The Cheat Sheet

Jimmy Wales, WikiTribune and the future of news

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on November 01, 2017
WikiTribune?

Wales’ latest venture. This time it’s a news service. Well, sort of. The Wikipedia founder wants to call it a pilot project for a “new approach” to journalism. He calls it a global, multilingual, high quality, neutral news service.

But what’s new in this?

Community involvement, according to Wales. He says this will form and shape the core of all operations at the WikiTribune news project. Which means, ‘trusted’ users of the site will have equal rights as the staff of WikiTribune.

But who’ll define ‘trusted’?

Well, as is the case with all Wiki projects, the community will debate policies in detail and formulate rules for the news service. And Wales’ plan looks smart on paper: he wants the new entity to focus on as many languages as possible and be more concerned with being “right than being first”, and report objectively, factually and fairly. WikiTribune’s tagline is cheeky and crispy: The new is broken, but we’re going to fix it.

Interesting. But who’ll fund this mission?

In all likelihood, and given the example of Wikipedia, Wales’ new venture will also seek support from the public. This crowd-funded model of journalism is something that’s catching the fancy of several entrepreneurs across the globe now. Many, like Wales, think it has more advantages than traditional ownership models. Editorial freedom tops the list.

But news is not a profitable business across the globe now, right?

Right. Traditional media companies are facing the heat from advancements in technology and shifts in reader interests, thanks to the arrival of social media news outlets. In the US itself, print newspaper advertising revenues fell from some $60 billion to nearly $20 billion between 2000 and 2015. This decline wiped out whatever the industry had earned in the past 50 years, according to the US News Media Alliance.

But that’s kind of inevitable. Is the online media growing in the meanwhile?

Well, not so much. There are hyped reports on the growth in online media, but the fact is social media has killed the online news media star well before it has started shining. Twitter has hijacked ‘breaking news’. And FB has become the biggest news disseminator. To make matters worse, robots have started writing news — even horror fiction.

Robots?

You heard me. Google has given the British Press Association $805,000 to build software to auto-write 30,000 local stories a month. Major news agencies now use robots powered by a news writing algorithm to compile data and press releases and produce news. Recently, a robot named Shelley became the “the world’s first collaborative AI horror writer”.

Wow!

Equally important is a trend menacing the world of information dissemination: Fake News. In the so-called ‘post-truth’ world, where factually incorrect news is spreading across media and is consumed in real-time by billions, a public-supported project that focuses on fact-based, objective reporting becomes significant. But it won’t be an easy ride.

What are the odds?

There is a reason why Wales says the news is broken. Today, news, especially digital news, is heavily customised and personalised using Big Data and other analytical tools. Most readers won’t even know that the news they’re reading on their screens is tailored to suit their needs, moods and wants: an alien algorithm is merrily controlling their consumption of news content. This has broken news and needs fixing.

That’s worrying.

Indeed. Ironically, Wales’ mission is a fight against the very apparatus that has given him the power to do what he does — technology. WikiTribune will have to fight the wrong tech with the right tech. Whether it can win the battle is a billion-dollar question.

A weekly column that helps you ask the right questions

Published on November 01, 2017

A letter from the Editor


Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.