. And the way that I get around this, I speak to a lot of very skeptical journalists you would be amazed to hear.

    Emily Bell: Oh yes, that’s astonishing.

    Andrew Losowsky: Exactly. And I have heard many people say to me, ‘yeah it’s great what you’re doing but I’m never going to use any of your tools, I’m never going to listen to the readers, I’m too busy over here doing my thing.’ And I say that’s fine, but listen I’ve got three questions for you. First of all, where do you get your ideas for what your writing and your sources from? Where do you find these people? And then the second question is, do you believe that, among your readership, there are people who are experts in the topic that you write about and know things that you don’t know yet that you might want to report on? And then the third question, is do you want to talk to those people and get that information? And at that moment they say, well yes, of course I would love to do that, how can I do that? And then it’s a question of OK, well how can we create a space in which this can happen? One thing I do tell newsrooms is don’t make promises you can’t keep. So if you can’t put the resources into moderating everywhere on the site don’t put comments anywhere on the site. Find other ways to engage. And comment is only one part of what we do at Coral.

    Emily Bell: What do you think the future for all of this is, Andrew?

    Andrew Losowsky: I think the future is a range of different tools and a range of different approaches with newsrooms, where they think about engagement like they’ll think about a photograph or a graphic. To say, what are we going to do with this story when we commission it? Are we going to send a photographer, are we going to get an illustrator? OK, what are we going to do about engagement around this story before we start reporting? Are we going to engage before we report, during the reporting process, is the engagement a key part of this? Or is it something where it doesn’t really— isn’t really necessary for this piece and we’ll do more in the engagement resources over there? And so I think that engagement just becomes another tool and it becomes one that actually helps power the journalism process.

    Heather Chaplin: Wait, how— clarify how we went from dialogue to engagement? We’ve been talking about dialogue as sort of this, you know, sort of Greek ideal, you know, people’s ability to discuss things and whatnot. We’re going to get into Buber in a minute. Stick around for that. But now, I feel like you’re more talking about the relationship between news organizations and audiences, which is— is that the same thing? Is that a different thing? And I notice the words you were using shifted.

    Andrew Losowsky: Yeah, so it is a connected thing, but it’s a different thing. For me, what I’m saying a lot to newsrooms is: if you want to have community. why do you want to have it? What is the value to you? What is the value to your mission? What is the connection to your mission? So if you’re going to host dialogue on your page, how does that actually create a community that is engaged with your work and helping support your work? Because if it’s not, there were other platforms that do just general dialogue and conversation, and you do not need to be involved in them. If they’re talking about you, you don’t even have to watch if you don’t want to. Whereas, if you are going to get into this business — and I think it is a very smart move for journalism, journalism needs to be in the listening and talking business — then you need to think of it as engagement around fulfilling your mission. Rather than general dialogue about the topic that you hope goes well.

    Heather Chaplin: So the word community gets thrown around a lot. How do you define community? I mean what about, like, the child molesters and the embezzlers? Are they in the community? Or are they out of the community? Is community only the good people?

    Andrew Losowsky: There may be a community of embezzlers out there.

    Heather Chaplin: We serve the community of embezzlers. Now there’s a business model.

    Emily Bell: We’ve already discussed the fact that all of our friends are the charlatans and mercenaries.

    Heather Chaplin: Yeah, I serve the mercenary community mostly.

    Andrew Losowsky: A community is a gathering of people, virtual or real world, or in any space, who agreed that they have something in common, who have shared rituals and language, and who, if the community comes under attack, then they would look to defend it because they understand what the definition of who is in and who is out about that. So what that means is that a news organization probably doesn’t have one community, they have many. And they may have many that coexist in the same comments thread, for that matter. And this is one of the issues around huge platforms like Facebook, is that you get this overlap and clashing between very different communities who are pulled together by the algorithm to comment in each other’s spaces, where there are different rules, different concepts, different cultural expectations. And because all of the tools look the same, people end up acting the way that they expect. Whereas actually they’re involved in a different community. So I think that we have to be very careful about constructing and managing communities in this way. And that’s one of the reasons why taking it off these social platforms can be a benefit, because you can set the rules and set the tools in a different way, and say this space looks different, it acts different, so this is how we expect you to be in this space.

    Heather Chaplin: That’s interesting, algorithmically created communities. Which perhaps lead to problems. Alright, I think that’s a good note to to end this with. Andrew, thank you for joining us.

    Emily Bell: Thank you, Andrew. Do come back and talk to us more about this and keep listening as you are a precious first listener.

    Andrew Losowsky: Thank you both.

    Heather Chaplin: So Emily, do you feel like you have a better sense of the shape of the problem?

    Emily Bell: Yeah I kind of do. Let’s get back to Sarah Roberts, who is saying there are so many facets to this because we are talking about such a huge scope of what we see or discuss or post into a sort of a public forum. I get a much clearer sense now of how journalism should connect to this and what its role should be. Which is as a kind of, I think, a sort of a standard setter in this area. Is that too wanky, to be a standard setter?

    Heather Chaplin: Well I’m just picturing those standards that people use to carry out on the battlefield.

    Emily Bell: With their pointy shoes.

    Heather Chaplin: But seriously, do you have a sense of what a healthy system might look like?

    Emily Bell: You know, there is an emerging set of scholarship which talks about the rights of the listener. And this is in law and communications theory as well. So we’ve had a pretty short, if you like, history of free speech. You know, American free speech. So Tim Wu would say it’s like the Super Bowl. We think it’s a very old American tradition, but it’s actually relatively new. It was really established in the 50s and 60s, the modern version of this free speech doctrine that we have. And actually what we have now is we have too much speech of all types. Of automated, some of it’s wrong, some of it’s deliberately misleading, some of it’s propaganda. And we have to think about, how do we drain that out of the system? First of all, without infringing people’s rights to free expression. We can only really do that we start to think about the rights of the person receiving it. So in other words, do people have the right to hear valuable information versus lots of Russian bot chatter? And somehow I think that that’s, to me, that’s the shape of the problem that we need to think about. Which is, how do people get to the information that really matters to them? Or to have the conversations which are, ugh I hate this phrase, meaningful.

    Heather Chaplin: Yeah yeah. Well I hate to get all Martin Buber on you.

    Emily Bell: I don’t like it when that happens either. He was a beardy, Martin Buber.

    Heather Chaplin: He was bearded but, which as you know is not my favorite look for a man, but he was smart. And I was poking around this morning and he has this definition of, what he called true dialogue—

    Emily Bell: He is a philosopher, just to be clear.

    Heather Chaplin: And he talked about his one that included openness, honesty, and mutual commitment. Which I thought were were sort of interesting definitions. But I was also interested that he talks about dialogue as not just being about expressing your point of view, which I think is sort of how we commonly think of it, or even reaching a conclusion. But, he said, is the prerequisite for any kind of authentic relationship. And he was talking about either between a set of humans or between human and god. And so I just thought—

    Emily Bell: A woman and a fish. I’ve just seen Shape of Water.

