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How Will We Consume News 10 Years From Now?; One-On-One With Tech And Media Mogul Marc Benioff; Should Local Newspapers Turn Into Nonprofits?; A Decade Of Truth Decay; Living In The Age Of Information Wars. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired December 29, 2019 - 11:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. I'm Brian Stelter and this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, looking back at the last decade of news about the news and looking ahead to 2020 and beyond. How will we all be consuming the news, shows, and stories in 2030?

Well, here with the forecast of the decade to come is futurist Amy Webb. Plus, the outspoken billionaire Marc Benioff will be here. He has a prediction for tech as well and I asked him why he decided to buy "Time Magazine".

I'll also sit down with "USA Today" editor Nicole Carroll to talk about what we need to preserve, what we need to protect while so much of media is changing.

Let's take a big picture view as we begin this hour. This was the decade of screens and screams and also strains on the shared notion of truth. To see what has changed, just look at some of the words that have been added to the Merriam Webster Dictionary in the past ten years.

There is bingeable. That's a new one. Screen time. Cyber safety. Also airplane mode. Plus, clickbait, emoji, meme. That's a new one in the past ten years. But also deep state, and truther, and alt- right, and idiocracy.

You can just think back to 2010 before any of those words really enter our lexicon. It was the year the iPad launched. It was also the year Instagram started. In 2011, just 35 percent of adults owned a smartphone. Now, that number is up to 81 percent and still rising.

You wake up and if you're anything like me, you start scrolling. That's all we do. We all start scrolling all day long. Our phone addictions have taken hold.

And these addictions start at a young age. New platforms keep popping up, changing the way we communicate and changing our sense of community from Kickstarter in 2010, Twitch in 2011, Apple News in 2015, Tiktok in 2016.

This decade was shaped and reshaped by big tech -- Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook. Actually, they're not big tech. They are mammoth, gargantuan technology companies. They sit between news outlets and you the reader, you the viewer. And this has caused or at least hastened tremendous disruption to the media business.

As digital took hold, some magazines went out of print, more and more local newspapers had to close up shop. Thousands of beat reporters have lost their jobs. But at the same time, many new brands have been born from "BuzzFeed" news in 2011, to "Vox" in 2014, and "Axios" in 2017. There's been destruction, there's also been rebirth and many of these companies, these new startups, they've tried to make content to catch your attention in the stream, because what really -- this decade has really been about is the social media revolution.

Facebook had just a measly 400 million users in 2010. Now, it's approaching 2.5 billion. Look at this. This is 1.2 billion daily active users on Facebook, every single day logging in to Facebook.

And just in the U.S., 69 percent of American adults say they use Facebook. That's 22 percent for Twitter. So, Facebook much bigger than Twitter.

We are in a world where algorithms, basically robots, are picking and choosing the news that served up to us. Our feeds are filling up with hyper-partisans, sometimes downright hateful content, all designed to press our buttons and keep our attention. But it wasn't always like this. It doesn't always have to be like this.

Digital eco-chambers don't have physical locks on the doors, but this is really the dissidence at the heart of the digital social media age. These tools can empower us, connect us like never before in human history. News can spread at the speed of light, but so can nonsense and lies. You know, the same software that can make us feel safer and smarter can also make us feel angry, and alienated and bamboozled.

And I think we're all just beginning to learn how to live digital lives, how to use technology instead of being used by it. How to stay informed instead of being misinformed. That is the biggest media story of the past decade.

So, now, let's hear from our first two experts on this special hour- long look back because we're also going to look forward. Nicole Carroll is the editor and chief of "USA Today." one of America's biggest newspapers. And David Zurawik is the media critic extraordinaire for "The Baltimore Sun."

Nicole, ten years ago, you worked at "The Arizona Republic".



STELTER: Now, you're at "USA Today".

What's been most unexpected about this decade?

CARROLL: You're absolutely right that it's social media. And it's the impact it's had on every aspect of our business. In a good sense, you're right. People can get information. I'm all

about spreading truth. I love we can get it to them quicker.

