This article was originally published as the cover story for the 2019 G7 in Biarritz France and syndicated by the Diplomatic Courier.
News and information have collided with an inflection point—blurring the lines between truth and weaponization.
This is the critical crisis of our age. It will determine our future elections and our global cultures, it will fuel our conversations and our outrages.
The world we will live in ten years from now will look very different, authoritarian, if we don’t all take a stand right now. There is not a moment to waste.
Instead of expounding on the existential issues at hand, which have already been covered in volume and with diligent intention by many others, this instead intends to be a humble open letter about solutions. And while I want to explore what happened, where we find ourselves, the perils and the digital bricks that built the beast, I will only say one brief point on the matter—our future hangs in the balance of solving our crisis with civic discourse and media thoughtfulness, the spires of which will climb to a Brave New World or Big Brother in time, if we, humans on this blue marble, do not stand together in the gap in agreement for a different way
The Fair Journalism Market is a new economy of thoughtfulness, planted in the valleys between mountains and men and women, in our daily intentions and our diligent thinking.
I. Of Thoughtfulness
If we are to solve this great dilemma, first we must weigh the merits of thoughtfulness.
We are a society moving faster than any that’s come before it. Our young adults don’t recall a time before the cell phone, before the always on connected node in our pockets. For those of us that were alive before text messages and emails and Facebook, we have also been pulled into the breach. Information floods all of our senses, 24/7.
When this train of information left the tracks 20 years ago with AOL, it felt as though the Internet was going to balance the scales of power and corruption, to free information from |the shadows and bring transparency to the world. And then social networks let every person on the planet add information to the web, trillions of pieces of content were just the beginning. Everything is indexed by Google, a fitting name for a company with so much information it can’t be counted. And now, the data deluge has been weaponized—Russian hackers and bots, the “Cambridge Analyticas” and entertainment media corporations. We will never be able to find truth in this information haystack without thoughtfulness. Critical thinking, processing, researching, debating, and considering—thoughtfulness has many lost features to reclaim.
II. Of Journalism
Journalism, like music and books and videos, has been digitalized into the infinite flood of information, hiding truth like a diamond in a global haystack. Entertainment media rules the day because it rules the ratings.
Journalism is funded and fueled by a market, an attention economy—click on headlines, consume ads, buy subscriptions (if they’re lucky), and survive (most don’t). Print is dead and digital is over saturated, so sensationalism pays the bills. Headlines have always been a way to sell papers. And in a dying business, there isn’t much room for integrity. When you’re competing in an attention economy, the market demands eyeballs. When the people want reality TV politics, when they eat up sensationalism, media groups have to feed them drama to keep the lights on. Facts don’t sell ads or papers.
Cronkite wouldn’t get air time in the 24-hour news rating cycle either, the truth is never as enticing as the fiction. The reality TV networks would have canceled him a long time ago.
And now many journalists find themselves caught in the middle of a great paradox. Media is the machine of propaganda, and we are either a part of the solution or we are a part of the virus. We are all realizing our role in this crisis. Civic discourse and truth have gone the way of alternative facts and opinions.
If you take one thing from this whole letter hear this, without critical thinking and thoughtful civic discourse, twenty years from now no one will remember truth ever existed. Around 45% of people alive today don’t remember life before the Internet. Truth could become as foreign to our future generations as the cassette tape, a lost artifact of an older time.
III. Of Economies
An economy is a shared agreement. This is its most central and relevant definition. When people agree gold has value, a massive national economy can be created on top. When people come into a common agreement about value, remarkable things happen. Democracy. Human rights. Civilization.
The Internet is an information economy—a way to share our content and information like a global nation, a way to trade directly between each other in a global marketplace. Blockchain does the same for value. Value technology will be just as prolific as information technology, and this new wave is only just beginning.
The birth of value technology, in Bitcoin, saw almost $1 trillion in market value by the height of its first proof of concept in 2017. At the height of the first crypto bubble, without the help of institutions or centralized planning, one person at a time, from around the globe, organically came together to form a global market as large as a national GDP. $1T materialized a dollar at a time from the diaspora. How far has information technology evolved since AOL? Value technology is only on its first mile, a shiny new technology with endless promise but very little understanding.
