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In contemplation of the journalism business

Published: 
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

On November 17 and 18, two distinct and very different groups met to listen to learned thinking on the subject of fake news specifically and the parlous state of the news business generally.

Vivian Schiller was on her second visit to T&T, again a guest of the Unit Trust Corporation, but the room seemed colder this time around.

A year ago, a large group of journalists and media managers turned up to listen to Schiller at UTC’s Port-of-Spain Head Office. This time around the turnout was smaller, with significantly diminished numbers of both practitioners and their leadership despite the lure of Jaffa’s cuisine.

The audience this time around favoured digital natives and for them, this was a sermon that demanded more depth.

Schiller prefaced her talk by mentioning that she had no numbers for the Caribbean, which was unfortunate, because her presentation would have been infinitely stronger and more relevant had her conclusions been drawn from more than readily available first world statistics.

Headline topics for Schiller included the current amplification of fretting about the psychological impact of social media, the concerns about how conversations and perceptions have been manipulated by programmed posts driven by data insights and robot likes.

Of global concern is the dominance of just three digital businesses, Facebook, Google and Badu and the oversized influence they have on what Internet users read, view and hear.

The numbers presented by Schiller are deeply troubling for those invested in traditional news production, with 51 per cent overall across all demographics reporting a preference for these information aggregators as news sources.

That number rises sharply to 64 per cent for the 18-24 age group.

News organisations are present on all digital platforms, according to a chart she offered in her slide deck and have a pervasive presence, but Schiller noted, “all the stories look alike and they are flattened as brands.”

“Half of all readers could not remember the name of the news brand they read on a digital platform,” she said, “but two-thirds can remember the platform as the source.”

Regarding the phenomenon of fake news, Schiller lamented “the deligitimisation of facts.

“We are losing agreement on basic facts.” 

On November 17 and 18, two distinct and very different groups met to listen to learned thinking on the subject of fake news specifically and the parlous state of the news business generally.

Vivian Schiller was on her second visit to T&T, again a guest of the Unit Trust Corporation, but the room seemed colder this time around.

A year ago, a large group of journalists and media managers turned up to listen to Schiller at UTC’s Port-of-Spain Head Office. This time around the turnout was smaller, with significantly diminished numbers of both practitioners and their leadership despite the lure of Jaffa’s cuisine.

The audience this time around favoured digital natives and for them, this was a sermon that demanded more depth.

Schiller prefaced her talk by mentioning that she had no numbers for the Caribbean, which was unfortunate, because her presentation would have been infinitely stronger and more relevant had her conclusions been drawn from more than readily available first world statistics.

Headline topics for Schiller included the current amplification of fretting about the psychological impact of social media, the concerns about how conversations and perceptions have been manipulated by programmed posts driven by data insights and robot likes.

Of global concern is the dominance of just three digital businesses, Facebook, Google and Badu and the oversized influence they have on what Internet users read, view and hear.

The numbers presented by Schiller are deeply troubling for those invested in traditional news production, with 51 per cent overall across all demographics reporting a preference for these information aggregators as news sources.

That number rises sharply to 64 per cent for the 18-24 age group.

News organisations are present on all digital platforms, according to a chart she offered in her slide deck and have a pervasive presence, but Schiller noted, “all the stories look alike and they are flattened as brands.”

“Half of all readers could not remember the name of the news brand they read on a digital platform,” she said, “but two-thirds can remember the platform as the source.”

Regarding the phenomenon of fake news, Schiller lamented “the deligitimisation of facts.

“We are losing agreement on basic facts.”

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