But there's been two pretty catastrophic impacts as well. The first is that the brands are disembodied from the news on social media. So, people are reading something and they don't know who is the source of this information.

They don't know is this truth? Is this an opinion? Is this a fact? Is this misinformation? That's a huge problem and it has eroded trust in the media.

The second issue is speed. Speed is great. We want to get the news out, except when it's wrong.

And so, in this rush to speed people will put misinformation out and you can't pull it back. It's already out there. And that causes considerable problems.

STELTER: Right, and information is increasingly being weaponized and being used as misinformation. These are terms we didn't use a decade ago, David. What do you think has changed the most?

DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Well, changed the most, I think one of them is the rise of ring wing media, organized right wing media. We had right wing media back with Joe McCarthy in the late '40s, early '50s. Hearst, for example, was an excellent practitioner of it.

But this decade, Brian, we saw it rise up sort of -- not sort of, in a very organized way and align itself with an etiology and candidate and weaponize information in that way. Look, I think all of this about the revolutionary impact of social media and technology is true.

But here's the battle for us in the media. Do we embrace it, which we have to, which we love, but do we hold on to legacy standards?

STELTER: We have to.

ZURAWIK: Well, not a lot of people are doing that.

You cited some of the new outlets. Not all of them hold on to them. That's one of the things that cheers me so much about this decade.

Major, the giant sort of brands in news, "Washington Post", "New York Times," CNN have found financial models in this decade that will keep them going. Those are the people who will keep legacy values alive, but when you let social media drive your coverage totally. If you're in a newsroom --

STELTER: When you're covering what's trending all the time, right.

ZURAWIK: They come out, you're trending. You go, well, I don't know, I'm working on a big piece. No, no, we've got to chase this because it's trending.

That's the danger we have. That will steal our soul. That will lose our identity. We will be little rats chasing trending things.

And what's your brand? What's different from your brand with one down the street? That's the thing. It's a struggle for our values, our soul, our identity and what we're going to be. I think it really is. Do legacy values get shredded by this or do we find a way to blend them in to the new media landscape.

STELTER: Well, Nicole, as the editor has said, how do you avoid that from happening? I mean, there's less reporting, more aggregating, a lot of blurring the lines between opinion and news. All of these issues kind of eating away.

CARROLL: You have to hold -- you have to hold the line. That's every single day we are holding the line and we're trying to show that to the reader, because people don't trust media these days in many ways. We say, here's the source, here's the document, here's the video, see for yourself to regain that trust.

And I want to mention, you talked about the social media impact on trending news. Also, it's on polarizing news.

ZURAWIK: Yes. Yes.

CARROLL: We have a lot of data on our users. We know exactly what they're clicking. We know how long they're spending, we know where they came from, we know where they're going.

Publishers know that polarizing headlines get news. So, many publishers are going to those polarizing headlines, and they're creating a narrative that's not exactly true out there. We did a survey with public agenda where we surveyed all of America and they're quite upset about the divide and they think the news media has a big part to play in it.

Fifty-nine percent of them said the news media is pushing polarization for their own benefit. I think that's a problem.

STELTER: You know, they're talking about -- that's absolutely true. There are a lot of examples of that. I think a more positive trend in the past decade has been the rise of non-profit news outlets --


STELTER: -- the stuff that you've highlighted. You know, "The Texas Tribunes" and the "ProPublicas" in the world have been able to gain donations and revenue from subscribers and from readers.

CARROLL: And it's been wonderful to see, especially in communities that are underserved by traditional news, to see these outlets startup.

I think another positive thing are foundations giving to traditional news media. We have received gates form -- excuse me, we have received grants from many of them and there's no strings attached. There's no influence on the content, but they're funding coverage, education coverage, health coverage and that's a big trend that we're happy to see.

STELTER: What's the most positive trend you see right now, Zurawik?

ZURAWIK: One of the -- you know what -- for the decade, Brian, the most positive thing I saw was the take down of the patriarchs in the media.

STELTER: You mean the #metoo movement.

