Our problem isn’t ‘fake news.’ Our problems are trust and manipulation.

“Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”
— Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928)

“Fake news” is merely a symptom of greater social ills. Our real problems: trust and manipulation. Our untrusted — and untrustworthy — institutions are vulnerable to manipulation by a slough of bad guys, from trolls and ideologues to Russians and terrorists, all operating under varying motives but similar methods.

Trust is the longer-term problem — decades- or even a century-long. But if we don’t grapple with the immediate and urgent problem of manipulation, those institutions may not live to reinvent themselves and earn the public’s trust back with greater inclusion, equity, transparency, responsiveness, and honesty. At the News Integrity Initiative, we will begin to address both needs.

Here I want to examine the emergency of manipulation with a series of suggestions about the defenses needed by many sectors — not just news and media but also platforms, technology companies, brands, marketing, government, politics,

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Fueling a flight to quality

Storyful and Moat — together with CUNY and our new News Integrity Initiative*— have announced a collaboration to help advertisers and platforms avoid associating with and supporting so-called fake news. This, I hope, is a first, small step toward fueling a flight to quality in news and media. Add to this:

  • A momentous announcement by Ben Gomes, Google’s VP of engineering for Search, that its algorithms will now favor “quality,” “authority,” and “the most reliable sources” — more on that below.
  • The consumer revolts led online by Sleeping Giants and #grabyourwallet’s Shannon Coulter that kicked Bill O’Reilly off the air and are cutting off the advertising air supply to Breitbart.
  • The advertiser revolt led by The Guardian, the BBC, and ad agency Havas against offensive content on YouTube, getting Google to quickly respond.

These things — small steps, each — give me a glimmer of hope for supporting news integrity. I will even go so far as to

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Jimmy Wales’ new Wikitribune

Jimmy Wales changed encyclopedias and news while he was at it. And now he’s at it at it again, announcing a crowdfunding campaign to start Wikitribune, a collaborative news platform with “professional journalists and community contributors working side-by-side to produce fact-checked, global news stories. The community of contributors will vet the facts, help make sure the language is factual and neutral, and will to the maximum extent possible be transparent about the source of news posting full transcripts, video, and audio of interviews.” The content will be free with monthly patrons providing as much support as possible, advertising as little as possible. I’m excited about this for a few reasons: First, I see the need for innovation around new forms of news. Next, I want some news sites to break the overwhelming and constant flow of news and allow us in the public to pull back and find
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Real News


I’m proud that we at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Tow-Knight Center just announced the creation of the News Integrity Initiative, charged with finding ways to better inform the public conversation and funded thus far with $14 million by nine foundations and companies, all listed on the press release. Here I want to tell its story.

This began after the election when my good friend Craig Newmark — who has been generously supporting work on trust in news — challenged us to address the problem of mis- and disinformation. There is much good work being done in this arena — from the First Draft Coalition, the Trust Project, Dan Gillmor’s work at ASU bringing together news literacy efforts, and the list goes on. Is there room for more?

I saw these needs and opportunities:

Quality over crap

We keep looking at the problems of fake news and crap content — and the advertising that feeds them — through the wrong end of the periscope, staring down into the depths in search of sludge when we could be looking up, gathering quality.

There is a big business opportunity to be had right now in setting definitions and standards for and creating premium networks of quality.

In the last week, the Guardian, ad agency Havas, the UK government, the BBC, and now AT&T pulled their advertising from Google and YouTube, complaining about placement next to garbage: racist, terrorist, fake, and otherwise “inappropriate” and “offensive” content. Google was summoned to meet UK ministers under the threat they’ll exercise their European regulatory reflex.

Google responded quickly, promising to raise its standards regarding “hateful, offensive and derogatory content” and giving advertisers greater control over excluding specific sites.

Well, good. But this seems like a

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Trump & the Press: A Murder-Suicide Pact

The press will destroy Trump and Trump will destroy the press.

Consider that trust in media began falling in the ’70s, coincident with what we believe was our zenith: Watergate. We brought down a President. A Republican President.

Now the press is the nation’s last, best hope to bring down a compromised, corrupt, bigoted, narcissistic, likely insane, incompetent, and possibly dangerous President. A Republican President. Donald Trump.

If the press does what Congress is so far unwilling to do — investigate him — then these two Republican presidencies will bookend the beginning of the end and the end of the end of American mass media. Any last, small hope that anyone on the right would ever again trust, listen

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Merry Christmas, Hillary Clinton

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I want to say Merry Christmas to Hillary Clinton. I am grateful to you for running a campaign on principle, patriotism, decency, honesty, intelligence, optimism, maturity, experience, care, and civility. I am grateful to you for suffering such abuse from so many quarters for so many years and always coming back fighting — for us. You did it for us. I cannot imagine the disappointment and, yes, anger and you must feel. I fear that you might think you disappointed us. But we disappointed you. I wish I had knocked that many more doors in Pennsylvania. I wish I could have been that much more persuasive here, in so-called social media. I wish we could have won it for you. In any case, I am grateful to you for giving me a gift before Christmas. You gave me my sense of citizenship back. I was a journalist and that separated
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