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Misinformation, Media, the New Information Landscape and Philanthropy’s Role Recap


Nicco Mele, Director of Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School

Shaun Adamec, Founder and Principal of Adamec Communications


Carolyn Jones, President of the Boston Business Journal


Misinformation – Nicco Mele

  • Misinformation is not new, more pervasive in today’s political climate
  • Print journalism is way more expensive now
  • Collapse of reporters- in 21 states, local newspapers have no reporters on Capitol hill
    • In these states, residents don’t receive news on how policies will affect their community
    • This hollowing out of conventional news leads to people turning to other sources, spread of misinformation
  • Growing news deserts – if you live outside the 10 major cities, you probably have no local news
  • Overview of issue
    • Scale of Intent: Satire à false connection à misleading content à false context à imposer context à manipulated content à fabricated content
    • Motivations: to parody, for points, to punk, passion, for profit, political influence, propaganda
    • Disseminations methods: people unwittingly sharing false information, journalists sharing false information and content, individuals or loosely connected partisans/passion individuals/’trolls’, systematic networks of disinformation: ‘fabricated websites’, bot networks, troll factories
  • 64% of U.S. adults who say completely made-up news has caused a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current events
  • 25% of Americans have shared news that they thought was probably false.
  • What we know about fake news
    • Rumors are sticky – people remember them
    • Corrections backfire – people are more likely to remember the rumor
    • Corrections fade over time – people are more likely to remember the rumor
    • Source credibility is paramount – preexisting views of the news matter
  • To combat this
    • Rumors are sticky… … Make the truth “louder”
    • Corrections backfire… …Seek an alternative narrative
    • Source credibility… …Involve “tribal leaders”
      • Get leaders to speak out when they know something is false
  • Problems remain:
    • Opacity of platforms like Facebook and Twitter
    • Truth vs Trust – google functions on trust algorithm, so if you prefer fake news sources, that’s what you’ll get instead of the truth
    • De-professionalization – everyone is a content creator, where are the journalists?
    • Collapse of local news

Shaun Adamec, case for Funders

  • Fund journalism à invest in substantive media coverage, giving reporters space they need to report on the important issues
  • Create “cover” allowing the industry to take risk and innovate
  • Right now newsrooms have limited resources but still have columns and airwaves to fill each day so they are more likely to focus on process stories and not the root cause of the problems à cheaper to fund substance stories rather than process stories
  • Case for philanthropy
    • There is a market for truth, NY Times digital subscription way up than this time this quarter last year
    • Industry is innovating (eg podcasts, interactive media), but they need resources and support to keep going
  • Why philanthropists don’t fund journalism
    • Fear that philanthropy is seen as influencing contentà NOT TRUE. Editorial wall, funders, advertisers do not have control over editorial content
    • Belief that journalism is a dying industry (why would we fund it?) à they are innovating, but need support to keep going!
    • Can’t control the outcome àas public servants where are your priorities?
  • Can fund directly to outlets themselves, specific to an issue, can write out specifications but will not have editorial control
  • Important to be in it for the long haul, very difficult to start a specific news desk on only a 6 month grant for example
  • Two nonprofits working in this space include: Code for Democracy and Electronic Frontier Foundation  



Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism by Thomas E Patterson

Journalist’s Resource – curator of research on today’s news topics, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy


First Draft – Shorenstein Center project that fights mis- and disinformation through fieldwork, research, and education


Solutions Journalism Network – train and connect journalists to cover what’s missing in today’s news: how people are responding to problems


Media Impact Funders -  A knowledge network for media funders


Stanford Social Innovation Review - Journalism’s Savior? - Civil, a journalism platform built on blockchain technology and funded by cryptocurrency, aims to protect reporters while restoring public trust in the fourth estate.


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