ZURAWIK: Yes. You go back to 2010, Les Moonves, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, these were the giants of media.


And all three of them, with a host of others, are gone from that landscape. That is a huge accomplishment in this decade. The women who stood up, spoke up are the heroes.

But there's also journalists, like Ronan Farrow and a lot of other journalists who helped further that. That's a huge difference. When you think of patriarchy, Brian, Old Statement old.

Back before the Old Testament, taking down -- you're not going to get rid of patriarchy overnight, it takes a revolution, but to get those people at the top of the media culture out of there and to send a warning. You saw how CBS changed in the wake of this. That's a huge change for us.

STELTER: So, the patriarchy is the loser. What's the biggest winner of the decade, Nicole?

CARROLL: I think investigative reporting.

STELTER: Right, including the #metoo movement, yes.

CARROLL: Including the #metoo movement. And when we talk about #metoo, let's talk about local journalism.

Let's talk about the "IndyStar", and USA gymnastics. Let's talk about "The Los Angeles Times" and USC. The media titans in that has been important, but so has the local reporting on sexual harassment and abuse. That's been a big theme this year.

But as our resources get tighter, focusing more on what matters most, and that's investigative reporting. So I think you're seeing some of the best work we've had in the past decade, and that's a huge win.

STELTER: And beyond the news media, what's been the biggest entertainment winner in the past decade, David?

ZURAWIK: I think the premium streaming services and Netflixes.

STELTER: Yes, Netflix taking over the world.

ZURAWIK: Really, listen, the winners are the viewers. You're getting great drama. You're great documentaries. Networks, listen -- the networks always wanted to save money. Thirty

years covering TV. I never saw more junk on network television in prime time.

STELTER: Really?

ZURAWIK: They deserve to be losing audience.

STELTER: You know, think about it, a decade ago, Netflix wasn't making TV shows. "House of Cards" didn't come along until 2013. This is still a new phenomenon to have all these streaming services

ZURAWIK: It is and it's unbelievable, the myriad of choices they give you.

But, also, they're giving people -- Brian, you know how hard it is to make a documentary. You know how little bit of money is out there to make documentary makers make them.


ZURAWIK: The fact that you can go to Netflix, or you can go to HBO or one of these and get money to do a proper documentary, that makes all the difference in the world. Look at the Netflix documentary on the Catholic Church in Baltimore, "The Keepers." brilliant documentary.

We're getting -- those come so fast and furious now, we almost can't keep up with them.

STELTER: And the connective tissue between entertainment and news is the role of subscriber revenue.


STELTER: Whether you're paying for Netflix, you're paying for "USA Today", having that skin in the game by subscribing.


STELTER: All right. David and Nicole, stand by.

After the break, some unexpected good news about trust in media.



STELTER: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Brian Stelter.

Thinking about the intersection of media and politics, you can draw a line right down the middle of the decade. There was the pre-Trump age and there was the Trump age. The president's hate movement against the media has worsened over time. He has also inspired leaders of other countries to crack down on real reporting by calling it fake.

But when we take the long view, we can see that most Americans see right through Trump's attacks.

Let me show you a Gallup poll going back to 1997 showing you that the trust in the media has been relatively stable, although low, relatively stable regardless of political party for many years. You can see what happens in 2016. The Trump age causes a clear divergence.

Suddenly, more Democrats express trust in the media, while trust among Republicans fell sharply. Of course, many of those Republicans do trust some forms of media like Fox News and radio. What we are seeing is the polarization of trust.

It is one of the key themes of the past decade.

Let's continue the conversation now with David Zurawik of "The Baltimore Sun" and Nicole Carroll of "USA Today". We got a critic. We got an editor. Two questions for each of you.

First, David, what needs to change in the 2020s? Is that what we're going to call it, 2020s? What needs to change in the decade ahead?

ZURAWIK: What I think we need to see changed and what I think we'd really to see change, and his is a moral sense, so maybe we don't talk much about morality. But, you know, the kind of race-baiting we heard with immigrants make us a dirtier nation on cable TV, on a mainstream cable television outlet with millions of viewers. We need to stop that because that has real world consequences, I believe, you know?

