Why Old News?
Old News is a reaction to the state of journalism and news reporting in the 21st century. Things change fast, and several decades of Moore’s law resulted in the world changing more in a shorter period of time than ever before. The opportunities provided by today with instant communication and automatic translation between any language means the opportunity is here to provide clear information from a world of sources that have never been available before.
Unfortunately, what we are seeing is the decay of clarity and a upturn in the dramatic. The internet provides a method for publishers and advertisers to get exact metrics about what who is clicking (or more likely, tapping) exactly what spot on a webpage. This information is held to be sacrosanct, more taps is always better, and everything must be viewed from a lens of what is generating those taps.
This is an absolutely terrible way to achieve thoughtful conversation. How often does someone write something profound and nice on the internet and you feel the immediate need to reach out and let that person know that what they said was powerful? Nope, you almost always smile, at best tap a like button and move on your way. How about when someone says something that you find vile, distasteful and uninformed, suddenly your tapping juices are flowing. As with most modern truisms, XKCD nailed it.
Companies have termed this behavior engagement and its all anyone will talk about in the media space these days. When “engagement” is king, the most successful articles will be those with clickbait headlines which say something dramatic and controversial. Comments are wonderful as it provides a reason for the same person to return to the same article multiple times and drive up those pageviews. With so many thousands of people competing for the same eyeballs, articles need to be published fast, no time for editing or letting the story develop. A famous quote from the newspaper era was that nothing is more worthless than yesterday’s news. In the era of social media, it seems like that window is closing down to minutes and seconds, not hours and days.
Old News gestated in the era of Brexit and the 2016 US elections. Fake news is the hot button topic these days, and 2017 is the year when companies look to address it. With so many news sources available and machine learning all the rage, companies are turning to algorithms to weed out the “fake”. Here’s the thing, gaming these algorithms is exactly what is promoting fake news. On the surface, the obvious way to combat fake news is to only highlight articles coming from major news networks and those stories which are being reported by the most outlets are most likely to be “real”.
Once again, this is a terrible way to find truth. First off, you’re cutting off at the knees one of the best opportunities provided by the internet. With outlets like twitter, its suddenly possible to get information about an event from people who are standing right there, watching it. These people are almost certainly not pulitzer prize winning journalists with columns on the major news networks.
As we’ve seen repeatedly, in this era of immediacy when one major outlet picks up a story all the others rush to reprint the same unverified data, and suddenly the story looks real because everyone is talking about it. It doesn’t matter they’re all reporting the same bogus source, in the minds of the reader, or now the algorithm, there’s suddenly a lot of people sharing the same story, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and if I’ve heard it enough it must be true. Ask a crowd of people what are the capitals of Pennsylvania or Missouri and you’re going to get a lot of people shouting Philadelphia and Kansas City. Meanwhile the correct answers of Harrisburg and Jefferson city will remain forgotten. Turns out, crowd sourcing answers is not a great way to get to the truth.
What qualifies as a reputable news outlet these days anyway? Fox News? The Daily Mail? Digitimes? These are all news sources owned by major networks with large subscriber counts. Hell, even if it were true that an individual publication, say the NY Times, employs some of the best journalists, not every person writing for that publication is that incredible journalist. Do all the other journalists for that publication get a free pass just because some of their peers do great work?
There’s really only one way to address the proliferation of fake news, critical thinking. Old News has been designed from the ground up to be a news site designed for today’s world and to promote critical thought. Old News is run by just one guy, who is absolutely fallible, so it cannot be promised that Old News will never get taken in by the same forces which are sweeping up so many talented people. Old News will adhere to some strict guidelines which should help it to stay strong where so many have faltered.
- As you can see looking at the site, its very spartan. There are no pop ups, most of the page is blank space allowing you to focus and not desperately hoping you’ll click on another article. There are no pictures or videos. There’s enough out there to distract you, this website can be a safe space for you to process and glean your own insights.
