Nowadays, very few people will argue against the reality that mainstream news media organisations are suffering a double-edged crisis of relevance and public trust. Newspapers, conventional broadcast news, and, now, even the websites of news organisations are no longer the go-to media outlets of the average information consumer. And with the utter domination of users’ device screens by social media sites and apps like those of Facebook’s, Twitter’s, Instagram’s among many others, many of these mainstream organisations now find themselves twice-removed from their audience’s eyeballs.
Filipino news media organisation Rappler had recently found a “solution” around that problem. Its CEO Maria Ressa reckons that it’d simply “partner” with the biggest amongst them — the embattled Facebook — and lead the “noble” job of “fact checking” content delivered to Filipinos via this vast media platform.
Well that’s just lazy short-term thinking, isn’t it?
“Fact checking” is just a trendy hipster term for good old-fashioned editorial governance — something real news organisations that remain worthy of the eyeballs they still competitively attract practice internally as a matter of routine. Note the keyword highlighted here: competitively. By focusing their efforts in applying good editorial governance on internal resources and content delivery processes, truly excellent news media organisations have either sustained or regained the public trust by competing on quality.
Instead of taking personal accountability for the massive loss of the Filipino public’s trust in their ability to deliver reliable information and sound insight, Ressa and her Rapplerettes have, instead, pointed their “war on [whatever]” on “sinister” externalities. Like Facebook. In short, rather than uplift quality, Rappler chooses to remain mediocre and extend their perverse control freakery to what they perceive to be an external influence on their ability to be a successful and respected news media organisation.
What seems to fly above the pointed heads of Ressa and her Rapplerettes is the reality that the spectre of a third party exerting influence — no, control — over what content is shown in Facebook users’ newsfeeds will result in an inadvertent rebranding of Facebook itself into a mainstream media outlet saddled with a mediocre editorial governance bureaucracy.
In reality, excellent and truly independent news organisations that are learning to compete in the new media landscape should thank Rappler for contributing to the demise of Facebook. Rappler is failing to compete and its strategy is to drag down Facebook with it — at least in the Philippine setting.
As such, Rappler as an organisation and as a brand now embody the worst traits of Filipino enterprise. Instead of competing it seeks to limit competition using monopolistic methods that it pushes using the same brinkmanship and cornyism that they accuse their own enemies of employing to achieve their agendas. Instead of encouraging diversity and motivating participants in that diverse ecosystem to learn to skillfully and intelligently navigate that diversity, it seeks to impose conformity to an ideal it unilaterally regards as possessing sole moral ascendancy. And instead of focusing on what is supposed to be its core competency — reporting the news — it seeks to be not just part of the news but a star of that news.
What Rappler is doing is not uplifting the otherwise noble profession of journalism. It is, instead, further eroding its credibility and relevance. For that, the management of Facebook ought to do themselves a big favour and re-think the value of being in bed with a confused organisation like Rappler.