And there's too much of it. There's too much of it all over the media, really nasty rhetoric. People saying things without thinking of the impact of those words. It really reminds me of the McCarthy era, but the journalists need to step back.

Even if they're not journalists, even if they've sworn allegiance to a political operation, they don't need to take it to this extreme because there are vulnerable populations in this country who are hurt by it. When you think of the -- you mentioned "ProPublica", that videotape they got of the 16-year-old dying alone in the detention center, those are people who are affected by these kinds of words.

Some hot dog cable host throws out there's somebody on a late night show -- primetime show thinking they're going to get more viewers with it. We need to stop that.

And really advertisers -- I don't care. If advertisers boycott, I don't care how we do it, it needs to stop.

STELTER: Nicole, what about you? What needs to change in the years ahead?

CARROLL: Super easy, fake news. I celebrate a diversity of opinion. It is wonderful what makes us America. But I think we all agree that fake news is destructive --

STELTER: You mean actually fake stories?

CARROLL: Actually fake stories.

STELTER: Actually fake stories.

CARROLL: Stories that are actually made up.

And, you know, it has to become socially unacceptable to spread those stories. We have to call it out. I call it out all the time on my Facebook. I'm saying, not true, here's the truth. Not true, here's the truth.

We've got to make it -- it's got to be unacceptable to share fake news. It is destructive to our democracy.

STELTER: What about threats to journalists? That's the other one we got to all mention, we all agree. There's been this rise of threats against journalists partly because of the president's rhetoric. It's got to change. It's got to stop.

What about things we need to make sure don't change, some things we need to hold on to no matter what in the decade ahead.

CARROLL: Number one, support of the First Amendment. I think we've seen recently that there are real threats to our freedoms. We can't just take our freedoms for granted. We have to choose them and we have to defend them.

And defending the First Amendment is the most important thing we can do for the health of journalism moving forward.

STELTER: David, what about you?

ZURAWIK: We have to hold on to legacy values. We absolutely can't play with them. You know, we can't say, oh, we can compromise on this one, we can compromise on that one, but we'll keep this one. That is the difference. That's what earns us the guarantees we have under the Constitution.

We have a public obligation to serve those values of truth, of giving citizens information they can trust. If we don't have a verifiable, reliable stream of information in the society, we don't have a democracy. And then you couple that with consolidation and news rooms getting hollowed out and nobody covering the state legislatures or the city halls, and we're in big trouble on democracy.


That's what I think really, really worries me right now.

STELTER: Another thing I hope we don't lose is this renewed sense of purpose that many journalists feel. And yes, it is partly related to Trump. Any time you have a politician who's misleading the republic, Republican or Democrat, there's going to be a renewed sense of needing to fact-check, needing to verify or debunk what's being said.

You must feel that in your newsroom, Nicole?

CARROLL: Right. I love how people are rallying to the call of local news. We talk a lot about the technology --

STELTER: Right. You're a national paper.


STELTER: But your company has a lot of local papers across the country.

CARROLL: Two hundred sixty across the country. And we're seeing people get behind their local news outlet. So, we talk about voice, we talk about AI, we talk about AR, it really -- and then, of course, those platforms will continue to change.

But here's what's not going to change -- the need in a community for independent professional local news. Local news strengthens communities and that's not going to change.

STELTER: David Zurawik, Nicole Carroll, thank you both.

We are just getting started this hour talking about gathering and producing the news. It costs a fortune so who's paying?

Well, two billionaire families have two very different ideas about the direction forward. Paul Huntsman is the publisher of "The Salt Lake Tribune", he will join me shortly.

But, first, silicon Valley giant, Marc Benioff, he's the owner of "Time Magazine", hear his prediction about the future of media, next.



Talking about news in the next decade. And here's something that will always be true: ownership matters. Politicians from left to right, from Bernie Sanders to President Trump sometimes bemoan corporate ownership of media.

