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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

News-gen: why should we read real news?

20 May 2017
News looks pretty grim right now; Maddy White discusses.

Stupid question, but for many, the future of engaging and accurate news looks pretty grim and hidden in contradictions. It’s like Arab media Al-Jazeera being free and ground-breaking yet still publishing Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist tapes or, voting Brexit despite you being sad the European restaurant down the road run by a Spanish-Italian family are closing because of the political move.

Last year, a Reuters research project involving over 50,000 people revealed, more than half of those individuals receive some of their legitimate news via social media, with even eight per cent using Whatsapp. It’s almost a shame the messaging app keeps breaking, where will that eight per cent go for news? 75 per cent of 18-24 year olds in the UK use their smartphone to look at news and the old but gold TV lags behind at an embarrassing six per cent. Welcome to news-gen.

Social media is just that though, a social site never intended for real news. Sorry, a correction from founder of Facebook who said live at the end of last year, “no, we are a tech company, not a media company.” Oh, okay tech then. Why are so many young people going here for their serious news? Possibly, everyone has now watched BBC Panorama’s ‘What Facebook knows about you’, and if you haven’t please kindly do.

Here’s the gist; social media knows you well and can re-call everything, possibly more than your best pal or closest family member. You are friends with like-minded people on social sites who probably have the same interests as you, apart from maybe that guy’s cousin from your home-town who doesn’t, you just like seeing his dog. Social giant Facebook kindly curates your feed to those interests so you only ever see in 2D, one side of the story, the one you wanted to; certain political events of recent spring to mind.

The algorithm behind Facebook churns up the same newsy sometimes click-bait sometimes not, that you and your like-minded friends would read. It’s almost scary to think that there is a whole other side to something that may not have even crossed your mind. It’s kind of like deja vu of a bad situation or a messed up catch-22. The worst thing is though, this report also says 36 per cent of people are happy to have their news feed produced based on what they read previously and 22 per cent based on what their friends had read. Though this sounds pretty PG, it’s not, it is just showing you the perspective you want to see.

“There have been huge shifts in all age groups about how we consume news, from blogs to Facebook and other social media, it has become hugely accessible. It’s a sea of information though and how do you filter the noise?” Matilde Giglio, co-founder and CMO of app set to redefine consumption, Compass News told smiths.

“Different moods make you want to read different things, on Facebook it’s a media site and you want to be entertained by click-bait.”

Even more interestingly she spoke of her research of how people clicked on topics revolving around sex on Facebook in order to be entertained, this brought them to the hard news app, which they then quickly left as they were not in the mood to read news. But readers visiting the site who sought in-depth articles, in particular economically or politically-driven stayed much longer on to read.

And the idea of news mood rings true. Social media is there for amusement, like a bad arcade which takes all of your cash leaving you high and dry, the comforting screen of familiarity, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter steal your time and make you feel empty, just look at the Royal Society for Public Health’s survey, published last week which links social media to anxiety, depression and loneliness. Despite this we will still continue to use it.

But, that is another ‘social’ issue. It’s how we use these to consume news that has become the problem, particularly in young people. Journalism start-up, Compass News focuses around students, as they are the demographic who have dramatically found a new way to digest news and are also the future of it. Matilde says this is exciting as young people are not typically framed as news readers, they are not as likely to pick up a newspaper or switch on a TV (that’s if they even have one).

“It’s harder than you think, the fake, the filter bubble, the social media algorithms and the click-bait, where is the basic news of the moment?”

That was the first issue; here is the second. Money and advertising plays a massive role in news and it shouldn’t. Spoiler alert: these next facts are mad.

Matilde continued: “The top 75 per cent of publishers are making 4p per user, per month as advertising revenue mostly through social media, one of the top publishers is The New York Times who makes 13p per user per month through its adverts alone. This means it’s harder to create journalism, who wants to put their advert next to an in-depth Syria refugee crisis article?”

Not people who want to make quick cash through clicks.

A quarter of the planet have signed up to Facebook, that’s a lot of money through advertising revenue and even more people. That’s roughly the populations of Europe, North America, South America, Russia and the Middle East combined, who knows how many millions of football pitches filled with people that is.

But, she couldn’t be more right. Adverts are tailored to you anyway, you search Google for a good sponge-cake recipe, *five minutes later* a John Lewis cake slice and piping set comes up as an advert on your social media feed, that was no happy accident. But, next to that advert would you rather have a hard-hitting news article about famine protest in Africa or a light-hearted Buzzfeed listicle that counts down your favourite soap characters of the summer of 2006; isn’t that what you use social media for anyway?

“Well-informed Syrian refugee articles, don’t get as much traffic or make as much money as say ‘7 things you need to do before you die’ or likewise.”

So, where can we get unfiltered, un-bias news with a range of perspective, that is not solely centred around money?

Well it seems Compass News just might be that.

“Our idea, was to create a platform, that gives you multiple and the best perspectives on news, which can be built on by features and summaries of the current news. Balancing between the best of journalism but still tailoring it to what you’re interested in reading.”

Sounds good; create a platform set to redefine engagement and give all of the sides of news. Who needs 2D when you can go full 4DX, whatever that actually is.

“When I woke up on Brexit I was like hang on, then once again with Trump. Everyone was like it’s not going to happen. I wasn’t aware of this because everything that was being shown to me was what I wanted to see. We need people to be well-informed about the world, what is actually happening not just what they want to see.”

Matilde talks why the new generation desperately needs to get involved,“I was wrong about everything, you have an idea on how something should look and you are usually wrong. It’s better to gather information about the problems with it. What’s the problem with news? We took our previous project that went viral ‘What news means to me?’ to Cambridge and Oxford and students said it’s A,B…X,Y and Z. Result, there is no Spotify for news.”

Are you going to make money though?

“We asked ourselves, how can we fund the very best of news, avoiding the fake, algorithms and inaccuracy which continuously doesn’t show us the whole picture, or what we need to know?

“When we do trigger the revenue it will be split, it will be based on reading time, where people spend most of their time. Different moods make you want to read different things, on Facebook it’s a media site and you want to be entertained by click-bait but on Compass you want important, digestive pieces. I think this idea redefines engagement.”

The app has launched over all UK universities and will continue to expand this year. It will also be introduced in August to US universities like Yale, Princeton and Harvard, following this, young professionals and then the general public.

The future of news still looks largely bleak right now but with aspirational people like Matilde striving to make a difference it seems there will be an option for those who want decent journalistic material to read.

We also managed to get off the very busy founder her top 5 tips for journalism start-ups:

1) Good luck
2) It has never been a better time to begin a journalism start-up (despite what you might think) and it has never been more necessary
3) Don’t give up, there will be so many days when you wake up and you are like this isn’t going to work
4) Enjoy it
5) Don’t time waste, I spent six months reading research papers on the industry, I might as well have been on holiday. It’s much better to go out, test your target market and experiment

Even Matilde who did an MSc in Media and Communications at LSE and is speaking at a Google news impact summit next week (as you do) explains, “I thought I was fully aware especially being involved in the news industry. I started with an assumption but I was wrong. I’ve learnt so much from talking to students about what they want.”

For those like myself who think they are aware, download Compass News now and get to know what is actually happening in the world, not just what you want to be happening.