by Bogdan Maran CMO @ YPN
First published in Summer 2016 issue of CoFounder
Information is one of the most valuable assets anybody can have, but how can we process the daily bombardment we are subjected to every day? We create filters, so we only deal with the information we have deemed valuable in the past. One may say we create ‘editorial policies’.
THE News (Press, News Outlets, Mass Media, etc) is a platform. A platform that helps us to filter most of the information out there, based on its own editorial policy.
But what is news? According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is ‘newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events.’ And using the same source, the news is ‘a broadcast or published report of news.’
On what basis is an event deemed newsworthy, or in the public interest?
One of the main filters that the news uses is proximity. The closer the event, the more likely it is to affect us. For instance, a bridge collapses in a corner of Europe; this will disrupt the lives of the people around, therefore it is noteworthy information.
But how does this affect an individual on the other side of the world? It doesn’t! Or to be more exact, it didn’t. It might have been impossible for him to even know about that 150 years ago.
The new news
So what changed in the last century that did not change during the previous twenty?
Alvin Toffler theorises that if you apply Kondratiev’s wave of technological breakthrough cycles throughout history, not just to the modern world economy; the distance between each wave grows smaller and smaller as we approach modern days. He puts forward the idea that up to 1,000 years ago we might have needed a few generations, if not more, to go through to the next technological revolution that would change the way we interact with the environment and with each other. Around 1900, the distance between the ‘revolutions’ was down to 40-60 years, and it reduced to 20-30 years after 1990. That means that where our ancestors had a lifetime to adapt and pass on knowledge to the next generation, we could now experience at least a couple of ‘revolutions’ in one lifetime.
For the news, a couple of things changed dramatically in the last century. And, like any other living organism, she tried to adapt, usually by finding the quickest route out or reacting in self-defence.
First, let’s take the financial ‘nourishment’. Like any living organism, the news needs to find resources to ensure its physical existence. The basic one is money. At the beginning, the relationship was a simple trade between her and us. We would give her a penny and she would do her best to give us relevant information, gathered by trained individuals who would ‘objectively’ filter information.
It’s about trust
We trust the news, based on a simple principle you can read about in Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence’. It is based on the assumption that when you are granted a ‘favour’, you have to return that ‘favour’, in order for our society to work.
To adapt it to our case: I trust you to give me correct information because I have given you the necessary means for you to continue to exist.
But, how would the news react if her nourishment comes from somewhere else? Instinctively, based on this principle, she has to return the favour to the feeding hand.
Today, instead of giving the ‘penny’ directly to the news, we are giving it to a middleman who, in turn, passes it over to her. Because it is our ‘penny’, we still believe that we are owed that ‘favour’, but because it doesn’t come from us, the news does not believe she owes us that favour. At the same time, the middle man is able to stay more or less invisible.
Who is the middle man? He might not be a real individual, he can be an entity very similar to our beloved the news. He can be, for example, Advertising, Political Entity, or Corporation, each with a life of its own. Thus, based on the favour for a favour rule, the news feels her debt is owed to wherever her nourishment has stemmed from. This is one of the main reasons that the credibility of mass media has diminished radically. Because we feel betrayed.
Using the same relationship, you can explain why millennials trust social media more that the news. Because there is a direct trade system, in a way we have never been able to have before, through likes, views or retweets in exchange for something that we consider noteworthy. Although the definition of noteworthy has been changed dramatically in the past 50 years, ironically by the one we trusted the most (the news), our control of the trade forces us to trust the information we receive from social media more.
Let’s move on to our second reason that things changed for our friend, the news. Within the last 30 years, with technology, and especially the internet, we have managed to delete one of the main rules of any editorial policy: the rule of Proximity.
Individual actions have an almost immediate impact, beyond our physical reach. Be it on a cultural, economic, political or individual level.
A quick note before we go further. News is noteworthy to us if it triggers a reaction. There are a lot of different types of news and a lot of reactions that they precipitate in us. The one that I think is vital is ‘empathy’, because when we feel it we tend to act, to do something.
For the majority of our history, the events in our lifetime that would trigger a strong emotional response would be limited to a geographical area. Now we have abruptly deleted proximity from the equation. We are faced with a huge wave of news, that would normally provoke ‘empathy’, that we cannot cope with.
So as previously stated, we apply filters in self-defence. The simplest defence mechanism is to fill up with ‘noisy’, irrelevant information that would not leave a place for anything else.
The press reacts in self-defence. It applies the same rules as before, but with a change in perspective, so both we and it can cope with emotional responses.
The press dehumanises anything that does not pass through the proximity rule. It provides the same information, but ‘rephrases’ it for protection. It reacts as we would do.
Take one mile around you. If in that one mile something tragic happens, you would feel compelled to act in some way. It will trigger some emotion, powerful enough to force you to react.
Yet these kinds of events happen every day around the world. So why don’t we react in the same way? Because they are dehumanised. Take a headline from a big paper last week: “Hundreds feared dead in migrant shipwreck off Libya”. What it does is to offer a philosophical term (migrants) and a number, something impersonal, so that we can cope with it. Now imagine you knew a few individuals that were on that ship. What would be your reaction then? It is a self-defence mechanism to a series of events that we, as a society, have not managed to adapt to.
Unfortunately, due to this and a few other reasons, some darker than others, the news has shifted away from journalism. What used to be the lifeblood of mainstream media, is now pushed to the side. It is making a comeback because it has ‘empathy’ and it reacts to its environment, even if it will take some time to adapt.
Startups to the rescue!
There is a new entity that can help a lot, the Startup Environment. The reason behind this organism is very simple. It is not money, as some would like us to think. It is a simple statement: I have found a problem. How can I fix it?
Regardless of how financially successful startups become, the mentality of what is now a movement that drags in more and more individuals, spanning continents, cultures and generations, is always the same: find a problem, engage with it, find a solution.
A startup embraces the fact that we are not bound by physical proximity. It is proactive and lives on change and innovation. It is still a child and will have the tantrums of a teenager. But this is good because that is the age where you challenge everything! And even if you are not always right, you learn, you adapt and, more importantly, you have the energy to make it happen.
So what can the news learn from the startup environment? The ethos of not taking the easy way out. Try not to focus on the next second – instead, focus on the long term. Innovation does not come from spreadsheets. The simplest solution works, but it is usually the hardest to achieve. Educate your audience, and give them something inspirational that they can use to challenge the world around them because they are bound to return the favour!
Time for a Revolution
The news needs to go through a ‘revolution’, an innovation stage. Innovation does not happen by taking the same tool, and painting it a different colour, and giving it another name. That is simply marketing. Innovation is when you try to understand what the problems are and find a solution to fix them! And in the process, you will make the world a better place for everyone, as any startup does.
What YPN does, is to redefine ‘objectivity’ by engaging with multiple personal experiences, through GPS tagged individual posts consisting of up to 8 individual images and unlimited text. It also helps you create your own ‘editorial policy’, with location tags and different filters. It is a useful tool for NGOs, journalists and activists to share and validate ideas or events, instantly sharing an article on all platforms simultaneously.