In the past decade, we've seen an interesting trend toward billionaire ownership of the news.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased "The Post", "The Washington Post" in 2013. Soon after, Red Sox owner John Henry purchased "The Boston Globe". More recently, biotech billionaire, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong bought "The L.A. Times". And Laurene Powell Jobs has acquired a majority stake in "The Atlantic" and made a number of other interesting investments in news outlets.

"Time Magazine" is a part of this trend as well.


Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne acquired "Time" in late 2018.

So, I want to know, what are the consequences of this ownership trend? With me now is the aforementioned Marc Benioff, the founder, chairman, co-CEO of Salesforce. He's also author of the new book "Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change."

Marc, thank you for coming on.

MARC BENIOFF, FOUNDER/CHAIRMAN/CO-CEO, SALESFORCE: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate being here.

STELTER: You wear so many hats. But what's it like being the magazine owner hat? What's it like wearing that hat these days?

BENIOFF: Well, I'm thrilled to, you know, be a steward of this historic brand. Just being associated with this 95-year history of "Time Magazine" and the ability to give it the fuel to keep going forward, that's what really excites us every day.

STELTER: You know, I noticed recently, Person of the Year, of course. You had on the cover there, the famous Greta and her climate change advocacy. I think people wondered given how outspoken you've been about climate change if you're influencing the editorial choices of the magazine.

BENIOFF: Well, one of the decisions that we made when we decided to purchase the magazine was, we wouldn't get involved in editorial decisions. We also made a decision that we wouldn't get involved in operational decisions.

Like you said, we have our hands full already with lots of other exciting things that we do every single day, but we want to be able to be the stewards of the historic brand and give them this ability to move forward and give them the fuel to move forward and that's -- that's really our core relationship with "Time".

STELTER: Does that mean you're willing to lose money to be doing that? Because, you know, when you bought the magazine in 2018, we put one of the headlines on the screen. You said, I want "Time Magazine" to be unshackled.

What does that mean?

BENIOFF: Well, I do want "Time Magazine" to be unshackled and what that means is that our world today needs more trust. We are in a crisis of trust. When you look at what's happening with social media, when you look at the types of decisions that are being made in regards to artificial intelligence, to this next generation of technologies, especially as it regards to media, we're finding ourselves quite vested in a crisis of trust.


BENIOFF: And "Time Magazine" can be a steward of trust as we move through this. You know, it's one of the core values of "Time" -- trust, impact, you know, the core magazine itself, and that it's about equality. Well, actually, T-I-M-E. That's why I think they called it "Time." And, you know, we so strongly believe that that has to drive us

forward and that's really why we're so deeply involved.

STELTER: You've been talking about the next 10 years this hour. In 10 years, will there be a print edition of "Time" still?

BENIOFF: Oh, absolutely. You can see the print edition is probably more popular than ever. If you've seen the last issue that just came out, which I think you mentioned the Person of the Year issue --


BENIOFF: -- I think it's probably the most successful issue of "Time Magazine" of all time.

And you can see that there's a resurgence of consumers who are excited to receive the magazine at their home every week. The team at "Time" is incredible and the work they've done over the last few weeks to deliver this issue, I think, is probably some of the best work of their lives.

STELTER: And thinking beyond "Time Magazine", you know, you've been outspoken about where the tech industry needs to be. Where do you see big tech, including Facebook which you've been critical of, where do you see these companies moving in the coming years?

BENIOFF: Well, you can see Facebook is the new cigarettes for our society. It's something that badly needs to be regulated. It's something that is not good for us. It's something that the company is out for our kids.

And they're certainly not exactly about truth in advertising. Even they have said that. That's why we're really in squarely a crisis of trust when the core vendor themselves cannot say that trust is our most important value.

Look, we're in a moment in time where each one of us at every company has to ask a question, what is our highest value? What is the most important thing to us?

And you asked why we got involved at "Time Magazine." because that value of trust -- well, that's been associated with them from the very first day of their founding.

STELTER: I know Facebook has been under a lot of scrutiny. You and others have said it should be broken up. Do you expect that to actually happen?