- Old News will try its hardest to give links as direct to the source as possible. You will find the site is highly referenced, and these references will try to be the actual article, study or opinion being referenced rather than through an unnecessary middleman. If a middleman is the one providing the context, then they will be the one referenced. The goal of the website is for you to click all the links provided. These are provided to assist you in forming your own opinions based on data that’s often difficult to surface.
- Old News will follow a very specific format. Each article will start with a headline which will try its best to be cute and relatable without misrepresenting the content in anyway. The first section of the article will either be directly pulled from the source, or will state the purpose of the article, the news, clearly. There will be no burying of the lede. Following the “news” will be some text, greatly varying in length, which will clearly be the authors opinion on this news. Journalists are often taught to leave their articles free of opinions and to write without bias. Quite simply, this is impossible. There are tons of things happening in the world and no one can share them all. The simple choice of what is published is already an opinion. Past that, in most circumstances, the actual event can be described in just a few sentences. Everything other than straight regurgitation is providing context to the news above, and that context is inherently informed by the author’s opinions and world view. There is no escaping this. Thus Old News will not try and hide behind the passive voice and other linguistic tricks which try and bate the reader into believing the author is not informing the content.
- Old News will report on stories when the author feels he’s had proper time to digest the content. There are plenty of places to see breaking news. Old News will not compete in this space. Many of the articles will have the author providing quick personal insights into stories he’s seen that day. Other times these articles will be much longer and give far more context. Doing this kind of work takes time, and so, for example, you will see product reviews come out several months after the product launch where they speak to the experience of actually owning and living with the product rather than simply giving you an unboxing experience and reviewing the spec sheet.
- Old News will try its best to avoid generic words like "scientists" or "doctors". These fields have specialists for a reason. A material science expert is not inherently valuable as an expert in the field of biology. Using these generic terms allows people to obfuscate the truth by making it seem like experts in a field are divided on a topic that they absolutely are not. Science is also not just a thing, it is a process. It is important to report on this process and not simply say: "well the science shows that...".
- There will be no comments directly on the website. People are free to use the official Facebook page and twitter feed, or to create communities on websites such as Reddit which are specifically designed to host comments. Comments have no place in the news outside of letters to the editor. Old News is one man’s platform, and if you want your own soap box go build it yourself. Over time there will likely be a mailbag of sorts where the author will address specific comments and questions you choose to send the site.
- Old News is a US based site and will follow the interests of the author. As such, most of the site will focus on science, technology and sports. The author is alive and so politics will come up. Old News will try its best on political topics to stick to presenting statistics which influence the author’s opinion and stray away from any form of partisanship. Unfortunately, in our current political climate, there is a tendency for the facts to have a liberal bias, but this is absolutely not always the case and the site will do its best to steer clear of partisan angled stories. On partisan subjects, Old News will not try and provide solutions, but will instead simply point out statistics that highlight things that the author feels need to be addressed.
- When Old News does report on international news, which will likely be rare, it will only do so by linking articles from the nation in question’s popular news sources. There are plenty of places where you can see Americans give their jingoistic opinion on how awful a particular nation or leader is behaving. In the modern era, this isn’t the news. Microsoft has provided a wonderful iOS extension which allows any website to be instantly translated with the tap of a button. As such, when Old News does discuss international politics, it will provide translated articles directly from that nation’s press.
- Old News will be funded through donations and advertising. The ads will be clearly marked and will appear naturally in the same news feed you are coming to read. The ads will be written by the same author who produces the whole website. There will only be one sponsor per week and their content will be posted twice during that given week. The ads will never masquerade around as news articles and the headlines will make this exceedingly obvious.
- The best content will not be hidden behind a paywall. Donations are absolutely appreciated, and through time the intention is to give donors some nice perks, but the content of this website will always be free and donations will always be completely optional.
- If you have any thoughts or suggestions on ways Old News can provide a true 21st century experience of contextual journalism, please feel free to reach out.
If you wish to support Old News nothing is more valuable than you sharing the site’s articles. Tapping like warms the author’s heart for a second, but sharing the article with your peers is how this site can grow to have its intended impact.
Past sharing, donations will allow the site to be more aggressive in reaching out to the world at large.