Systems Change for New(s) Media

Peter Jones Civil media, Media Ecology, Systemic Design

(First posted on Medium)

We have credible understanding to suggest that news media, and the journalism supposedly informing the news, no longer contributes to a meaningful shared public reality. With the arrest of Julian Assange, and Big Media’s denouncement of him as a publisher/journalist and as a person, society suffers another major blow from officialdom in the ongoing struggle to locate responsibility in public reporting.

Assange built Wikileaks into a self-organizing publishing system, the newsroom of the future. If Western media actually cared about access to truth via “certified authentic documents” there might be less distrust of the content, process, and intentions of news organizations. But instead, when the Guardian (of all outlets) and New York Times actually cheer on the framing and takedown of an influential independent publisher, who has arguably put his life on the line, it serves the function of a political gang hit on a rival content producer. Albeit, a producer whose work embarrasses the state-conformity of the mainstream newsies.

I mean, the Guardian wants you to believe he’s culpable for rape — when there is not even a plaintiff for this made-up case. The “paper” itself has fabricated a monstrous rat-king thicket of nastiness — they are performing police-state character assassination, not journalism. However, the Off-Guardian, a new-wave publisher, investigates inside stories about Assange and presents their current. state of understanding in a transparent, professional discourse. Off-Guardian and Caitlin Johnstone have dug in deep to reveal credible concerns for the state torture of Assange, putting the actual Guardian now on the side of a state op torturing journalists. (Does their sworn enemy Putin even do this, or just in their war-fevered imaginations?) President Putin just intervened in the recent overnight jailing of Ivan Golunov, a critical journalist, and sacked the police bosses responsible. When is the last time an elected official freed a government critic from a US prison?

Actual journalists have been cynically sniping at Assange all year, in morbid Stockholm Syndrome with their own corporate captors. As major media are getting paid by governments now, their business model is invested in political conformity. (Official numbers indicate Clinton paid media from at least an $80M budget, but that does not include SuperPACs and friendly donors, or other channels. She clearly did not spend much of the $2B overall budget on traveling to Midwestern stadiums).

Newspapers almost died off entirely a few years ago — I lost count of how many floors the New York Times lopped off 8 floors from their new-ish building as they reduced staff and used rent to raise revenue. But fear-mongering of the 2016 election, paid by the slush funds of major Dem PACs that are allowed to spend money on “advertising,” which pumped up their revenue streams and made them obviously captured by their political masters. Not a nice deal for the people, but “the people” do not subscribe — as verified by that last link above — and if you get it free, you are the product.

Stoking political tension keeps them alive. So media kings are not going to whistleblow against their clients. To take this deeper, see Taleb’s “The Facts are True, the News is Fake” from last year.

First-Order Beliefs Create Disinformation Loops

A first-order belief system is where a perceiving agent accepts messages from the environment without questioning their sources, validity, or meaning of their meaning. A second-order awareness loop, at least, questions the context of the information as presented. Power uses political correctness and conformist fears to sustain a first-order belief system, making people vulnerable to official disinformation, which is much better documented than “Russian trolls” or election hacking, which everyone seems to believe in these days, for some inexplicable reason (our own tax-dollar propaganda).

There is the undeniable factual reality of the discovery of the Integrity Initiative, a propaganda machine paid for by the Institute for Statecraft, a cutout of the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office. This is well-documented by academics Tim Hayward, Piers Robinson and journalists on the Working Group on Syria site. Without looking too far into the dark webs, we find Wiki-type dumps from Anonymous of the “Integrity Initiative” program. This Orwellian-monikered project is a UK/NATO campaign of implanting propaganda outlets in every NATO country to create coordinated anti-news to misdirect attention, mainly by obsessively blaming Russia for invented infractions against NATO’s sacred honour. In this campaign we find actual payments from the UK FCO to real journalists via “country clusters” throughout Europe to spread OUR disinformation AGAINST Russia. We make up lies, such as the Skripal nonsense, and blame the made up stuff on them. This is what’s called a racket, as in fraud — but it’s a government’s fraud against their own people, so it must be legal.

I honestly never thought I’d see a world like this, a West corrupted beyond its identity within a couple decades, a “West” hostile to the values I understood as vital to civilization. Some of these are respect for history, a balance across powerful interests, the possibility of citizen intervention, and hope for future generations. (I do see these values emerging in other, oppressed civilizations but declining in a Spenglerian West.)

Wikileaks and independent journalists — such as Caitlin Johnstone (on Medium) are the future of news. Why do most of us continue to even look at the so-called mainstream Pravdas that erode human solidarities through political coercion and destroy independent thinking? I know of many good American friends and colleagues that will argue the validity of the legacy news services, claiming that they sustain investigative journalism. Compared to the local investigative journalism of my hometown Dayton Daily News of the 1990’s (where ) there is almost nothing left of the legacy worth retaining.

The most respected voices in independent journalism have declared the Assange rendition a turning point, a bright signal of the end of the free press:

News Futures from New Media Futurists

Since Assange’s arrest there are even fewer glimmers of hope, at least from “the news,” as even the Canadian government wants to pay-off major media — a private industry — $600M “just because” during an election year.

So where do we look? From the Strategic Foresight and Innovation program in which I teach, we have a recent study from MDes graduate Mazi Javidiani, Beyond Facts: Increasing Trust In Journalism Through Community Engagement & Transparency.He was joined in his committee by Peggy Holman (Journalism that Matters) and informed by a wide range of journalists and media thinkers, including Caitlin Johnstone.

Javidiani opens the study with a compelling indictment of the media industry’s response to their disrupted business model. Essentially, his study addresses the “why” Big Media has so comprehensively failed the public, because it has no customer in its business model interested in sustaining an open inquiry. A skeptical, inquiring public represents a threat to political power, and power pays the bills behind the brands you believe in.

According to Pew research centre, between 2003 and 2012 over 16,000 full time jobs in newspapers were lost in United States, a 30% drop (Pew Research Centre, 2014). Declining revenues are often seen as the reason behind cuts. The financial dimension of the crisis, has inevitability directed most of the focus towards business models, however a closer look at the industry reveals much deeper systemic causes, all bearing the signs of a paradigm shift in the media ecology as a whole.

While this paradigm shift in the media ecology has forced traditional media to question their fundamental functions, and respond with new business models, and organizational structures, very little innovation has been done in this segment (Jarvis, 2014). Meanwhile smaller entrepreneurial organizations, independent journalists, and networked individuals are increasing their readership and proving more innovative and understanding of the new media (Public Policy Forum, 2017). This contrast between the two has created tension. Not just tension between old and new, but tension that relates directly to ownership and access to power. The traditional media’s financial vulnerability has robbed it from its independence and subsequently the ability to hold power accountable. It is now owned by the power (e.g. Jeff Bezos buying Washington Post) (Farhi, 2013).

Mazi analyzed the landscape of current media systems from interviews, research analysis, and workshopping with a range of journalists and industry insiders. He discerned 7 types of disinformation — a classification that might be seen as a core set of first-order beliefs that interfere with public decision making: