3 Reasons Mainstream News is Awful

I think we can generally agree that “Fake News is bad,” what many of us cannot agree on is what is “Fake News,” is it mainstream news, the alt-right, the alt-left? Nor, as a society can agree what to do about “Fake News”, probably because there isn’t a clear definition.

From my perspective, “Fake News” is just an extreme of the race to the bottom – trying to attract viewership. Unfortunately, this leads to the erosion in the societal value in trust and dignity.

With the goal of journalism being to maximize profit and manipulation, they are always vying for attention. That has always been the case – what’s made it worse, is the insanely low barrier to entry the internet has created. Hell, if you’re reading this – I’m taking you away from another article. That’s because the internet has made it as easy as typing up and sharing content – no printing press, no news room, just a keyboard.

One Reason to Keep Reading

Did that subtitle entice you to keep reading? Even writing it, I felt the desire to continue. It’s the hook – one of many techniques to make you click one link over another.

Upworthy was one of the companies pioneering this tactic, generating 25 potential title for each “article”. Unfortunately, this works. Bringing money further away from the big players, which means they too need to play the game of naming.

This has lead to many titles containing very little relevant information, and sounding more and more like the advertisements they are peddling. Literally, one of the examples above are an article about there being a secret, no one knows…

Keep Reading – You Can Do It!

Unfortunately, financial news also must vie for attention. What’s worse, in their case, is many financial news organizations used to be able to charge large sums of money for their publications, such as the The Wall Street Journal – which still paywalls. Even today many newsletters for financial organizations are in the hundreds of dollars a year. Those that couldn’t command that price, had to try much harder. As there were many newcomers to the market.

This lead to the rise of sites such as Market Watch, Investopedia, and others. Providing a mix of cheap advice, click-bait titles, and worse native ads! Native ads, we’ll get to later, the worst of the whole bunch.

For now, let’s just try to dive into the insane way most finance related news today is “announced” the same way sports announcers discuss a football game.

This is a snapshot from Robin Hood (highlighted the titles):

AMD stock takes a breather after a run of more than 200%” – Stocks don’t take a breather! I know that may seem harmless, but it looks eerily familiar to sports gambling. It breeds further investment, small-time (and unknowing) investors pouring over the news, make investments based off these articles. This appears to be a unique to finance and sports news; I assume due to their time series nature (peaks and troughs). “Business news” on the other hand, primarily appears to be the more classic click-bait titles:

But Wait, There’s More

For those who don’t know, Native Advertising is one of the more subtle forms of advertising. It is where advertisements are essentially embedded in the content itself, woven into the story. It’s becoming increasingly common, as the large players compete for market share, they can more-or-less trade in the trust of their readers in for those sweet advertising dollars. Pretty much every big player is in on the game.

What this leads to, is a degradation in trust and perverse incentives. For instance, if a company such as the New York Times already participate in native advertising, that means their stories are already being biased towards products…. What else do you think it has sold out on?

Forget Dignity, I Don’t Trust You

With mainstream journalism in a race to the bottom, against a platform (the internet), which empowers anyone with 45 minutes to write a blog to vie for attention… they can’t win. At least, not when they play the same game (as they appear to have done). When the most trusted journalistic institutions sell out, everyone loses trust. It was somewhat of a slow boil, but I believe Trump’s election was the breaking point.

No one I know under 30 years old watches the news. No one under 45 years old I know trusts what they hear at face value (i.e. they all ask, but where did you hear that from?). The last bastion of people (>45 years old) I know, who watch the news, are often converting back to antenna (for local news). When trust is destroyed because you sell out, it’s hard to get back.

This a disaster for society, because most people don’t have nowhere else to turn. People under 30 typically congregate on Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook, with people in the tech scene are often checking Hacker News. Personally, I don’t know if that is much better – as bots are relatively prevalent.

There is Still Hope

That’s not to say all news is bad. There’s just a much lower signal to noise ratio. The fact is, society tends to agree mainstream media has definitely lost quality, and at the same time there are thousands more news agencies. That means it’s likely several orders of magnitude more difficult to get interesting, relevant, and quality news.

This is part of the reason I started Metacortex Inc. we built a new kind of search, designed to boost good content by identifying experts and weighting the content they discuss & share.

We even built a service, which provides good news delivered to your inbox. Our AI Curated News Service being called Lettergram!

It only sends you emails about content you’re interested in, based on what experts find relevant:

Mostly, this means you can ignore most of the mainstream media, and just get the relevant topics your interested in. With journalism slowly in decay, I see more services such as Lettergram.net becoming increasingly relevant; as it ranks content based on merit (i.e. important to the topic of interest), even if it is not from a standard trusted news source.

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