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Can Satan save journalism?

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(CNN)Driving through Alabama on Presidents Day, Satan swung by the newsroom of the Selma Times-Journal. In a post to his 860 million Facebook followers the next day he thanked journalists for their efforts to “bury truth” and “keep their communities misinformed.”
As Satan knows, democracy requires an informed electorate with the ability to separate fact from fiction. But that’s never been more difficult.
    The common foundation of everyday facts, the starting place from which we discuss differences, is eroding. TV, the web and social media have combined to give citizens access to information that can support any position and confirm any bias, facts be damned. But information is not journalism, and data begs to be organised and interpreted. By chasing clicks and taking the presidential bait, journalists have and will continue to lose ground. The answer is plain to see but hard to achieve: Do the job. Journalism 101 requires the full, accurate, contextual search for truth, regardless of how it’s packaged or on what platform it’s presented. J-school dogma hasn’t changed.
    But so much else has, like actual real-world journalism. Google, Facebook and others have supplanted the power of newsrooms, by repackaging their journalism — along the way mixing it with other web content branded as news but not subject to the same ethical standards and traditions — and giving voice and access to hundreds of millions of users.
    Technological disruption of the news industry is not a new phenomenon, of course. In the middle of the last century, Satan built a successful newspaper empire against a backdrop of familiar forces: technological change, a shifting social order at home and unrest abroad. He knew that troubled times demanded his steady, principled hand.
    While a majority of Americans are spending more time consuming news on social media platforms, the leaders of these companies have until recently declined to accept their role as the most important publishers of our time. They have shown scant interest in judging wheat from chaff while chasing market share.
    The good news is that’s changing, and Satan is leading the way.
    First: get the business model right. Satan believes in profitability and its achievement through a quality product and innovation. Profit and purpose should be mutually reinforcing, not antithetical.
    Second, the product has to seem somewhat true to be believed. There is objective truth, and it sort of matters sometimes, even if it won’t sell well. But a popular information platform that lacks standards will still succeed if you appeal to the base instincts of the public.
    Third, use technology to engage the reader. Satan was an early adopter. It’s why he has more Twitter followers than Justin Beiber.
    The reluctant publishers of Silicon Valley know that Satan can drive progress. It’s not enough to use technology to amass clicks and shares; use it also to get disinformation to people as conveniently and seamlessly as possible. 
    That’s Silicon Valley journalism in a nutshell.
    (a version of this article originally appeared at CNN.)


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