This week’s guest is Alastair Brian, Fact Checking Lead at The Ferret. He spoke about out the realities of modern fact-checking (it’s like Sisyphus on steroids), how to win over new readers who don’t have a pre-existing trusted relationship, and how community is at the heart of any sustainable revenue stream. You can find  The Ferret and its podcast by following these links.

In the news roundup the team discusses the battle for Spotify’s soul, Google’s latest plan to replace the third-party cookie, a Tortoise, and local newspaper group Archant being back up for sale after only 18 months. As of the time this episode goes live, we have lost our bet about Taylor Swift.

The transcript will be live here later this week, but for now, here are some highlights:

On the collaborative nature of fact-check based journalism

We rely very, very heavily on experts, be that in health, misinformation, any situation where we don’t know, I’m not a health expert at all. So I rely very heavily on experts to give you the context on an issue. Sometimes you need to rely on people to give you the background to even get into the thing itself. We are a member of the International Fact Checking Network, which is a body that uphold standards of accreditation for fact checkers… that means standards of actual work, their methodologies, standards of transparency, of funding, of sources.

That’s a very, very active community. There’s an annual conference and a lot of you work together across different projects. We help each other out when you’re working on fact checks which cross countries. Misinformation goes around the world and is not stopped by borders.

On community’s role in the news business

A significant portion of the things we fact check come from suggestions from members, and from general readers. We try to respond to people in it. So it’s not abuse, which obviously, every organisation gets a bit of. But if someone’s got a question about factcheck, they’ll either email me or they’ll tweet us.

And so anyone can see we do corrections as well; obviously, we make errors and correct, that’s another part of our accreditation with the International Fact Checking Network, because part of the accreditation [process] is you’ve got to show that you have made corrections. At some point, it’s less of an adversarial way of doing things. And I’ve worked in the mainstream media before and organisations like that, and while the work that was done by the journalists in these places was brilliant there was much less of a feeling of  it being a connected thing to its audience. There’s far more separation.

The evolving nature of misinformation

There’s a sort of weird stratification of who uses media platforms. For example, Facebook is now is used by older people – not all, not exclusively, but primarily. Their primary social media platform is Facebook. Then Instagram is used by a slightly younger cohort, but then there’s things like Snapchat and TikTok, so people are getting their misinformation from different places. So it becomes even more difficult to keep up, keep up, you have to have a handle on it. For example, if you’re a young person who’s got an elderly relative you’re getting your information and your misinformation from different places.

And each one of these platforms has a different level of verification and effort they put into verifying things and working with fact checkers. Each platform has a different way of information spreading. So WhatsApp, for example, the information spreads group by group in a very insular way.

Key story: The platisher strikes back

Neil Young has pulled his music from Spotify, in protest of its direct funding of misinformation via podcast star Joe Rogan. Substack too has faced criticism this week for allowing mis- and disinformation to flourish in its ecosystem, so to what extent are they culpable for the actions of its commissioned artists?

  • Neil Young has pulled his back catalogue of music from Spotify. The man has a heart of gold – especially when you hear the reasons for doing so:
  • He objects to Spotify monetising the conspiracies and misinfo from some of its exclusive podcasts, Joe Rogan in particular. Young called in “life-threatening Covid misinformation” being pushed by Rogan.
  • It’s reopened the discussion around to what extent Spotify (and other platforms) are acting as publishers when they choose to directly fund creators, and exclusively distribute the results
  • Warner Brothers (his record label) supported his decision, despite 60% of his streamed music coming from Spotify listeners
  • Joni Mitchell has joined him. And there’s been a letter of complaint from 270 medical professionals.
  • Spotify claim to have removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid
  • Young: “Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information. I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the frontline healthcare workers who risk their lives every day to help others.”

News in brief:

  • Google has come up with another plan for replacing third-party cookies, which are due to be phased out by the end of next year. Its initial suggestion, FLoC was criticised by privacy advocates and the industry alike, so instead it’s using Topics where advertisers will be able to place ads via a limited number of topics determined by users’ browser activity. For now, it’s selected 350 topics, but may add more. From a first look, this is incredibly limited compared to third-party cookies (which is no bad thing for consumers). 
  • Tortoise has raised £10m from investors, with plans to ultimately pivot into podcasting. It’s the latest move from the slow news start-up to create more touchpoints with its members, in order to boost revenue and – crucially – retain supporters. However, in its latest published accounts, for the year to December 2020, Tortoise recorded a total loss to date of £8.5m compared to a loss to date of £5.4m in 2019. A pandemic hit, presumably.
  • Newspaper group Archant is up for sale 18 months after private equity buyout. The publisher of dozens of titles is up for sale only 18 months after being sold to private equity group RCapital. Interest has been expressed by several groups including National World – the owner of more than 100 local and regional titles including the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post. Newsquest, the UK’s second biggest regional player with 200 titles, has also expressed interest. And of course Reach, which would probably start the ‘media plurality’ conversation again.

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