Horror movie: Watermelons and Claps

The horror movie of journalism’s disappearing business models is worth watching for two key reasons:

  • Journalism is one of the activity sectors farther down the road of the so-called digital transformation. Understanding publishers’ critical dilemma—continue to maintain their own publishing infrastructure, with smaller audiences, or cede control over user data and advertising in exchange for the significant audience growth offered by digital platforms—may provide some clues to others.
  • Universal access to accurate information is at the heart of a well-functioning democracy. That access is now shaped by the enormously powerful and largely unaccountable technology companies of Silicon Valley. Until very recently, the position of platforms (and notably Facebook) has been to avoid the expensive responsibilities and liabilities of being publishers. For all their recent efforts and pronouncements, this is only a distraction for them. The structure and the economics of social platforms incentive the spread of low-quality content over high-quality material. (e.g. watermelon explosions)

This is by no means an easy to summarise debate, but this study(1) by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, is a good effort toward charting the convergence between journalism and platform companies.

Meanwhile, Ev Williams’s efforts to fight the dark forces of advertising continue. Now he thinks that instead of recommendations, what we need is claps:

This system (or something like it) is critical for our new approach to paying people based on the quality of their writing. Every other scheme we can think of would have the effect of recreating the hugely detrimental system of fighting for eyeballs (pageviews) instead of being rewarded for quality. We’re trying to fight the dark forces of advertising that are destroying our minds and democracy. Claps may look silly, but this is serious stuff. Again, this is a theory, but is is a well-considered one. And we’ll know more soon.

Like many others, I am sceptical. But while he keeps fighting the advertising watermelon, I will be by his side.

Please, show me your ❤️ with 👏’s.


(1) Bell, Emily J, Taylor Owen, Peter D Brown, Codi Hauka, and Nushin Rashidian. 2017. ‘The Platform Press: How Silicon Valley Reengineered Journalism’.

Featured image: Watermelon explosion

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