    Heather Chaplin: I haven’t seen it yet, don’t spoil it.

    Emily Bell: Fish sex.

    Heather Chaplin: And that was brought to you by the Wikipedia paraphrasing services, which I like to use whenever I can. But I just thought it was sort of a nice point to end on in terms of what’s at stake.

    Emily Bell: Please improve our conversational health with your comments and suggestions. You can email us at trickpod at gmail dot com and subscribe to Tricky wherever you get your podcasts. We highly value your podcast reviews and as you’ve heard this week, we will actually drag you on to the podcast if you are one our regular listeners. They help other listeners pick us up from the crowd and they warm our cold, cold, cynical hearts— even the ones from our relatives.

    Heather Chaplin: And if you’ve already rated and reviewed us, which again is how the algorithms surface shows, please ask your friends to do so too.

    Emily Bell: This has been a production of The New School’s Journalism + Design program with help from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. And with funding from the Knight Foundation.

    Heather Chaplin: Our producer is Sara Burningham. With help from George Civeris. Thanks also to Kayla Christopherson. And if you want more, you’ll find links, background information, and show notes at trickypod dot com. That was Andrew Losowsky.

    Andrew Losowsky: Losowsky.

    Emily Bell: Losowsky.

    Heather Chaplin: Wait, have I been mispronouncing your name the entire time that I’ve known you?

    Emily Bell: Yes, she has. But he’s British so he’s never going to tell you.

    Heather Chaplin: But Andrew, you never said anything?

    Andrew Losowsky: Because—

    Heather Chaplin: I’m not being sarcastic. I am mortified.

    Andrew Losowsky: Well you never asked.

    Heather Chaplin: Oh my god, oh my god, I wasn’t listening. That’s what happens when you don’t listen.

    Emily Bell: So that was Andrew Losowsky.

    Heather Chaplin: I want to die right now.

    Andrew Losowsky: The “w” is like an “f,” so it’s just Losowsky.

    Heather Chaplin: Is that a British thing?

    Emily Bell: It is a British thing.

    Andrew Losowsky: Oh yeah, not saying anything is definitely a British thing.

    Heather Chaplin: No, I know that part is British but the— anyway, sorry. Take it Emily. I’m just going to drop dead over here. Go ahead.

    Emily Bell: Thanks Andrew Losowsky.

    Andrew Losowsky: Thanks Emily, thanks Hawther.

    Episode 2: Facebook is broken. Should we hop on the blockchain?

    Facebook’s 35 mentions in the 37-page indictment of 13 Russian nationals solidified the social network’s position at the center of our current political and cultural conundrum. In this episode, Heather Chaplin and Emily Bell retrace the steps that led to this point, examine whether Facebook’s leadership was willfully ignorant or breathtakingly naive, and analyse the role of journalism in all this. And while we pick over the debris of our democracy, we also debate the case for blockchain –  technology plenty of smart folks, including our guest Jarrod Dicker (former VP of innovation at the Washington Post, new CEO of Po.et), are putting a lot of faith in.


    What we’re reading:

    Facebook:

    The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley reengineered journalism

    Inside the two years that shook Facebook–and the world

    A Facebook executive apologies to his company–and to Robert Mueller

    Blockchain:

    Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble

    The Waterline: How Civil Works

    How the blockchain will radically transform the economy

    Civil, the blockchain-based journalism marketplace, is building its first batch of publications

     

    Transcript:

    Heather Chaplin: Hi, I’m Heather Chaplin, founding director of the Journalism + Design program at The New School.

     

    Emily Bell:  And I’m Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

     

    Heather Chaplin: And this is Tricky, a show about the shape of the future of journalism where we try to unpack, unravel, and interrogate – although in a nice way – the tricky problems facing journalism.

     

    Emily Bell: And I’m in California.

     

    Heather Chaplin: You’re in California. Are you having like a major meeting on roof decks?

     

    Emily Bell: Yeah it’s a high level meeting on the roof, and the famous Californian meat cleanse of a burrito, a pork burrito, at about 2:00 a.m., half a carafe of rose, that sort of thing. It’s very, very healthy out here. And I’ve met our listener last night for drinks.

     

    Heather Chaplin: You met our listener!

     

    Emily Bell: We’re already having meetups without you.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Oh that’s so harsh.

     

    Emily Bell: I put her on the blockchain to authenticate her as a listener.

     

    Heather Chaplin:  So I’ll have to up my thought-leadership profile so that I get invited to some of these bicoastal media elite retreats. But for now, I’ll just sit in this little box in the recording studio with my box.

     

    Emily Bell: What’s in the box? Audio unboxing which helps us conceptualize the messy problems we’re going to delve into. But the unboxing this week is even more messy because I’m in California, Heather. And the box is in New York with you. So Heather, can you do the honors and paint a picture with words and what you’re finding in the box?

     

    Heather Chaplin: All right. I’ve never been a great painter but I’ll do my best. OK. I’m taking the lid off the box. Hey where’s our gin?! There’s no gin in there but –

     

    Emily Bell: No gin?

     

    Heather Chaplin: There is this–

     

    Emily Bell: Thank god I’m in California.

     

    Heather Chaplin: This other bottle of clear cold liquid vodka. And then there’s a smaller bottle of vodka and the bigger a bottle of vodka and a smaller one and that it’s like one of those Russian dolls.

     

    Emily Bell: A Russian doll of booze.

     

    Heather Chaplin: So you’re going to miss our Vodka martinis. Sorry about that. Let’s see, what else do we have here is that a lock? It’s like a lock and – oh weird, it’s like it’s attached to a chain or something. And here’s a little troll it’s a blue haired troll in a MAGA hat, huh. And is that a    little Zarina in all her diamonds? Well here’s the big Rolodex. I think it must be yours because it’s not quite as big as mine is.

     

    Emily Bell: That must be mine.

     

    Heather Chaplin: That must be yours. That little Rolodex. So I have mentioned this before, here on the air to our many fans, as well as to you Emily, that I really am not into solutionism. I do not believe that there are many grand solutions out there to the problems that we face. But I have been struck by all the excitement recently about blockchain that people seemed to really think like this could be – this could be if not it then a big part of it. Of course I’m skeptical because I was born skeptical. So we’re going to dig into that in the show. But first I feel like we have more to say that we started saying in our last show when we were talking about addictive design and its effect on journalism. And we really ended up talking about the big platforms and we didn’t focus on on Facebook but O M G, Facebook. Last week we had Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announcing the indictment of 13 Russian nationals for meddling in US elections.

     

    Rod Rosentstein: The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts, and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. They also purchased political advertisements on social media networks. Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns, and stage political rallies.