BENIOFF: I do. I expect a fundamental re-conceptualization of what Facebook's role is in the world and what Facebook's role is in regards to the word not just trust but truth. And when you have an entity that large with that much potential impact and not fundamentally doing good things to improve the state of the world, well, then I think everyone is going to have it in its crosshairs.

And since I first kind of made that statement -- STELTER: Right.

BENIOFF: -- which was in January of 2018, at the time, I don't think people really understood what I was saying. Today, I think it's crystal clear that our fundamental role and our relationship with Facebook needs to change.

STELTER: And what about your own media consumption -- you know, patterns?


How do you consume news and media these days?

BENIOFF: Well, I consume media in a lot of different ways. And of course, one of my favorite ways to consume media is Time Magazine. The second -- the second part of consuming media for me is, you know, I'm an avid user, actually, of one of the social networks, Twitter. I know that you and I are both on there. And that's been -- that's been important to me.

And then also I have subscriptions, physical and digital subscriptions, and I spend a lot of time with that every single day.

STELTER: You mentioned Twitter. If Facebook is cigarettes, is Twitter heroin? What is what is Twitter?

BENIOFF: Well, I think Twitter is actually quite a bit different. And you know, they still -- there's no finish line when it comes to building trust. They've gone through their set of challenges. But for sure, Facebook has been the biggest offender. And as an example, you know, you can see both organizations made very different positions in regards to political advertising.

STELTER: That's true. That's a good point. So let me wrap up with you. A big prediction for the next 10 years, where will we all be in 2030? No pressure?

BENIOFF: Well, I think -- well, artificial intelligence is probably the biggest driver of change in media and also in all of our lives. You can see that. I'm sure you like I have a voice-based ambient computing.

You know, we're talking to our Alexa or Google Home or our Apple HomePod, you know, to get some of our news, to get our entertainment, to get information, our software and the systems that are around us, our phones, our cars, our homes, they're paying attention to us. They're listening to us. And we're talking back to them.

And that is going to become a huge major change in terms of media over the next 10 years. Because as those systems know more about you and understand what you want, if you opt into that it is going to start to give you feedback and you're going to start to see things that look a lot more like a scene out of the Minority Report than out of a page of Time Magazine 10 years ago.

STELTER: All right, Marc Benioff, thank you so much for the prediction. Thanks for joining me.

BENIOFF: Good to see you, Brian.

STELTER: You too. Up next here, earlier this year, the New York Times asked, can Paul Huntsman save the Salt Lake Tribune by pulling off a pivot to nonprofit? So, can he? The answer is coming up.


STELTER: Five or 10 years from now, will your local newspaper still be in business? Will it still be in print? Well, if so, maybe we'll be a nonprofit. Check out the 148-year-old Salt Lake Tribune newspaper serving residents of Utah. Earlier this year, this paper became the first metropolitan daily in the country to go nonprofit, to apply and get permission from the IRS to do so.

So I spoke with publisher Paul Huntsman, part of Utah's Huntsman family to see whether he would recommend this option to other news outlets. It turns out he already has. He said it became obvious to him when he bought the paper in 2016 that nonprofit was the way to go.



PAUL HUNTSMAN, PUBLISHER AND OWNER, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: When I looked at the Salt Lake Tribune, I realized this was -- this was a charitable endeavor. This was for the better -- this was for the betterment of the community. And it was a matter of finding a sustainable pathway.

STELTER: So you decided right away, or at least relatively quickly this paper effectively is a nonprofit because it's losing money, so it should be a nonprofit.

HUNTSMAN: Quite frankly, I didn't realize how poor the newspaper industry or the condition that it really was in and is in today. And if you look at the migration going from print to digital, you're replacing print dollars with digital -- well, some people like to say digital dimes, I like to refer to it as digital pennies. And as part of that transformation over 2000 local news newspapers have shut down.

And I see that trend only continuing as less people continue to access their news from the printed product, you will begin to see dailies here in the next few years transition from a print product to a digital product.

STELTER: The Salt Lake Tribune is the first metropolitan daily newspaper in the United States to go this nonprofit route, to make this transformation. Do you see what you all have done as a path for other papers?

