On Wednesday night Jessica Locke from the Mo Works team attended DigiDebates at General Assembly. The subject of the debate was "gated news creates a dangerous knowledge divide". Teams for and against both expanded upon the topic to search for solutions to this problem and point out ominous examples of where these gates exist.
The audience was asked to continue the conversation if we could. So without further ado, here's a recap of what was raised on Wednesday night and some ideas about where to look next for solutions.
Angela Bliss, subsequent champion speaker of the night, told us that it's not the paywalls on our leading media outlets that are creating gates before the news, it's Facebook's algorithm - and its quest to find the most 'relevant' and 'engaging' stories, which disturbs our access to quality journalism and news from the world.
Audience members, speakers from the debate teams, and judges alike underlined bias as a dangerous gate to getting the news. Our schools now teach our children lessons in critical thinking, which aim to get them ready to detect biased opinions, but what about people in earlier generations who don't filter their news for biases? Could current generations of adults be the groups most vulnerable to gated news and the danger it poses.
Uncovering bias, and challenging our own biases seems to be important when we talk about getting past fake news, news that's motivated by an agenda, and anything that we are told by someone we know or who we could blindly trust to bring us our news stories.
Paying is Tradition
Speakers on the team arguing against gated news being dangerous told us that people have always had to paid for the news, and that subscribing to the news that even cheaper online. Plus, the ABC will always be free. They also hinted to the possibility of quality journalism being sacrificed if media outlets increasingly look to commercially endorsed content to fund their publications.
Facebook tells us "It's free and always will be," too, but Aeon Pritchard, who was judging the debate teams, told us that in this case we are the product, and we should only be cautious of such a promise.
Some of Us Are Used to Getting it Free
Even if you pay for the news, Facebook might be the first place you hear about a breaking story. The phrase pro-digital was used last night, and although you might not be a self confessed pro-digital person, the things you're used to getting for free online are likely to form a obstacle to you wishing to pay for them online and in-print.
Surveys indicate high numbers of people go to Facebook for their news, which, algorithms aside, presents a gate to news because it mostly just shows us what we like, and what our friends like.
A Band Aid Solution
Beatrix Coles gave us a wonderful line that "Paywalls are like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff." If the model is broken, and the band aid solutions can be so swiftly passed over as tragic, then what is to be done?
There were not too many solutions raised by debaters, judges or audience members on Wednesday, but now that we have given the problem some form, and the night has sunk in, we might like to start brainstorming those.
In the hope of being a conversation starter, here's a few quick ideas on how to open the gates to the news and make knowledge less divided
- - Help advertising professionals and journalists engage with one another to monetize the news but also protect it from the dangers of commercial endorsements i.e. use the innovative and creative campaigns of brands to fund the news without inflicting it with dangerous biases
- - Reimagine newsagencies where print publications of the news are currently bought, perhaps to allow people to read digital news there for free
- - Publish critical thinking guides to reading the news on the websites for media outlets
- - Urge Facebook or give people incentives to follow people who challenge their biases - even to give us notifications when too much of the news of the world is hidden from us or filtered out of sight
Mo Works would like to thank General Assembly and the team behind DigiDebates for organising and enabling an event that helps people discuss important digital concerns. We look forward to joining you at the next one.