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Why We Started Transfin.? Is Fixing News Media Possible?

Founder and CEO, Transfin.
Aug 14, 2018 7:46 AM 3 min read
Editorial

The state of News media, as we speak, is broken. Members of civil society (who care) express their anguish through different chains of thought. Some complain of inherent bias, some go further and cry collusion. Others are merely sick of reading jargonized articles in the day and hearing crass debates at night.

 

Publishers (encompassing print, television, and online) are stuck in an “Old World”, dependent on reporters and correspondents to publish/broadcast News. Most don’t charge customers for content or don’t make much money through subscriptions. Their reliance on thinning ad revenues naturally lead to commercial considerations driving editorial decisions. Political and business patronage is welcomed. Holy cows are in plenty.

 

Ironically, the “New World” is plagued by its own issues. Social media, instant messaging apps, aggregators et al (together classified as Platforms) focus on distribution instead of News generation. Scalability and revenues aren't their problems. Lack of quality control is. Being structured as open eco-systems, they're reducing barriers to entry – allowing anyone and everyone to push content. As a result, platforms often fall in the trap of granting a certain degree of legitimacy to non-credible and malevolent players, thus kicking off the dawn of “Fake News” and “Post Truth” – terms which have now hit mainstream relevance.

Why We Started Transfin.? Is Fixing News Media Possible?

I wrote of the need to achieve a middle ground earlier.

 

How to combine the best of both worlds i.e. maintain the sanctity and quality of true journalism in an open ecosystem which allows anyone to write?

 

Nobody can argue against the former.

 

But an open ecosystem? Really?

 

Yes. 

 

Platforms have shown the power of user generated content (UGC).

 

The viral quote of Tom Goodwin, a Columnist, published in TechCrunch presents a case in point:

 

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

 

Platforms are good. They bring scale. They make money. They make information accessible.

 

But what about fake news? What about editorial bias?

 

I rephrase: Platforms are good. But with checks and balances.

 

News is not a commoditized service like a cab ride or a hotel room. It drives societal narrative and needs to be credible. Through validation of sources, an emphasis on fact-checks, and by closure of gaps in argument. That is why journalism used to be good. Platforms must adopt these positive attributes of traditional journalism into its fabric. But how do they do that?

 

To answer that question, it is worthwhile to see what they do wrong.

 

Two Words: Instant Publishing

 

By allowing users to post whatever they want uninhibited, platforms compromise quality and credibility in lieu of scale. That works if you’re posting the picture of a cat yawning but fails for more serious pursuits.

 

Moderation doesn’t work in retrospection. At least not in the realm of News.

 

Instead, any piece of serious content must be validated before it is published, via a tech-driven editorial cycle (or editorialization) – comprising source, data, fact-checks, and messaging i.e. no instant publishing!

 

The users should (rightly) generate the content, but platforms need to become gate-keepers. Instead of solely chasing eyeballs and ad-dollars, they need to take responsibility for the content they end up publishing, be it from individuals or institutions.

 

But can such controlled platforms scale up? Won’t that be challenged by the need to editorialize? How do you ensure bias doesn’t creep in?

 

The answer to that, like all difficult questions, is: it depends. It depends on whether editorialization can be automated. It depends on its mechanics. It depends on the type of content the platform is publishing.

 

But it is a start. A start at rethinking the philosophy behind News generation. A start at challenging the status quo. A start behind Transfin.

 

In the next one, I will try to touch some of these questions and how they fit within Transfin.’s vision.

 

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