By Nick Neville
BU News Service
CES advertised its Future of News panel as one in which “industry leaders discuss how news will evolve as technology continues to disrupt the Fourth Estate.” But the discussion, albeit informative and vibrant, did little to address technology.
The panel, featuring The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, Eric Weinstein, Managing Director at Theil Capital and Sara Fischer of Axios, briefly addressed the issue of subscription-based models for legacy media organizations.
Though subscriptions to The New York Times and Washington Post are up, Fischer, who covers the media industry, believes a dependent ad revenue model will better suit the media entities of tomorrow. Shapiro, who only offers subscriptions to his site for the opinion pieces, agreed. “Nobody subscribes to news because they think news is free,” he said.
But the majority of the discussion centered around journalistic ethics, fake news and a little about Michael Wolff, whose blockbuster book about the Trump Administration landed last week.
Here are the highlights:
All three panelists agreed that fake news is an issue, but the term is misused. Shapiro contended that the definition should be “something that is objectively false, not an opinion you don’t like.” Though Weinstein and Shapiro come from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, they agreed that the left has to stand up for the right and lessen the fake news hysteria.
“A lot of people take fake news as false commercialization like spam,” Fischer said. “That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about things that are not fact.”
Shapiro is less concerned about the problem of fake news than about a top-down reassertion of power where gatekeepers at Google control the news flow. “I find that utterly problematic and insulting,” he said.
Shapiro also pointed that out that when Facebook tried its fake news algorithm, it just made people click on the content labeled “fake news” more. “Because of the crackdown, people think that anybody who is transgressive must be telling the truth,” he said.
Due to widespread fake news hysteria, which Weinstein doesn’t believe is justified, “everybody is now a conspiracy theorist.” He suggests breaking from what he deems “guided tour” journalism and getting back to basics – like primary sources.
The Difference Between Hard News and Opinion
The panelists agreed that journalists must be more transparent in both their own biases and their reporting in order to gain back the trust of readers. Fischer raised a technological solution to this problem, suggesting that using UX UI enhancement could help differentiate news and opinion.
Shapiro and Weinstein, who agreed on most key issues during the panel, believe reporters need to be honest with readers. It must be clear what the writer’s point of view is for a particular piece. Readers can’t be expected to sift through content and decide whether it’s an opinion piece.
Fischer said that news organizations need to clean up their headlines because often times if you share an article on Facebook, it is unclear whether or not the piece is from an opinion section.
“I think the objective media has done itself a tremendous disservice in saying it’s objective,” Shapiro said. “It’s tough for journalists to remove their own biases from reporting.” He says he has always been transparent about his right-wing views.
“The people on the other side who look like they’re honest, they’re succeeding in a way that the back the horse or oppose the horse people aren’t succeeding,” Shapiro said.
Though the conversation went off the rails when Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” was mentioned, Fischer said that no number of sources is too many – whatever it takes to get the story right. “I feel like I can never get the best version of the truth,” she said.
“Getting to the truth takes lots of different tactics,” Fischer said. “As a reporter, I honor people who want tell me something off the record – then I need to figure out another way to get it.”
On the inaccuracies in “Fire and Fury,” Fischer said, “You’re only as strong of a journalist as your weakest report. If you put anything out that isn’t the truth, it’s hard for anyone to take you seriously.”
“Michael Wolff’s book should’ve been called ‘As Told by Steve Bannon,’” Shapiro said. “And him going on national TV saying, ‘if it feels true, it is true,’ that’s just an absurd standard of journalism.”
Weinstein was less concerned about the issue of sourcing for journalists than about what he labeled “a crisis in sense-making.” “How do we reestablish communal sense-making, being decent to each other?” he asked.