     

    Heather Chaplin: And I was struck that in a 37-page indictment Facebook was mentioned 35 times. So not a perfect score but not bad. So I just kept thinking I wish that I knew somebody who is like really an expert in the platforms who’d been like thinking about the platforms, maybe writing about them, maybe publishing about them, for a long time and I just I keep thinking, ‘who is that man?’ like who who’s the man that I should call and–

     

    Emily Bell: Who could he be?

     

    Heather Chaplin: Who could he be and, now Emily, I know you’re only a woman but I was wondering could could you help me out with this.

     

    Emily Bell: I’ll have a go, Heather. I’ve occasionally had things to say about Facebook.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Everything that’s happened this last week…

     

    Emily Bell: Yes.

     

    Heather Chaplin: What’s the big takeaway for journalism. And are you – was there anything in there that for someone like yourself, who in all seriousness, is actually you know a big expert on this – was there any shocks or were you like yeah no shit, Sherlock.

     

    Emily Bell: Well I suppose for one thing we would not that surprised. We sort of knew that all of this was coming. In fact my colleague at the Tow Center, Jonathan Albright, has been on a thing – lots of evidence that Facebook interactions from this thing called the Internet Research Agency, based in Moscow which is the propaganda machine for Putin’s government is rife and has spread. And we saw all of that come out at the congressional hearings last autumn when the counsels for Facebook, Twitter, and Google had to go and ask, or rather answer, questions about Russian propaganda and advertising on Facebook, and messages through Twitter, and bot amplification and search results on Google – how might they have influenced the election. So to that extent we weren’t that surprised. On the other hand as you said, Heather, 37 pages, 35 mentions of Facebook. It’s pretty you know it situates Facebook really at the center of a potentials of democratic crisis. And it comes at a time when the company is so beaten up largely around how it’s treated the whole unraveling of this story. Wired magazine ran a piece about 10 days go on Facebook’s really horrible last two years. We wrote it we wrote a report last year from the Tow Center called the Platform Press where we described a lot of the very same things. And Facebook’s decision making around what involvement they wanted in content whether they wanted to edit it by humans or whether they wanted to change the algorithm to edit it automatically played into this idea, if you like, that they were letting go the controls – the few controls they have over the over the material on their platform – at exactly the same time that these Russian agencies were deploying more and more propaganda. Having said that, it’s just an indictment. So we don’t know yet you know whether the charges leveled against these 13 Russians are actually going to land.

     

    Heather Chaplin:  You know I have to say, I really do feel like there’s got to have been some willful naïveté on the part of Facebook execs. Here’s Mark Zuckerberg speaking at Techonomy in November 2016.

     

    Mark Zuckerberg: When it comes to News Feed ranking I actually think we’re very transparent. Every time we add a new signal or make a change we publish that and we explain why we’re doing it and what signal we’re adding and we bring people in to talk to them about it. So you know that that stuff is out there and we’ll continue to do that. And that’s a big that’s a big part of what we do and we take that seriously. You know I’ve seen some of the stories that you’re talking about it around this election. You know personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which you know it’s a very small amount of the content, influencing the election anyway, I think it’s a pretty crazy idea.

     

    Heather Chaplin: That was just two days after the presidential election. I mean what are we to make of this Emily is this willful naïveté, is it just blatant lying?

     

    Emily Bell: You know I think that people within Facebook believed it, but when you look at the history it’s so hard to believe that actually to know nothing about it must have just been either negligence or willful ignorance.

     

    Heather Chaplin: All right. Let’s listen to this this other clip from the same talk that Zuckerberg gave, again just right around the time of the election.

     

    Mark Zuckerberg: We really believe in people, right. And that they can be like, you don’t generally go wrong when you trust that people understand what they care about what’s important to them. And you build systems that reflect that.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I mean the naïveté if that’s what it is is kind of breathtaking. This idea that he believes in people. I mean Emily, you’re the expert, you tell me.

     

    Emily Bell: So here’s the thing. I just went back and read a few articles after the DOJ indictment dropped. And in 2014, Facebook were talking about their very deliberate expansion into the Russian market and they had their sights on becoming the biggest social media platform there. There was a Russian platform called The Contact which was previously the largest platform in Russia. In 2014 it was being taken over by the government its former head fled the country. You had Facebook saying well we want to expand in this market. They had lots of incentives for developers to work with them and in the same year you had the Internet Research Agency, which was not a particularly secret organization, starting activities which would lead to attempt to influence the U.S. election. Now those three things are completely unrelated however. Facebook is a large publicly quoted company. My question, as a business journalist I guess, is in what universe would you not do due diligence on that set of circumstances? How could you not model out the worst case scenario? Which is effectively what ends up happening. It’s really hard to imagine how Facebook could be in a worse position than the position they are now or that they couldn’t have seen at least some elements of this coming because all the ingredients were there.

     

    Heather Chaplin: It’s interesting, although I would say you know history is dotted by gross acts of negligence and blind spots and idiocy.

     

    Emily Bell: How could that have gone wrong?

     

    Heather Chaplin:  Yeah. Nothing could go wrong there. I mean what I find myself thinking, and it’s interesting the example you give about them going to Russia, I was really struck by the Nick Thompson article in Wired. Which again, really terrific article I thought, this seems like just like a little backstory piece but I really feel like it’s telling that the whole reason that Facebook started pumping up news into people’s News Feeds which used to just mean like personal information from friends was an attempt to bring down Twitter.

     

    Emily Bell: Yeah. Yes.

     

    Heather Chaplin: You know I just find myself thinking, again all through history you see this but this idea of a few powerful people battling it out for their own profit and wreaking havoc on the way the rest of us live.

     

    Emily Bell: Well I think you know that for journalism again that year 2015 – 2016 was when all of the platforms suddenly went from being the tacit vectors of traffic and content into being very explicitly about courting more producers and more publishers. So if you remember Snapchat came to the market and launched a Snapchat Discover in January 2015. Very shortly after that you had Instant Articles being launched by Facebook which was their own attempt to give rapid stories to the public. Then you have Google doing the same thing with Accelerated Mobile Pages, then you have Apple launching Apple news. It was as though suddenly, as you say, as a body – and Twitter doing Twitter moments – as a body the tech industry decided that news was important, that they had to compete on it, and that they wanted to kind of bash each other around the heads you know with their various products but they didn’t at any point stop, or if they did stop, it was not a thoughtful stop, and consider what it really means to be more active in publishing.

