I generally consider myself the type of person who is current with the technological times. I might not always be a user of some service or app, but I usually I have at least heard of it and understand what it is for.
I need to not think so highly of myself.
Periodically, as I’m scrolling through Twitter, I come across posts that are from @Medium. Sometimes I would read the articles at the other end of the links, and when I did, I generally found them interesting. However, I still didn’t know what I was looking at.
I went to Medium.com to try to find out. The site’s About Page suggests it is a publishing platform where anyone can publish his or her own stories, thoughts and opinions. It appears to be a very democratic platform where professional journalists and ordinary citizens can be published side by side. Then it takes all the articles that are published and presents them to the reader in a customize format. It seems to aim to rethink how news is consumed:
It is your daily news reimagined, straight from the people who are making and living it. Discover and follow your favorite writers and the stories that matter to you, every day.
The platform was created in 2012 by Ev Williams, the guy who created Blogger and played a key role in the development of Twitter. Drew Olanoff, reporting for Tech Crunch, described the platform as one that “allows people to create collections of content based on a theme or subject, and then invites others to add pieces to those collections. It’s truly collaborative [. . . ] But it doesn’t feel like a blog, it’s something new altogether [. . .] Medium is about storytelling.”
Despite what Olanoff said, it still feels like a blogging platform to me. The problem is, though, the monetization. It seems people contribute to this site and basically help the site profit without receiving much in return. Williams acknowledges this. In a post earlier this year, he wrote:
Our vision, when we started in 2012, was ambitious: To build a platform that defined a new model for media on the internet. The problem, as we saw it, was that the incentives driving the creation and spread of content were not serving the people consuming it or creating it — or society as a whole. As I wrote at the time, “The current system causes increasing amounts of misinformation…and pressure to put out more content more cheaply — depth, originality, or quality be damned. It’s unsustainable and unsatisfying for producers and consumers alike….We need a new model.” We set out to build a better publishing platform — one that allowed anyone to offer their stories and ideas to the world and that helped the great ones rise to the top [. . .] However, in building out this model, we realized we didn’t yet have the right solution to the big question of driving payment for quality content.
Williams goes on to talk about how Medium experienced growth by selling ads, but that went counter to the vision of the platform. He said Medium became ad-driven, which is a business business model he was trying to counteract. He said it is a broken system for Internet media.
The entire thrust of the article is Medium is reconsidering its business model and is renewing its mission. He wrote:
We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.
However, he didn’t go as far as outline a plan for how this new business model would look. It could be really good for people who produce content, but it could also not be.
The large question I have is how can any content on the site be trusted since it is so open. If I’m not inclined to believe everything I read on a random blog, why should I believe everything I read on Medium? It feels too much like citizen journalism, and I have misgivings about how citizen journalism is spreading like wildfire.
Verification of the information being provided is crucial, and verification is at the crux of citizen journalism being accepted or not. Technology has made it incredibly easy for anyone with an Internet-connected to produce news and contribute information to the never-ending news cycle. During a breaking news event, people on the ground can snap a photo and send a tweet, relaying information to the world about what is happening. This is beneficial to professional journalists because it can give them access to sources and personal accounts of what is transpiring, but the reason a person snaps a photo or sends a tweet has to be considered. There might be some ulterior motive. Perhaps a person is trying to push his or her agenda or beliefs and masking them as news. This could lead to a situation being blown out of proportion or outright falsehoods being taken as the truth.
For example, Antonio French, a Missouri politician, might have acted as a citizen journalist for reasons beyond a desire to share news. If that were the case, the only way to know would be if French admitted to it, and there would be no benefit for him to admit such actions even if they were true. Undoubtedly his social media coverage of the events in Ferguson, Mo., provided important information. However, just like anything you read on social media, it should be taken with a grain of salt. The information being given, even when it seems obviously accurate, should be fact-checked.
That’s where professional journalists come into play.
They can, and in most cases should, use citizen journalists’ reports as a starting point, but they can’t simply rely upon them because the information being provided hasn’t been verified, and when it is used without being verified first, it furthers the distrust of the media that is running rampant due to media organizations’ never-ending quest for profit. That’s difference between citizen and professional journalists. Professionals are trained to ensure accuracy before reporting. Citizens report first and ask questions later in a knee-jerk, reactionary method. In a breaking-news situation I will pay attention to citizen journalists, but I will be looking to professional journalists and news organizations for the real story.
Until Medium makes it more clear how it is supporting the producers of its content and ensuring the validity of said content, I don’t think I can jump on board. Just like Williams doesn’t want to be part of the business problem of online media, I don’t want to be part of the “fake news” problem of online media.