It is the great civic dilemma of our time.
The digital age has disrupted the media ecosystem and opened up our access to information, in equal measures. Solving for a robust information ecosystem void of disinformation, hate, and polarization is the problem of our lifetime. Even the other great challenges we face, which are exceptional, from climate change to pandemics to failing trust in democratic institutions will fall prey to distrust and chaos without a strong media ecosystem.
At a time when we are drowning or thriving in a deluge of information (depending on your perspective), when sources of information have proliferated at an extraordinary pace, and when trust in news is being lost, an index of the newsmakers and their owners and funders seems necessary – a rethinking of what is gained and lost in this remarkable moment in time, irrefutable.
Our information ecosystem in the U.S. is no longer limited to an intensely competitive traditional media landscape that has long claimed to self-regulate one another to prevent government intervention over the news landscape and ensure a free press. Now the ecosystem is being run between traditional media and the titans of tech, who have created the greatest ad machine ever built. Tech titans have focused on building tools and infrastructure for the proliferation of user-generated content rather than fund strong and robust newsrooms that tend the garden of our civic information ecosystem. The digital information stream today is not only home to our traditional newsrooms but rather, populated and driven by bloggers on Reddit and columnists on Substack or Medium, inputs into our global history moderated on Google's Wikipedia with over 5 billion views a month, along with Facebook groups, user-generated Tweets, TikTok videos, LinkedIn posts, and cable news punditry that is often unchecked for legitimacy. It is chaos or liberation, pending your perspective. Our nascent project will explore the revenue models, social trust networks, media ownership, and power in today's media to bring forth useful solutions to this enormous challenge. We are living in an age where the fourth estate, long a pillar in our democracy, struggles to find sustainable revenue models that enable it to tend to our civic garden of information and we are left to ask how do we rebuild trust in our information ecosystem?