     

    Heather Chaplin: It really does make me think of– so you know I’m a big history buff and I spent some time being very obsessed with medieval history and it reminds me of you know this reminds me of a British civil war in twelve hundreds. I’m not even kidding, but where there was this vacuum of power and what you see is all of these different players coming in and competing to be in charge. Which sounds fine if you tell it from their perspective. But what you see underneath is the havoc wreaked on everybody else’s lives who had the armies come tramping through and destroyed their potato crops. So I just I find myself thinking– and when I read these history I always feel really irritated with these princes. Like do you not consider the consequences of your actions? Like I know you want to live in the big castle but you just destroyed everybody’s potato crops because you had to feed your army to get there. And I find myself thinking the same thing with these Zuckerbergs. On some level, I do sort of buy that he didn’t really think oh this might end up screwing up democracy as we know it. But then there’s part of me that’s like, dude stop and think about it before, you know, you drive your army through my potato field.

     

    Emily Bell: Let’s let’s go back to that quote we just heard him give in the conference about, ‘hey you can trust people.’

     

    Heather Chaplin: Yeah.

     

    Emily Bell: People covers an awful lot of individuals in the world.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Yeah, yeah.

     

    Emily Bell: And you know a lot of them are there to do not particularly great things and you know like you’re a history buff you’re a fan of history. I’m a fan of metaphors. We’ve mentioned that before. Mixed metaphors. We’ve mentioned this one before but I keep going back to it which is Gresham’s Law and Finance. And Gresham’s Law says good money is driven out by bands money when you don’t have any regulation in the market. And that’s what happens you know as you suddenly have these platforms saying anyone should be able to publish a story. Anyone should have a voice. We don’t want just the opinions or output of a small number of actors we want to democratize communication and it sounds so great and it looks brilliant when you write it down and hand it to venture capital–

     

    Heather Chaplin: Yeah yeah yeah

     

    Emily Bell:  –to give you lots of money. In practice you can reduce content to one undifferentiated type of material. And you can’t reduce people to one, idealistic good actor. You know the publishing industry for all its faults has the long history of publishing shows us one thing which is actually kind of you know information is important, how you present that information, you know publication is always the performance of information in one way or another. What sort of headlines you put on it. What do you prioritize over what you marginalize, what do you leave out. You know and there are reasons why a large industry of both mega and small players has built up where all people do all day is think about those choices for good or ill. And I think with Facebook thinking, we don’t really have to do that because that industry will take care of it, was such an enormous kind of arrogant and naive misstep. And a lot of us for many years have been saying this is why defining yourself in your role is really important. You know it’s actually really important to say, yes we’re publishers and we take responsibility. Or if you’re not publishers and you’re not taking responsibility then what are we, outside your world gardens, need to do to protect ourselves or to regulate you in a way that makes sense for society.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I sometimes feel like the sort of the culture of Silicon Valley, this this idea of you know break things move fast see what happens. You know I myself used to be fairly seduced by that idea and I feel like time is passing maybe I’m just getting old. I find myself thinking like, no once you make a change to as complex a system as the way people communicate you know the information system it’s going to have effects that you couldn’t have foreseen or maybe should have foreseen and you only get one shot. And after that you gotta deal with it and clean up the mess. And I feel like this is a great segue into our next topic.

     

    Emily Bell: Is journalism and democracy trying to drag themselves out of the mess spawned by Silicon Valley? Could it be? Could the answer to all our problems be here, right here in California? Could it be blockchain? Is that gold in there them hills? Here I am, panning for blockchain, Heather.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Yeah how’s that – did you invest all your money?

     

    Emily Bell: Yes I did.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Oh good, good. Smart move.

     

    Emily Bell: Yes I thought so.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I can always count on you.

     

    Emily Bell: Exactly.

     

    Heather Chaplin: So it’s funny when you think of blockchain, like what comes to mind? Sometimes what comes to my mind is how utterly confused my mind is. Or maybe you might think about the sketch on late night from Seth Meyers a couple of months back.

     

    Actor 1: What’s Bitcoin?

     

    Actor 2: Bitcoin is the first decentralized digital cryptocurrency that works without a central bank.

     

    Actor 3: Well that sounds interesting.

     

    Actor 2: Yeah! And it’s so simple to use. Transactions take place through the use of cryptography and are verified by network nodes and recorded in an immutable public distributed ledger called a blockchain. What could be simpler than that?

     

    Actor 3: Nothing it sounds great.

     

    Actor 1: Right. So is it like investing in stocks?

     

    Actor 2: Kind of, but not at all.

     

    Actor 3: Well I’m on board.

     

    Actor 1: Really? Because I have so many more questions.

     

    Actor 3: Not me.

     

    Actor 1: Where can I get one of these bitcoins? Can I buy one at my local bank?

     

    Actor 2: Of course not. What a dumb question.

     

    Actor 1: I thought it was valid.

     

    Actor 3: No it was dumb.

     

    Actor 2: Bitcoins aren’t like regular currency in their mined.

     

    Actor 1: In a physical mine, like gold?

     

    Actor 2: That’s ridiculous. Bitcoins are mined on computers using the SHA 2 5 6 hashing algorithm creating 12.5 bitcoins per block. That is until mid-2020. And then afterwards, 6.25 Bitcoin per block for four years until the next having.

     

    Actor 1: Wait, are we are still talking about money?

     

    Actor 2: Cryptocurrency.

     

    Actor 3: This sounds so simple.

     

    Actor 1: Shut up Margaret. There’s no way you understood all of that.

     

    Actor 3: OK

     

    Heather Chaplin: But let’s go beyond all the hype and really there’s been so much talk recently about bitcoin a blockchain and particularly in our interest the potential for journalism.

     

    Emily Bell: So simply put a blockchain is essentially just a continuing growing list of records which are linked and secured using cryptography. So if you think about it, each piece of the blockchain, or each link, is timestamped, so you know when it happened. And it contains all the relevant transactional data like who did this. So my visual metaphor is actually a dusty old book where things have been inked in and you can’t change them. It’s immutable. The blockchain was invented in 2008, for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, you may have heard about it in the news by Satoshi Nakamoto.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Who is that?

     

    Emily Bell: Nobody really knows.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Oh, nice.

     

    Emily Bell: So many mysteries.

     

    Heather Chaplin: One of the mysteries. You know it’s funny when I think about these issues of of what we understand, and what we don’t, how much we understand – I’ve been really banging my head trying to understand this bitcoin business. But at the same time I sort of stepped back and realized I don’t really understand how the internet works. In fact I don’t really understand why an airplane stays in the air but I still get on the plane and if we’re going to be completely honest I don’t really understand how my watch works. So maybe it doesn’t matter that much, all the absolute details–

     

    Emily Bell: What do you understand, Heather?

     

    Heather Chaplin: You know I’m a person of faith, Emily. I don’t actually understand how any of these things work but I go about my day and I trust that when I look at this thing around my wrist it will tell me what time it is.

     

    Emily Bell: It’s god’s will that you will know the time.

     

    Heather Chaplin: It’s God’s will. Or that the airplane will stay in the air. I mean we all put our faith in things that most of us have no understanding of at all, is my point.

     

    Emily Bell: True. In fact we’ve put more faith in things that we don’t understand, generally speaking.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Exactly, and historically as well. But yes, but to stay on course. So my goal for this is I want to understand as much as I need to understand to be able to evaluate the possibilities, the potential implications, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of that. Do you feel like is it important– I mean I guess it’s important that we at least begin to understand why people are so excited. What is the appeal of Bitcoin and blockchain?

     

    Emily Bell: Yes. But like the days of the Internet where people said, oh it’s all about the Internet plus something. You know the Internet plus journalism. And I guess from that perspective the main appeal of something like the blockchain or cryptocurrency is built on the blockchain is it’s secure and decentralized which means it doesn’t really rely on a central authority, like a big bank to establish trust. Obviously there are lots of people who would say you need a central authority, that this idea of this idea – and this is one of the key contentions with Bitcoin – is that if something isn’t backed by banks it’s not really currency. But blockchain technology is being applied beyond currencies and poses lots of new possibilities. So for instance I think one of the most compelling questions for journalism and publishers and citizens, in fact, is what if our digital identities were decentralized and owned exclusively by us. Which is not incidentally a new idea, I think has just become much more possible because of what blockchain technologies can deliver to us. So if you have that instead of third parties like Facebook, Google, [inaudible], you know where you kind of sign into this and you will sign it with Facebook. Imagine if you didn’t have to do that anymore and it was all just your data and your identity held by you on one of those little pieces of ledger.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I’m really impressed you sounded really smart when you said all that. Did you actually know it all or did you cut and past it off the the interwebs?

     

    Emily Bell: As you know I’ve got a team of high level researchers who put words into my mouth. So it’s all– that’s where I got it from.

     

    Heather Chaplin: It’s very, very impressive.

     

    Emily Bell: Like everything, it is actually copied and pasted off the Internet into my brain.

     

    Heather Chaplin: That’s what I figured. Well you know I got to say it it sounds like it could solve a lot of our problems. But the only thing is, sometimes I’m just feeling so skeptical as we’ve discussed of sort of Silicon Valley culture in general–

     

    Emily Bell: No, really?

     

    Heather Chaplin:  –do we trust these blockchain bros?

     

    Emily Bell: Well you know you’re not alone. So Steven Johnson, you remember him? He’s that author he did a great book Everything Bad For You is Good, which actually now we’re reverting into everything good for you is bad. But he wrote a fantastic piece in The New York Times a couple of weeks back and he said hey I’m going to copy and paste his words: “The potential power of this would-be revolution is being actively undercut by the crowd it is attracting, a veritable goon squad of charlatans, false prophets and mercenaries,” for once [inaudible] not talking about us, “not for the first, time,” he says, “technologists pursuing a vision of an open and decentralized network have found themselves surrounded by a wave of opportunists looking to make an overnight fortune.” That doesn’t sound great, does it? When you put it like that.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I don’t know if some mercenaries can be really, really decent people. They’re all decent.

     

    Emily Bell: There’s some excellent people among–

     

    Heather Chaplin: There’s some excellent people in the false prophet community. I don’t want to hear you knocking those those false prophets. Some of my best friends are charlatans.

     

    Emily Bell: I thought all of your best friends were charlatans?

     

    Heather Chaplin: All right, all right. So as so often when we’re talking normally I find myself wishing that we had someone else to talk to. No, I find myself wishing that we could–

     

    Emily Bell: If only.

     

    Heather Chaplin: reach somebody who actually knew what they are talking about. If only someone who wasn’t just cutting and pasting from the interwebs, but who actually knew. So I think last week, we used my Rolodex, and this week we should use your Rolodex to find someone although I hope everyone does know that that my Rolodex is bigger and I’m not afraid to use it.

     

    Emily Bell: My Rolodex is small but of high quality. So I’m going to give it a go.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Ah, okay, give it a roll.

     

    Emily Bell: Let’s see. Oh, I’ve got one. It’s Jarrod Dicker, newly installed chief executive of a blockchain media company called Po.et. Jarrod I know from his previous job, which is actually a perfectly good job with the Washington Post, where he was one of their product leads and he’s left that to work with an interesting company called po.et or po dot E T.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Jarrod welcome to Tricky.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

     

    Heather Chaplin: So was it a perfectly good job? Why did you leave?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: That is I think the first question I get is is what is blockchain and the second question I get is why would you ever leave Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, so–

     

    Heather Chaplin: I know I have this image that like Marty Baron was chasing you around the office with a stick or something.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: Well it’s actually very interesting my work my work at the Post for the past two and a half years was really focused on how to build a better model for the media business. I find that the people that could affect meaningful change are the skeptics so I myself, though focusing a lot on the commercial elements, was not naive in terms of good advertising experiences and what consumers were looking for and what brands were looking for, and found a lot of success by being empowered at the Washington Post to kind of challenge those standards and look to build something new. So the past two years were were extremely fun and successful. We built a team called RED which was our R and D group, and what I realized is that the work that we were doing was so impactful and really helping the larger media industry and that if I came from the outside with a new strategic maneuver I may be able to influence even the broader scope and that is why I went to the world of blockchain because I think it’s ambiguity is what makes it so attractive to everybody in the media space.

     

    Emily Bell: But when you say the ambiguity makes it powerful for the media industry what does that mean?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: I think that a question that I’ve gotten over the past couple weeks is is blockchain actually going to make a difference in media and journalism or is this hype like Facebook Instant and Google Amp and Snapchat and other platforms and why I think the ambiguity is actually exciting is that we’re really pushing towards a directive and not a reactive economy. We’re not going to media companies and advertisers and creators and telling them how to build their products, and what it should look like, and where it will run, and how it should be valued. What we’re going to them with is looking at all the benefits that you’ve seen in the blockchain that is that has happened across the financial industry, and really look to solve two major problems that I think are very prevalent not just in journalism but in marketing and in the entire creator’s scope as well if you look at creators on YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere, is that one, we don’t do a good job at all on attribution and ownership of content and really understanding how to register and license IP. The latter, which is extremely controversial but I’m sticking to it, is that we don’t really understand the value of of content and the creations that we output. We know how much investment we put in it and we know how much ad dollars we could get from it or what subscriber revenue we could get from it. But we really don’t know what that value is. So similar to what we’ve seen in sports and kind of this this opportunity to build a marketplace or free agency that that the community is able to tell us what the value of these creations are. I think really start to change the dichotomy of what the media industry is particularly on the business side.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I want to ask you to break those two points down in — this is my challenge to you — a totally jargon freeway. Like like say what you just said but in a way that everybody can understand. So when you talk about attribution I don’t think you mean– when I as a reporter hear the word attribution, I think you’re saying, well who said it. But but my sense is what you’re talking about is that news publishers have sort of given away or lost control of what they produce because the publishers are– the platforms are earning more money off it. So are you talking about somehow stepping in there? And even when you talk about value like what do you mean by value? Like how much is that you’re saying there might be other revenue streams off what we produce like, can you can you talk about it in a more concrete way? Like concrete as in like a hunk of concrete like really break it down for us.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: Many of your points are correct when it comes to attribution. What I think we’re looking to do especially leveraging the blockchain is mainly around IP. So when a piece of content is created can we use the blockchain to store that content to be able to manage copyright, to have it in the ledger secured, so that we’re able to see where an original thought or idea and who authored it is. Why that’s beneficial on the blockchain is that we are able to monitor and see any changes or edits or manipulation to that original source. So in simple concrete terms this is a way smarter and new way to organize, catalog, and attribute the- the timestamp of content, the metadata of content, so that it can’t be altered. So that if you want to look back to what a source of content is, or I know the audience of this podcast hates the term as much as I do, but this whole notion of fake news and what is real and what’s not real, to be able to build a decentralized universal ledger that could become the marketplace for all digital creative assets is what we’re looking to do on the attribution side.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Okay. And Emily maybe understands what you’re saying, but I confess that I still don’t really because why would that why would any of that be important to me, as somebody who wants to read or watch the news? And why would that be important to me as somebody who wants to make money producing the news?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: I’ll answer the latter question first. I think there is a huge issue right now when it comes to how creators make money and how they license or syndicate.

