Thinking Unconstrained

Examining the world with a critical eye. Topics span a wide range including but not limited to, observations, insights, problems, solutions, proposals, and hypothetical scenarios.
The rate of information exchange in the globalized and interconnected world of today is mindbogglingly staggering. We have almost instantaneous communication with anyone on this planet, and have access to a colossal treasure trove of digitized records and contributions gathered from all corners of the globe. While spatial separation of individuals throughout much of history had ensured that the amount of information that a person had access to was limited by the physical means of transferring the data, we are now no longer bound by such restraints. Both spacial distance and time delay have been reduced to the speed of light in the world of the internet. This technology is an extension of an earlier breakthrough in radio communications, a fulfillment of 100 years of innovation, that has birthed a view of spatial (terrestrial) and temporal (past and present) irrelevance. All past and present data are now equivalent bit streams, potentially accessible to anyone.

Such a world is awash with various types of communication data, most of which is noise to any single individual. The amount of information generated per day is simply too large for whole consumption and hence filtering it in some way is a necessity. This is verily the case for what we call the "news". As in the information of importance happening currently or that has happened recently, and hence reporting on the things that are considered "new" to the public. The globalized news system is one such filter, condensing the facts of the happenings and presenting them in narratives that conform most amiably to their viewership. It is not an impartial presentation of facts as is expected of scientific matters, but rather often acts more as a mechanism for thought forming, social molding, and attention magnets for revenue. Whether this is done consciously or not by all news outlets is debatable and ultimately it matters little in the current discourse. All such entities do this to attract viewers and to keep financially afloat.

But where are these news outlets getting their sources from? Are they fact checked, and if so, by whom? Do they borrow and parrot each other? Is there a centralized committee that state certain stories are of more importance than others? Would it be possible for the "news consumer" to examine the source directly rather than receiving them through these colored lenses? Well, what if there was such a place where anyone can go to view and verify those sources? What would that look like and how would it interface with the regular news outlets? And what use would that be in the current world? Would it be at all possible to herd the firebrand journalist cats to use a single system?
The news is not a centralized entity but there are several nexus points of interest. Much of the actual news gathering activity is performed by a handful of international "news agencies" or "news services" that sell their stories to various media outlets. The larger organizations are old entities that have provided these services for decades, some even for a couple of centuries. There are also other smaller news agencies operating at a relatively local level. News agencies for the most part try to provide an impartial and facts-only reporting, without political slants or other one-sided opinions. Once these stories are purchased, the media entities then choose which stories to promote and ignore (or downplay or outright attack) those that go against their policies. If the organization heads and senior editors of media outlets think in similar ways, then it can appear as if they all run with the same news. But those directions could be for many reasons, and without any insider knowledge, one can only guess at what those could possibly be. We can be sure however that there is a significant component that strives for maximum monetization in all of these organizations and their business decisions.

For example, some of these larger media groups may hold several different flavors of news catering to major demographics, usually mirroring what is currently referred to as "identity politics". One mega-media group may hold multiple subsidiaries focusing on different narratives to capture the attention of their target audiences. Those audiences are then provided feeds of their liking and their focus is held by the media outlet using all manner of psychological tools developed during the 20th century. Over time, it becomes an emotional addiction (with a chemical component if one was to take into account the associated hormones released in the body due to those emotional cues, and accompanying sugar-laden snack foods consumed during the tele-programming), and the consumer is trained to repeat the narratives of the news anchor, as if they were their own. They are placated or enraged at the whims of the media outlet, and their critical thinking skills are bypassed in favor of group think and the setup foments righteous superiority over supposed opposing enemies. All the while, other subsidiaries of opposing factions, all part of the same parent group do the exact same with their audience. It's as if playing an orchestra - a symphony full of fever-pitch crescendos and lullaby decrescendos. As long as the viewer keeps on clicking and keeps on watching Kermit and Piggy, it matters little where the revenue comes from.

Then there are the news aggregators, interpreters, and other independent journalists who gather much of their information from both the news agencies and the media outlets. They also bring in stories from other sources such as social media, interviews and other exclusive material. Such operations are often labelled "independent", "alternative" or "fringe" by the large media outlets (commonly referred to as the "main stream"), and they're considered to be competitors against one another, albeit an unfair one, much like the story of David versus Goliath. The division is not as clear cut however, as many of the "alternative" operations also employ the same tactics as the "main stream", but are limited in what they can achieve due to smaller budgets. They're also part of the controlled audience of the large media to some extent, whether they'd like to admit it or not. So the water is muddied and the narratives can often contradict one another, resulting in overall confusion and mistrust of those alternate sources by the public.

