Life updates about each and every new case of COVID-19, tons of words (at least not all on paper), gloomy forecasts, coverage of people fighting over a package of toilet paper in supermarkets… This is what media, and by the way, even respected publications, have been feeding their audiences in the past weeks. And we can already see the results – instead of being informed, people are drowning in useless and misleading information and panic.
Broken business model: Has media abandoned its initial role?
Online users are desperately clicking around to read some buried on the tenth google page facts… and thus generating more clicks, which algorithms push to the top of results and social media feed, and media will then sell this attention to advertisers. The very same advertizers will then buy more expensive display ads and banners, and media will gain profits, and continue pushing more of the same well-performing content to feed the same monster. And this is not what the media’s initial role is. It is to help people understand, build opinions, and be able to move through their life and make decisions based on relevant facts.
As much as the coronavirus situation concerns our health it’s also a symptom of a sick media landscape and a broken business model. What we are dealing with here is a modern digitally enhanced disease spread and as Atlantic’s authors Nat Gyenes and An Xiao Mina put it earlier during the Ebola outbreak, it is called Misinfodemics. “The conventional public health responses will not be enough to stem these modern digital plagues,” explained the authors.
We don’t want to participate as we still believe our readers deserve more
Since the first day and article, Trending Topics Bulgaria has strived to bring high quality and well-researched stories to its audience. Now guess when our numbers exploded… We published an article with 2% journalism value and embedded an interactive map of the spread of COVID-19 done by Johns Hopkins University. We did it because it was a great data visualization and an effort of the respected engineering faculty of the university. It fits into our concept. As much as we were happy about these numbers and that we might this way attract more readers to the other valuable stories on the website, we also felt disappointed and down. For we faced the power of clickbait. We have posted three other articles ever since, all with business, science and innovation angles willing to give readers access to more valuable information. We’ve been super conscious about what we publish and how exactly we put it in word. Well, as the numbers continue exploding, much beyond our traditional reach, and numbers of companies and organizations coming to us and asking us to post their irrelevant PR campaigns, we came to have second thoughts.
Less is more, consume only what really helps
For the time being, we will continue publishing coronavirus related stories only in case they are really relevant and bring added value, and we remain conscious about quality and quantity. Our business model and values have never been based on clicks and outrageous reach, but on quality, trust and usefulness. Therefore, we want to ask our readers to direct more traffic to relevant and trustworthy information sources (as listed in Harvard Health Publishing and extended with our suggestions) and look for coverage that:
- relies on experts who use well-accepted scientific analyses and publish their results in reputable medical journals
- have a mission to inform and protect the public, such as the CDC and the WHO, which recently added a myth busters page to its information on 2019-nCoV
- are not promoting or selling a product related to the information provided.
- Medline Plus, from the US National Library of Medicine
- the UK’s National Health Service
- the US Food and Drug Administration
- the Bulgarian Ministry Of Health
- the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
We hope this helps. We are happy to add more sources upon advice.
And in the meantime, as we really want to discontinue, at least for ourselves, the model of having to rely on clicks to be able to sustain and bring useful information, we encourage you to support independent journalism and new media models.