     

    Heather Chaplin: When you say creators, do you mean the publishers, do you mean a writer, like–

     

    Jarrod Dicker: I mean anyone who’s outputting content – music, arts, anything. The originator of who is authoring an article so, a writer at The Washington Post, or a musician who is putting a song on the platforms, or anybody who is outputting any sort of creative. What are we gonna be able to do is create a marketplace and universal ledger that has all of that information and ownership stored within it. So creator in the broad sense of anyone who is outputting any sort of art or media.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Got it, thank you.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: And what I think is extremely important here, and we’ve lost it, and why I think it’s critical for both consumers of content as you say and people who are producing content, is that we really— if you replace the word content with music and think about what happened in the music industry ten years ago, there’s a lot of things that could have been prevented if we had a better mechanism for owning the intellectual property and really understanding how much it should cost, how it is being licensed, where you go to license that content, and how it’s attributed. So I think to get extremely macro and look further beyond just the idea of, I’m creating an article for The Washington Post and I want it stored in the blockchain and anyone who wants to license or quote it or attribute it or use it needs to physically pay to do so, is one option. I think where this could really lead to with your question of valuation is there are many people that are creating original content and IP on Twitter, Facebook, Medium all of these channels which is not owned by them. So having 50,000 followers on Twitter and creating a dialogue and putting thought leadership out there is beneficial because the ROI and the value of how we as thought leaders look at those platforms is getting more followers, getting more clicks. What if you’re able to, in a similar way of publishing content on a platform and being able to have it as an opportunity to license and unlock it for payment of consumption, what we could do the same thing on the social platforms as well? That every tweet would go through the po.et Marketplace, and that tweet has a time stamp and ownership of IP and whenever it’s used or quoted or leveraged, that there could be a mechanism to build revenue off of that. And while this sounds insane, cause I’m sure I’m sure there’s many questions, the biggest the biggest criticism I get for what we’re looking to do is, well can that actually work because that’s not how works today. And I think that’s exactly why it will work, because we all know that we’re running uphill when it comes to the business of media and struggling with the platforms and ad blocking and consumer experiences– that maybe we really do need to recalibrate the entire system and maybe it needs to be something that is non-threatening to any pocket of the industry in order to do so.

     

    Heather Chaplin: So Emily I’m going to let you ask questions in a minute I have one more, one more. Which is I think I might have had an aha moment. So are you essentially saying that instead of a handful of enormous platforms getting to profit off all of the work that all of the millions of people who write, or sing, or make music, the actual producers will get like a little, you know get a– I don’t know what the term is but get a chunk of change every time it gets– someone uses it, or listens to it, or reads it?

     

    Heather Chaplin: Yes. So an element of that, right, and being able to have that catalog, is the opportunity to really figure out how to get the dollars and the value back to the creators. And what I love even more about what we’re looking to do is we’re not assuming that there’s a single entity of creator that should deserve all of the value of the work that’s done. So if you look at screenplays and screenwriting, there’s a lot of screenwriters that that want to get their screenplay out there, but are nervous that someone’s going to steal it, or copy it, and they won’t get attribution. To be able to have a system that catalogs that, and appoints ownership to the many writers and many people involved in this, allows them to be able to spray and play farther in order to get adoption. Or, if you’re creating content on a news site or a lifestyle site, and there’s the writer and an editor and a copywriter, how can we make sure that there’s proper attribution and the latter component – once we get publishers, creators, brands creating advertisements on this platform, we could really start to see what the future media model looks like, right. If Pepsi has the opportunity to engage a creator directly and not have to go through a publisher to do branded content, or brand storytelling, then what does that look like? And are creators more attracted to creating a story for Pepsi that may be able to deliver them more money financially but also be able to give them a bigger platform. Like a commercial during the Super Bowl or a billboard in Times Square, right. Does this really start to change what the media model looks like not just financially but how and where people consume.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Personally I will never get excited about companies having better ways of doing branded storytelling but the rest of it is exciting. Emily what do you think?

     

    Emily Bell: Also I was going to say Jarrod, and again, this was Steven Johnson’s brilliant metaphor in the Times the other day. So you’re really talking about these layers of the Internet. You know, in the first layer of the Internet, you have all of these open protocols, like HTTP that people could build all sorts of amazing things. And then the next layer, you have this sort of corporate calcification of it – you know as you’ve just described these big companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, that aggregates a lot of the open material from the Web into closed structures or highly monetized structures. And then the blockchain or the vision you’re painting of it suggests the on top of that we then almost like correct those big entities into tiny tiny pots, all of which devolve back to the originators of content, is that that’s, sort of more or less if you’re thinking about the kind of the archaeological layers of the Internet, it feels a bit like that. So I wanted to ask you, leaving aside for one second the opportunities for advertising, why is the journalism community excited about this? Because we do have journalistic startups like Civil, is a blockchain journalism company, which talks about I guess different aspects of it like self-governance and permanence. Do you know, is it is this something where we’re sort of we’re looking at more institutional disruption?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: Yes. So I think a differentiator for what we’re looking to do because again we’re not trying to disband media companies but we are looking to empower creators within those media companies. And one concrete example I could give is this idea of independent journalism; where we’ve seen a trend and a value with what Bill Simmons is doing in the sports and lifestyle space and what Ben Thompson is doing with Stratechery. And I believe that more and more creators within these media companies knowing their audiences that they have on social platforms, and knowing their their power and influence within organizations, would be more willing to venture out and create their own media entity — whether that’s as an independent journalist or a bunch of journalists that are like-minded forming a new media entity together if there was a marketplace and technical tools that allowed them to do it seamlessly. And that’s where I think the blockchain, as an open-sourced and decentralized marketplace opens up massive opportunities for wide creators even if they are currently employed at media companies would see value in uploading their IP, because this is going to allow them — and I know this from experience — when you introduce new platforms or technologies to a creator, whether that’s a writer or musician, but mainly speaking for a media company, if it distracts them from their workflow in any which way they will not use the product. So in prior lives I worked at the Huffington Post, I worked at RebelMouse which which was the first distributed CMS and we really wanted to get everyone on board, and a huge focus was how can we build this very seamlessly, in that person’s workflow, so that they don’t even realize that they’re doing it, but that they see the benefits of the output. And that’s what we’re looking to do for these creators. Is, how can we empower the opportunity for them to think beyond needing to work at a publication, if they have massive audience, and have ideas, and really release the confines and restrictions of working at a company, and empower independent journalism, not just from a platform point of view but from a partnership point of view and also of course financially.