The attention market economy has one value, advertising. This leaves the power to move markets totally in the hands of advertisers instead of readers and journalists. The two main stakeholders in the journalism market have no stake in it. This is a crisis of value.
IV. Of Truth
“Mirror in the sky, what is love?” Stevie Nicks, just like every one of us, sees into the mirror of the age her own reflection. We are all diverse trees in one forest of humanity, connected by the roots of our understanding, we are all just a reflection of a greater union.
Communication was always the first value technology, language the first currency. With each breath we speak truth or fiction. Then our pens spoke for us, then the press, now the ones and zeros. Each new wave of communication comes at us quicker and leaves us with less time to be thoughtful, to consider.
So who will be the arbiter of truth? The global media platforms? The blue chips? The media conglomerates? The government? Could we even regulate this? Any way you slice it the attention economy fails as it scales.
Each of us must be our own arbiter of truth. We must take responsibility ourselves. We are all publishers online and news consumers. We all have unique conversations and ideas. It is up to each of us to take a stand in the gap for truth. It begins with our critical thinking.
V. Of Critical Thinking
Our age has more information and knowledge than any time in history combined, but we lack wisdom. We consume endless bits of information every second, but we don’t take time to consider any of it. We comment on our emotions. We share content on our emotions. We rant and rave and spread fake news on our emotions. Thoughtfulness has no place in social media news feeds or reality TV media journalism.
Information technology functions with one core tenant, show you more of what you like. This common algorithm creates a machine of confirmation bias flooding you with more of what you engage—good, bad, or ugly. Over and over we consume topics that stir our emotions. We don’t take time to consider what we read. We barely read. We skim. We read headlines and repeat. We comment and like before we ever click the link.
When is the last time you took time to read the same story from every source? The right and the left, the sensational and the objective? Chances are you haven’t. It’s not so easy. The media platforms show us only what we like, and Google only shows us ten random items, a tiny sample of an infinite info stream.
And even if you did diligently read every article you could find about a story, analyzing it from every angle, still how can you know the facts? When’s the last time you took a moment to read every source document related to a story? To read the reports and find the facts, to find where the story began and how it evolved into bias? Chances are you haven’t, but don’t feel bad, this can barely be done. Getting to the bottom of any story would take all day, if ever, and you would have to have a very diligent and well strategized approach to research each headline. Our modern, always-on-demand lifestyle doesn’t allow for so much thoughtfulness.
VI. Of Fair Journalism
Journalism is a spear against corruption and a tool for propaganda. It can break chains just as much as it can make them. Journalism plays a critical role in the information age. It always will. It can make dictators or expose corruption, it can guide people to better understanding or deep into chaos and ignorance. It sits on a mountain of influence higher than most any other.
Today, through social media, we are all journalists in the fray. We all have a role to play whether we write or read or share. We all deserve the truth, and most all of us want truth. We are not divisive on this issue. We are divided by ignorance, by no fault of our own, flooded with information and corporate agendas, drowned by a capitalist system that demands profit. Journalists and political leaders are to blame for sensationalism, and we are to blame for giving it our attention. We are each in a shared agreement for this attention economy. We give our attention to the animal of sensation and advertisers pay the media for it. This demand for advertising value drives the whole ship.
It wouldn’t be fair to tell the media they can’t make money. It wouldn’t be fair to tell the people they can’t enjoy a good drama. It wouldn’t be fair to tell the platforms they can’t sell ads. It wouldn’t be fair to force the journalists to report a certain way. It wouldn’t be fair to force the people to consume news a certain way. We need thoughtfulness innovation.
VII. Of Thoughtfulness Innovation
The thought of innovation for thoughtfulness is innovative to even think it. Shakespeare taught us words are powerful when they’re innovative, when they are intentional and diligently placed. Innovation in thoughtfulness will be a remarkable new wave to see. I can only predict pieces of this new value adventure.
Critical thinking tools will pave the way to think better. To combat a flood of information, we need a breaker. A critical thinking toolbar could serve up multiple perspectives for every headline, source links crowdsourced by experts and the diaspora, links to where the article began to take a pulse for bias, and drawers for debate that amplify sound civic discourse instead of sensationalism.
Critical thinking analytics will show us how thoughtful we are being, how long we engaged with each article, how many perspectives we viewed, how many source links we explored, and how long we explored them, how much debate we engaged with and participated. Thoughtfulness analytics can evaluate how quickly we comment on any story, do we take time to read and learn, to think and consider before we post our opinion? Before we like or share?
