Last week, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be in Warsaw for the n-ost conference. Journalism is one very ungrateful trade nowadays, with issues from small wages to an inglorious fight to stay relevant, but that meeting was nothing about it. It wasn’t about any trendy new tool or about how fancy cosmopolitan NY journalists were creating a newsletter to fight Trump. It wasn’t about that neither. The journalists I saw were talking, in many cases, about how to keep on reporting without ending up broke, in jail or worse. It was basic journalism 101.
European journalists are dealing with issues similar to one each other in their essence, but with very different levels of risk depending on the country they live on or report from. Polarization, anti-democratic government impulses, broken media business models are pains that live everywhere, but for historical and economic reasons, details as simple as stable Internet links or access to eavesdropping-safe communication resources help to turn everything more difficult. In some cases, with life-endangering-like difficult levels. Brazil, where I am from, also fits the “global” model or “real-life” environment where solutions cannot depend on the size of the market.
The Western media environment is incredibly safest when compared to the ones found in societies where democracy is not a culture-embedded concept. This safety is a desired thing, for sure, but it breaks out the development cycle of solutions that are really universal. The bottom line of the issue is universal. There is a fundamental change we still haven’t processed. Previously, the traditional ad model relied upon a world where the product (content or any other name you might want to call it) was scarce due to economic and technological reasons (I intend to discuss this on a later text).
The similarities sort of end up right there. When we talk about Facebook trying to clean up its image hiring fact-checkers, we are seeing a company doing damage control to please its shareholders once the loss of the credibility of is ad-money-making machine. It is certainly positive for Facebook and its shareholders, it may have some not-totally unintended consequences for its users from the biggest markets, once some of the awful practices of the company have been stopped by the public opinion.
The big metropolitan wealthy areas of the Western countries are taken care of (even if not enough), but cities outside of the capitalist influence area are excluded from any form of digital safeguard. It is important to say that Facebook is not the evil plotter of capitalism that wants to drain the blood of its users until the last drop and laugh malevolently from its Mountain View headquarters. The social media company simply reproduces the selfish and prejudiced rationale that is at the foundations of the industry.
Media may have not been successful to transpose to digital its ad business model from the legacy companies, but it has perfectly inherited the belly-button-centric set of priorities, where instability in Moldova, let’s say, is just an almost fictitious country completely detached from reality while the rise of cappuccino prices in Brooklyn deserves lengthy scrutiny.
Such arrogant behaviour is, however, also helping to corrode the structures of the western societies institutions as well slowly. Migration flows, the inexistent set of perspectives fuelling non-sensical violence acts (which more often than not is labelled as “terrorism” in the media), sickening polarisation and open attacks to the established law are getting more and more space in societies that hadn’t see them in decades and, alongside with restless advance of the rabid unregulated, growth-addicted capitalism (the same mentioned by danah boyd, Principal Researcher , Microsoft Data & Society at the opening remarks of the ONA conference earlier this month) are sowing the seeds of war. Real war, not only a metaphor for an intense dispute.
People usually forget how much experience overcome memory. When the I World War broke decades of peace in Europe, a detail that very few people other than historians forget is that the peace had been kept with the help of those who witnessed a fully raging war instead those who saw it on the history books. As the witnesses pass away, the horror of military conflicts fade away to become tales and the new generations, who want to purify the future with the arrogance of youth, leave the discussion table to wield weapons again, always led by populist psychopath-borderline politicians.
People of societies with a lesser degree of freedom of expression are not less capable to take care of themselves. Anyone having a smaller amount of digital knowledge, resources or safeguards from ubiquitous platforms or simply less freedom of expression will struggle. It’s not “more help” that is needed, but an initiative from the West to include all players when conceiving solutions for media instead of focussing exclusively on their own.
Media is going through a transformation that goes down to chromosome levels. This change is still in its early phases, even if so much has already been landscaped. There is no way to solve the issues of only parts of the problem, because the unaddressed parts will come back to haunt us. Media – journalists, marketers, publishers, developers, investors etc – need to shift their focus from their own interests to how their interests interact with others. Although blockchain is not a solution for journalism, it is the kind of feature that could help a lot: it’s simple, has a low entry barrier, it’s transparent and allows the scrutiny of the public eye and it’s versatile. Journalism (and media itself) need to find its own blockchain or it will keep barking to the wrong tree.