Some thoughts on ecology, evolution and economics

Whither the news?

Information industries are facing re-organization.  This extends to a remarkable range of businesses that specialize in knowing things, whether it is travel agents, lawyers, doctors or academics.  More sophisticated coding and connectivity can process and communicate routine information inputs to make marketable products for consumers with less cost and human involvement.  Journalists have suffered acutely from this trend with a redirection of advertising dollars and a general trend to close local newsrooms.  This is happening at the same time –  and often for the same reasons – as the value of news is put into question and the degree of choice available for news is exploding.  The main purpose of the news is to provide input into day-to-day decisions like where can I drive, what are my risks or what should I invest in.  There is also a broader purpose of the news in describing our world, especially as that interacts with our political process of shaping that world.

Since the French Revolution, there has been a political spectrum of options for dealing with shared concerns. For the National Assembly in 1789, those that valued tradition and authority sat on the right side of the person chairing the meeting and those that valued the equality of citizens sat on the left side.  The right-left spectrum of today is less concerned with the rights of kings and nobles and more concerned with self-reliance, the maintenance of a merit-based society, the role of social or economic privilege in determining power and the responsibility for widespread environmental issues. Social media algorithms have tended to feed us the perspective on the news that we would like to hear. This would seem to be ideal except for the lack of tolerance that it breeds.  What is the responsibility of news organizations and, indeed, news consumers, in coming to a shared description of the world around us?  Clearly, what we do about that description should be up to individuals based on their theories of how society and governance works – but without a common description we increasingly have little to talk about.

Dealing with bias

My own news diet consists of a local newspaper, two government-funded news agencies (CBC and PBS), the Economist magazine and a left-leaning British outfit called TLDR (Too long, didn’t read) news. I am not trying very hard to get out of my left wing perspective on the troubles that ail the world.  However, I  have found some tools for stretching one’s world view:

  • RCP – curates a sampling of editorials from across the American news spectrum
  • Allsides  – provides balanced news coverage, media bias ratings and a “red-blue” dictionary for culture war labels
  • Left Right news  – provides brief factual news and a range of analysts that maintain good standing with the readership
  • Substack – which publishes subscription newsletters from individual editorialists without the structure (and ownership influence) of a traditional news source

My own lack of initiative to forge a common world view suggests a larger issue on the use of ideological filters in reporting. Pious statements about going beyond one’s comfort level in understanding the world view of others will likely have little effect on the current situation.  Legislation may open up opportunities for funding journalism or better protection against libel or false reporting, but governments must show restraint to maintain an independent news industry.  The funding of journalists necessarily impacts their impartiality, whether it is towards the government in power or the sponsoring corporations that have vested interests in how the news is reported.  

The future of the news

The minimum digital services tax agreed to by the G7 countries will start to claw back some of the advertising dollars that Google and Facebook have vacuumed up.  Still, the advertising model of news delivery is probably dead. People will either start paying directly for their news and opinion or receive exactly the perspective that makes the most money for internet firms.  I can see a future where subscription services like SubStack and Stitcher will cut out the middlemen publishers when it comes to sharp analysis of events and that national news organizations like Canadian Press will strike deals with internet distributors to bring more factual content – hopefully, extending to the very local coverage that makes a bigger difference in our lives. In this scenario, we may become more aware of the bias of each of our news sources but we will likely continue to choose sources closest to our own world view.  If we can keep in mind that no world perspective has a monopoly on being humane and insightful, we will probably do all right.