Thoughtfulness indexes can display like health scores, letting us know how low our threshold of thinking really is.
If we only have a 10% thoughtfulness score, will that be a guidepost to think more? As we take the pulse of our circles of trust and realize many of them are not critically thinking before sharing, will we pay less attention to the media they broadcast into our feeds? Could a thoughtfulness health score be attached to the articles that are shared, so we can know how valid the source of our friend’s endorsement really is every time we engage with shared news?
Thoughtfulness banks and tokens will innovate incentivizing critical thinking with equity and currency, and open modular models will allow any token to participate or innovate in the Fair Journalism sandbox. Each platform could innovate their own thoughtfulness token, earning transaction fees and incentivizing critical thinking on their network. Imagine the global advertising system connected to this new Fair Journalism Market, not disrupted and done away with, but shifted 90° and perpendicular into a new value standard that augments the attention market by providing it with new thoughtfulness data points to allow advertisers to join the Fair market in agreement. Imagine a world of responsible advertisers and platforms—committed to Fair Journalism and its tenants.
Imagine innovation on the news stand— tools that award thoughtful journalists with the most market attention over the largest buyer in silent advertising auctions. Imagine innovation on social media platforms that makes up for the marginal lost revenue of thoughtful advertising auctions with their own Fair Journalism token markets. Thoughtfulness innovation will pioneer value technology to the masses. Solving fake news and propaganda is the killer app for blockchain and machine learning.
Innovation that quantifies thoughtfulness and provides critical thinking tools for our generation will be the infrastructures needed for a new balanced information and value economy for media and journalism, that provides us with everything we need to think critically everywhere we find the news.
Fair Journalism plugins should be made for browsers, apps should be launched for social media, as well as integrated tools for media platforms and devices by the blue-chip tech companies. Each of these stewards of the Fair Journalism Market should be incentivized by the protocols of the economy for bringing thoughtfulness innovation to the marketplace.
VIII. Of A Fair Journalism Market
The ingredients here in, are all letters in an alphabet, tenets of a shared agreement and common currency. Thoughtfulness and all its features play a role in this new future. A market is part economy and part agreement, part value and part quantification. It requires a decentralized community to join a common agreement about what they value, this drives the vision of the value machine and solves for market volatility. We all agree our world needs thoughtfulness. We already agree.
This shared value is sitting latent like a gold mine unexplored. Bitcoin was a test. It is volatile because we don’t understand why we agree, but we have already agreed that we care about thoughtfulness. Even if we don’t know it yet, even if we aren’t being thoughtful right now. At the root of it, we all know this is good for our generation. This is the staying factor, a balancing inherent value that can stabilize a Fair Journalism Market into sustainability. A Thoughtfulness Economy.
Successful economies match value with demand. This exchange creates an ecosystem of monetary value that can grow much larger than its currency market, that can appreciate like assets, intangible values in the software code, a market cap growing and multiplying many orders of magnitude more than the investment based on its shared value.
Could this Fair Journalism Market be the killer use of Facebook’s Libra?
And so, what of demand? The information attention economy demands eyeballs, while a Fair Journalism Market would demand thoughtfulness. If we could exchange thoughtfulness for attention, we would really have something. If we could transfer the journalism market’s value from attention to thoughtfulness, we could balance the scales and fix this crisis.
What if thoughtfulness was the new gold standard? A protocol to transfer those values, attention to thoughtfulness, is the start of it. A decentralized commonwealth advertising platform auctioning ads to responsible advertisers and journalists with high thoughtfulness indexes could set this market into motion. Critical thinking tools and thoughtfulness analytics will begin this, and the Fair Journalism Market will invite the people of the world to participate, to stand in the gap between the noisy information mountains and plant our agreements. One tree, thoughtful, in an orchard of trees, thoughtful.
This document is just a seed. Challenge every assumption. Have discourse about it and innovate and pushback. It will take a brain trust of dedicated believers to bring the Fair Journalism Market to fruition.
About the Author
Chris Purifoy is a storyteller living in Washington DC, is the Co-Founder and Chief Architect of Learning Economy and Senior Editor of the Diplomatic Courier magazine.