     

    Emily Bell:  So the big question then is why would the most powerful companies in the world that this seems to operate against Google, Apple, Facebook, [inaudible] , why would they ever allow this to happen?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: So there is a benefit if you look at Google and Twitter and Amazon and Facebook, there are a lot of pockets of business for them to focus on. And I think a direct example as we saw just last week which is trending media and news topics that are false and fake, trending to the top and being distributed because we don’t have an intelligent way to be able to attribute and a smart value ledger to be able to see copyright and truth as this media flows through these platforms. And it’s an extremely hard thing to do. And we see that with the platforms as well. I think it’s a benefit for the platforms. We’re not looking to take just financial dollars away, but we’re looking to say to the platforms mainly, say a great example I think is Twitter, because Twitter has a ton of valuable IP and thought leadership and whether they want to be a media company or don’t want to be a media company which is a constant back and forth argument that we’ve seen particularly with Facebook, there is a lot of original content and IP being created there. So it would be to the benefit of Twitter and to the benefit of Facebook to be able to start storing the ownership of that content and be able to say that that content was created by this creator but sourced and originated on the Twitter platform because then we start to rethink – does Twitter start syndicating and licensing tweets as IP, right? Or does Facebook start having the opportunity to have ownership of videos and content that is user generated on those platforms that starts to open up new opportunity and revenue streams for–

     

    Emily Bell: So, so Jarrod, I’m sitting in Moscow, well imagine I’m sitting in Moscow–

     

    Heather Chaplin: You told me you were in LA! Such a liar.

     

    Emily Bell: Fake news. And I’m at the Internet Research Agency which we’ve been discussing at length here.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Our whole relationship has been a lie.

     

    Emily Bell:  How are bad actors and propaganda– see we’re kind of one step ahead of the curve and how all of these things are used. Is this a system that– is this just another system that can be gamed?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: That’s an excellent question and that kind of – I didn’t want to overcomplicate blockchain by talking about tokens and crypto currency but I knew that we’d get there. So where I think we could battle that, is you’ve seen successful community driven projects like GitHub and Wikipedia where, though it could be gamed, there is an incentive of value to contribute towards the truth. And and this idea of crowdsourcing towards benefiting the platform at large and towards a main commodity, which for the most part is is truth and accuracy. What we’re looking to do with po.et is, though it is technically driven through the blockchain and we’re leveraging all the opportunities that that has for us to classify, organize, and archive content, we do have a token. You know the token for po.et in particular is POE. But other companies you know are looking into this as well where how can we incentivize the community to go within what we’re building in this marketplace, and though we aren’t very confident in our ability to leverage the blockchain in order to seed out bad actors, how can we empower the community to then contribute and help us police those bad actors as well. So what’s very interesting with how the blockchain works, and why I see a ton of value in these ICOs and initial coin offerings, because it’s the community investing in the purpose that they believe in. And what we’re looking to do at po.et, is if we can get these creative assets on this platform, and if someone is looking to game the system, there is a massive community of tens of hundreds of thousands soon to be hopefully millions, that are going to go in there and build their own marketplaces in order to push out those bad actors. So if you look at the success of Wikipedia and if you think about taking that to the next level by leveraging technology and actual incentives then I think we have something pretty amazing happening here. And though I won’t say that there will be no bad actors because of course there will be, I believe that the power of community could overcome that and that’s what we’re really looking to empower here at po.et.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I have to say I have some alarm bells going off in the sense that some of these promises I feel like sound very similar to promises that we heard before from what we now talk about as the big platforms or big tech, which now we’ve gone from loving to hating. But both this idea of this incredibly hyper-individualized universe, I wonder, there seems a lot of potential dangerous implications to that, and also this promise of sort of the community policing does not always work so well. I mean I feel like that was one of the things that was sort of supposed to keep things in check on the platforms and has not really worked out so well. I guess I guess as you’re talking you know I can see sort of a dystopian future spinning out of this. And so I just have to put that out there.

     

    Emily Bell: There’s always a point, Jarrod, in the show where Heather sees a dystopian future spinning out of control so talk her down from the ledge.

     

    Heather Chaplin: You know the backstory is I feel like we’re all living in the middle of this big story of the unintended consequences of making very very big changes to our information systems without thinking about it too carefully. I feel like the whole cultural, you know, thing right now is break it and see what happens and talk later. And so this is all being about the individual as opposed to like news organizations but actually empowering like the individual writer/reporter to bust out of it I see a lot of you know pitfalls there, whereas a lot of talk these days that we’re living in this hyper-fragmented, you know, culture already like what what what do you guys think about that? And I guess I’m sort of asking you as a person, not just the new CEO of this, but someone who obviously is, you know, super smart and is in these worlds too– like do you think about those things? Like what can we do to not have my dystopian nightmare come true?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: What I think is interesting about what’s happening in this space is that because it’s open sourced and not owned by a single entity and there’s not a direct profit chain that I’m not as worried of a monopoly or ownership here because it is community-driven. So all the code repos are on GitHub, a lot of the code advancements that are happening in this space, again not just talking from someone to a po.et, but what I’m seeing across the landscape at large, is this idea of community-driven development without a single entity taking the sole revenue and value of what that output is. So what I hope to see within this is this active investment in building something that benefits all, seeing new and exciting things being built on top of what the foundational structure has been. But I think that if we were a company, or of any of these blockchain companies were companies who were raising venture capital, and had to hit certain milestones, and if they didn’t hit those milestones they would have to pivot, which often happens for for both small and big companies, then I would be more concerned that the idea and ownership and the evolution of that will change because it needs to hit business and market goals. In this case, there’s money raised by the community, where the community is contributing and there is no force to change the the direction and hope that we’re looking to get out of these platforms. So that’s why I’m excited about what’s happening in this space and why I was pleasantly surprised when I made the jump that everyone was somewhat excited and not just thinking that I’m crazy because I think the altruistic elements especially to your point of this dystopian future and the big platforms, that that constantly feels like we’re being squeezed, is this new frontier. You know similar to what you’ve seen with projects like ProPublica and Wikipedia, I’m hoping that what you’re seeing in the journalism space on the blockchain is similar to that altruistic approach to building a better future that we could all kind of celebrate, all agreeing of what we’re looking for, right? Which is sustainability in media and success of media and driving revenue back to creators in order to kind of keep this going.