If there was going to be a single system to catalog news stories and allow the end consumer to be able to check the sources, it would likely have to hook into the existing "news agency" system. Perhaps the stories from these agencies would all have a "high confidence" rating (as long as the news remains unbiased and are of high quality) and it would be in the best interest of the journalists to reference them. This would work in much the same way how it is done in academic papers, where referencing reputable journals and sources would rank the paper higher, as opposed to using a weak source such as a random wiki page or a 280 character avian dropping. But the significance and the value of that dropping would still need to be taken into consideration in such a system.
The quality of many articles that pass for news today would be characterized as tabloid by the 20th century news standard. They're chock full of opinions and polarizing language designed to incite strong emotional responses. Not all of them are this way of course, but there has certainly been an erosion of standard and a preference for sensationalism in those that once were considered prestigious publishers. A typical structure of such a news article can be summed up as consisting of four parts. First and foremost, an article or a "news story" needs to have a catchy click-bait title to pique the interest of the browsing fish. It needs to entice and titillate the senses, typically with a picture, wriggling that emotional worm on the hyperlink hook. Once the fish bites, the second part comes into play; The "abstract" or the opening paragraph that is meant to provide a summary of the story. At this point, the reader may realize that she has been duped as the paragraph does not adequately reflect the sensational title and accompanying image. Then again, she may have the patience to read on past that "summary" and have a go at trying to trudge on and see if there's an actual story here. This is the third part; the body of the article. It may be composed of several meanderings, a few ramblings, and irrelevant fillers but the hope is that the journalist would eventually get to the point as you start to scroll and skim faster and faster down this long-winded abyss. As if at the end of Dante's journey into the inferno, she finally beholds the last paragraph of this hellish descent. The fourth part of the article, the conclusion and closing remark. Perhaps there was a point to the article and perhaps this final paragraph will give you the answers you seek! You'd be wrong though. It either ends abruptly or it gives you yet another irrelevant information that has little to do with the title.

But at least you saw a few targeted advertisements for the things you were recently talking about in your kitchen. And maybe you feel good about supporting a news outlet that aligns well with your moral compass. It doesn't matter if it's not proper news, because now you can say that you're "informed" among your peers because you made an effort to at least understand the article. You're at least a reader, somebody who engages that part of the brain requiring higher functions, even though comprehension was not achieved in this time-waster. But perhaps you're just too dense to understand it. Maybe other people are smarter than you and you just don't appreciate the person's writing. No, there's a limit to this. A "news" article is not supposed to be an incomprehensible nonsense written as if by a baboon with a ballpoint pen lodged between its cherry red cheeks. It is meant to inform, give you the pertinent information, and to impart to you the answers to the seven question words - who, what, which, when, where, why, and how. If it can give you these without losing the interest of the reader, then the article is well written, and it is not your fault for not being able to understand the "style" of the writer.

Thankfully though, there are plenty of other media outlets that can interpret, decode, or find the actually relevant coherent material and provide the necessary answers. The reliability of those media groups however ultimately comes down to trust and perhaps that trust can only be applied for certain subjects, or the stories must always be taken with a grain of salt. It would be nice if there was a condensed form of news repository where those seven questions are concisely summarized so that they can be sifted through quickly. That would save time and allow the reader to be able to deep-dive only when necessary, rather than having to invest in so much wasteful hunting across news sites.
Such a system partially exists in the form of social media, news apps on phones/tablets, RSS, etc. You can subscribe to various news outlets and then get notified whenever there's something of interest that the "algorithm" deems you may like. However this setup is inherently limited in several ways. For instance, there's a bias in the type of news you receive, which many see as a useful filtering feature. It must be recognized though that preventing information overload from bombardment of irrelevant news is one thing, but not being informed of certain topics and staying ignorant due to algorithmic bias is quite another. The former is a genuine problem, the solution is partial and problematic on several levels.

For example, those algorithms are biased to have certain goals and the target objectives may not be in your best interest. They may have been constructed using "big data" mined from a large number of users, but if you're a statistical anomaly or an outlier, then the algorithm is next to useless in predicting what you may like or want. If the algorithm is catered to your browsing activity or to your private conversations overheard by various ioT 007 agents sitting idly around your house, then one might expect that the chance of success in suggesting the "right" material would be higher. But then again, if your private conversations with your family and friends do not align with your interests, or if your browsing activities do not match the expectations of the algorithm, you might again end up with garbage results. Therefore the algorithms are limited and useful only to those who are predictable, and those that fit and match the expectations of the algorithm's parameters.

But even if the algorithm was successful in meeting its objectives, the article/video/media is again biased in forwarding its own preferred forms rather than something that you actually prefer based on your own past browsing history or your private conversations. Also as already noted, those media feeds are themselves biased, which means that the actual news items you receive are not catered to you at all, but rather framed and packaged to their liking and leanings. And if this system is designed to maximize profit by preferring news stories that are likely to get the largest number of clicks and views, it is the subscriber that ends up feeding the service rather than the service feeding the subscriber. Therefore one can make an argument that it is not in the best interest of someone wanting to stay informed to subscribe to such services. So what is the alternative?

One avenue is to further develop RSS type of information collection and news aggregation. The concept can be extended to include information that would help in better categorizing and increasing the confidence level of news items. The system would give an aggregator client the necessary tools to provide the highest quality news stories in an easily navigable way without incurring information overload or burnout. The clients can expand and incorporate various algorithms to better cater to specific audiences. They may be add-ons or other pluggable AI personalities. They may even employ local learning and communicate with trusted contacts, or if privacy is an issue, then such a feature would be turned off or would be limited by the users. These things have already been implemented in similar ways, so they are technically possible to do. But it would be a significant paradigm shift, requiring a strong market demand and a large backing from the public for high quality news. Its success then would be contingent upon the journalists to raise the standard, to raise the bar, and to set the correct expectations. The people must taste the difference between junk-news and healthy-news to be able to distinguish the two. In other words, tabloids should return to being tabloids, and quality news should be recognizable and augmented for the current era.