In the wake of November’s election, the pundit world scrambled to explain Donald Trump’s surprising win: Could we attribute it to changing demographics, the unreliability of polls, or overlooked strengths and weaknesses of candidates?
One theory: the proliferation of fake news.
Buzzfeed reported that fake news across the political spectrum received more engagement on Facebook than real news for the last three months of the election, which led to calls for Facebook to address the problem. Breitbart and other conservative sites reacted with criticism of this effort, noting that two-thirds of the sites cited were conservative, and argued that this amounted to asking Facebook to censor the news by defining conservative views as fake.
You may be wondering why this is relevant to a content marketing company like NewsCred. But this issue is exactly what we were founded on.
NewsCred’s name comes from our first iteration as a company, when we were dedicated to giving readers the ability to rate, tag, comment, and vote on the quality and credibility of news.
In one of our first blog posts, back in October 2007, we wrote: “Our vision is simple. We want to live in a world where people trust the media…This is apparently not the case today.”
We have a lot of sympathy for Mark Zuckerberg. We’ve been there. Combatting fake news is no easy task. We applaud both his seriousness in dealing with the issue, and his commitment to openness.
According to Asif Rahman, co-founder of NewsCred: “The very first iteration of NewsCred was a consumer-facing product. We had functionality that allowed people to vote on the credibility of articles, sources, and publications. It was going to be a place where you could find the world’s news but also credibility scores. We would be a watchdog for the media industry. Now looking at the fake news industry, which is apparently an industry based on creating click-baity articles that are monetized through advertising – that’s pretty dangerous. And we just saw this happen. It’s in everyone’s best interest to make this go away.
“We just couldn’t figure out how to build a great business on top of it. But you could start something right now like this, and it would have a lot of engagement. Facebook as a social news source just didn’t exist. In part, we were eight years too early, though we also think now that a not-for-profit is actually the best way to do this, working from charity grants.”
While NewsCred has pivoted to helping marketers tell exceptional stories that drive business success, defending journalism remains our social mission. We believe, in the words of Joseph Pulitzer, that “our republic and its press will rise and fall together.” Journalism is the most important check on abuses of power, large and small. The public can’t fight what it doesn’t know about.
NewsCred has continued our defense of quality journalism by supporting the creation of great news in three ways.
The first is through our charity support of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) via Raised By Us, an excellent non-profit that allows employees to easily contribute to causes. CPJ is one of four charities in our special NewsCred fund, to which the majority of our U.S. employees contribute. Says our Co-founder and CEO Shafqat Islam: “We’ve been fans of theirs for years. We are fortunate to live in a country with a democracy and a tradition of a free press, but a lot of countries don’t have that and we can never take it for granted.”
CPJ is an incredible organization that defends the rights of journalists internationally to report the news without fear of reprisal. They contribute both through research into the number of journalists threatened doing their jobs (30 killed per year, 199 currently jailed) and through activism. This includes meeting with heads of state, advising on diplomatic efforts, and working within international bodies to influence policy. The CPJ is currently advocating with Mike Pence on free press policies for the Trump administration.
If journalism matters to you, we wholeheartedly recommend contributing to CPJ.
The second is our direct financial contribution to journalists. The biggest threat to great journalism today is the death of its old financial model. Newspapers have done a notoriously bad job of adapting to the online world, where so much content is free. Advertising revenue for newspapers has declined from a height of more than $60 billion dollars in 2000 down to $20 billion in 2010. This has resulted in more than 100 U.S. daily newspapers shutting down since 2004.
Traditional news companies have tried several models to combat this fall, including online paywalls and traditional advertising. BuzzFeed has successfully used a variation of content marketing, called native advertising, to fund its news.
NewsCred supports journalism through direct contributions to freelancers. One of our services is content creation to support our customers’ content marketing strategies, and we have thousands of freelance journalists in our network to do this work. We pay higher rates than most publishers, allowing our freelancers to work part-time for us and part-time on their journalism careers. We also support publishers through licensing content, and we are proud to have contributed over $10 million to freelancers and publishers in the last four years, a number that will increase as our business continues to grow.
Finally, and this one is the most subtle, we support journalism by holding our marketing to the same standard of truth.
To do this, we hire many former journalists to our staff, especially on our Editorial team. We believe that dishonest marketing is ineffective marketing and defeats itself by making the consumer cynical. When we make marketing claims, we back them up with sourced quotes and research. And we believe in labeling content marketing clearly, in order to be transparent about the motives behind its creation.
We picture a future full of credible content, whether it has the purpose of informing the public through news, or of building a brand. A future in which people can trust what they read. And at NewsCred, we believe that if this matters to us, it’s on us to make it happen.
Randal Vegter is NewsCred’s Director of People Operations.