     

    Emily Bell: I think that you really succinctly captured why people are excited about this and they’re excited in places which are not, as you say linked to revenue. They’re excited about things like archiving. You know, we’re losing a lot of stuff into the ether as sites are closed down, [inaudible] people will [inaudible] archives. There’s a whole set of discussions in the archiving world about what a great thing blockchain may be because it will enable us to keep and really identify where those bits of archive go. I’m a little worried about one aspect of this. And that’s the aspect of the individual. And I think you’ve used a couple of sports metaphors, Jarrod. And I think that what happens in, say, basketball is you have the value go from the league to the franchise to the player. And we’re talking about a similar migration of value in journalism and creativity. And I think one aspect of that is, as you say highly benefit. I think the other aspect to that, particularly for journalism, is really worrying. Because journalism is really not exclusively done, but best done as an institutional team sport, simply because power tends to reside in big institutions. And we’ve seen the flimsiness, if you like, of new institutions not really being able to stand up to power or the economic woes of the market, as easily as for instance something like The Washington Post, which is now really sort of revived under a much larger institution which is Amazon. I’m not sure that we want a future which doesn’t allow the possibility of these strong institutions.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: I agree. You know when it comes to news, those institutions are extremely important. You know Marty Baron is something that cannot be replaced with a machine and and algorithm, which I think we all know very well and he’s one of the one of the best mentors I’ve ever had. And I think when it comes to curation and editorial, we’ve seen that human effort and these institutions are extremely important not just from a perspective of of what the consumers see but also from an ethics perspective. And and where the companies came from and why they exist. So by no means do I want a battle and see a world where there are no newspapers and no editorial curation and purveyors of truth. What I’d like to see out of their leverage of what we’re looking to do here, is again, can there be more of a value of syndication licensing? Can we through this metadata and uploading of information, better understand that content should be more expensive than what it is today? Whether that’s being advertiser-driven or what consumers pay for it. But then there’s this other world where we have lifestyle brands, we have content being created directly to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, where I think there is an open opportunity for what those models should look like. And again I’m hoping that the same technology that we’re building to help support the traditional, important, and legacy of media companies is also what will help drive and dictate what a future media company should look like.

     

    Heather Chaplin: I want to ask I mean the the model as you outlined at the beginning, this notion of taking back the profit on something created on a news story, or a video, or even a piece of music, as you said from just the platforms which is how people get it to how the people who actually created it– does it have to be literally the guy in his room strumming the guitar? Or the guy who wrote the story? Or why can’t the quote unquote creator be a news organization?

     

    Jarrod Dicker: It absolutely can. So I think, you think about where where that value comes from. You think about evergreen content syndication and licensing efforts that happened today. I think that it’s absolutely a possibility. And frankly a probability that publishers and media companies, that would leverage this platform, would get the revenue back to them at a larger scale. So not just the writer who wrote the article, or the copywriter, or the editor, but the Washington Post. And what we’re– I’m very weary to think too big without proving the concept first in smaller pockets. And that’s, again, why I love the idea that this is open source and easy opt-in for media companies, engineering teams, anyone, to really build upon. Because while I’m setting the strategy for where I would love for this to go, having a background in technology and also in publishing, I am not naive enough to know that a lot of the product roadmap and dictation will come from conversations with media institutions with brands, with platforms, to really help better the plan and the picture of kind of what we’re looking to do in this space. So I think that it’s just community driven, which I’ve used that language many times when describing this, but it’s also going to be driven by, by partners and platforms that see an opportunity to take the foundation and code that will be built and go run with.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Listen, I think we probably could sit here all day. I feel like I have many unanswered questions but I also know we’ve taken up a lot of your time so I want to thank you so much for joining us and being open to our dystopian concerns.

     

    Emily Bell: When you solve the future, we very much want to have you back so that you can describe what that looks like.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: I’ll be more than happy to do that and hopefully sooner than later.

     

    Heather Chaplin: Let us know how it turned out.

     

    Jarrod Dicker: Thanks very much indeed, Jarrod. Thank you so much I really appreciated it.

     

    Emily Bell: We’re going to keep picking at these issues here on Tricky. In an upcoming show we’ll be taking a deep dive into the information apocalypse, or infocalypse, as we like to call it, issues of propaganda. And we want to hear from you, our listener. Do you want to be added to our Rolodex of fortune and future discussions? Or do you want to put something in the box we’re trying to unpack? We’re very happy to take contributions to the box. If you have a new angle or an unforeseen consequence or a burning question you can email us at trickypod@gmail.com. That’s all one word, trickypod@gmail.com or find us on Twitter and write us there because we love that.

     

    Heather Chaplin: And you can subscribe to Tricky wherever you get your podcasts. And please do rate us, and review us, and tell your friends about us, because that’s how other people find us. This has been a production of The New School’s Journalism + Design with help from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. Funding from the Knight Foundation, our producer is Sara Burningham, our engineer is Wayne Shulmister. Thanks also to Kayla Christopherson and George Civeris. If you want more, you’ll find links and show notes at Trickypod.com.

     

    It’s Tricky: A Podcast About the Thorniest Problems in Journalism

    In the inaugural episode of Tricky, Emily Bell and Heather Chaplin look at perhaps the greatest challenge facing journalism today: the fight to capture your attention.

    Journalism may be a pillar of democracy, but how can it compete with the persuasive design tactics that serve up everything from Instagram posts to dating apps? Examining persuasive design through the lenses of psychology, anthropology, ethics and history, Emily and Heather try to unpack what the attention economy is doing to journalism and to society.

    We’ll listen in on excerpts from a discussion about the “dark side of design,” which featured some outspoken critics of social networks.

    And we speak with Natasha Schull, author of Addiction by Design and James Williams, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology and try to identify a framework for change. Who’s responsible for the effects of persuasive technology? Is regulation of Big Tech reasonable, or even the right approach? Where does personal responsibility begin and end?

    From Jim Carrey divesting from Facebook, to ad-blocking as an act of revolt to suing Mark Zuckerberg for that time you’ve wasted, we’ll cover all the issues.

    Plus…gin.

     

     

    Subscribe to Tricky on iTunes