HUNTSMAN: Yes. I would say there's probably been a couple dozen publishers that have already reached out as well as a number of different law firms who are representing other publishers, you know, asking really what the playbook looks like as they -- as they are looking to go down a very similar pathway with their own newspapers.

STELTER: You know, I wonder in 10 years, are we going to have big national brands like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and then mostly nonprofit papers everywhere else. Is that possible?

HUNTSMAN: Look, as -- I really look at the landscape of historic and legacy newspapers and markets of our size. As you transition from a -- from a print product to a digital product, again I really don't see how you can look at any other pathway and still have good watchdog and impactful journalism.

You can continue to cut your way back and perhaps be a glorified blog and still have resources. But for communities of you know, a half million to two to three million people, you know, you need a strong base of journalists.


STELTER: Yes, you do. Yes, we do. We need journalists in these communities. That's why we're going to see more of these nonprofit newspapers. It shows that there's been a rise in nonprofit digital news outlets. When we come back here, truth decay. How truth decay is running rampant, and what we in the media can do to help.



STELTER: Social media seemed fun, even frivolous at the start of the decade when apps like Instagram and Snapchat were launching. But the 2010s ended with an escalated information of war and widespread criticism of Twitter and Facebook for enabling and worsening a world of alternative realities.

I often hear people say we live in a post-truth world, but I reject that. We are not post-truth as long as some of us, some people are still fighting for facts and data and reality. But this decade was marked by something best described as truth decay. The term was coined by the RAND Corporation.

They say truth decay is about the diminishing role facts and analysis have in people's lives due in large parts of the rise of social media. It is decay indeed. We are way past cavities at this point. We're talking about root canals. I even thought about booking my dentist for this.

But instead, let me bring in Rand Senior Political Scientist Jennifer Kavanagh, along with CNN, Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy, and quantitative futurist and professor at the NYU Sterling School of Business Amy Webb. Webb is the author of The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity.

And we're going to talk about those thinking machines. But first to you, Jennifer, on truth decay. What are the main drivers of truth decay? JENNIFER KAVANAGH, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: Well, it starts with cognitive bias. We're predisposed to believe false information and to really cling to that information once we believe it the first time. But that's always been around and that's not really the main driver.

The main driver that we point to in our book is changes in the media landscape. And this would include the rise of social media, which makes it really easy to spread disinformation, as well as the diversity of sources that are available. It's really easy for people to find information that confirms what they believe, regardless of what they believe.

STELTER: And this book Truth Decay, this came out what, about a year ago last year?

KAVANAGH: Yes, in 2018.

STELTER: Yes. I feel like to me, it crystallizes the idea the thing that we're all living through. And here again, some of the main drivers, this political, this social polarization. Oliver, to what do you put most of the blame for this?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, you know, you actually said that we live in a post-truth -- we reject the notion we live --

STELTER: No, we do not live in a post-truth world.

DARCY: That's because we live in multiple worlds, right? And so some worlds actually do happen to be post-truth, and it's because that the media has been fragmented by big tech, by the ability to watch Fox if you're on the conservative end of the spectrum, if you're liberal, you can watch MSNBC, the media is very fragmented. So people are living in multiple different worlds and some of these worlds happen to be post-truth.

I think what's going to be interesting moving forward, you know, and it's in the next decade is how can media organizations puncture, pierce these other alternate universes to disseminate information that's not being disseminated to these different viewers who are stuck in these alternate universes? I think that will be interesting.

STELTER: Amy, I think Alex Jones got one thing right with his Infowars conspiracy side, and that is that we are living in the age of information wars. It's become really obvious in the past couple years that information is being weaponized.


AMY WEBB, FOUNDER, FUTURE TODAY INSTITUTE: Yes, well, I mean, without making a giant confusing Rick and Morty reference, I would argue that we're living in multiverses and the problem is only going to get worse. We are on the cusp of what's called synthetic content. So these are --

STELTER: Deep fakes, dumb fakes? WEBB: Kind of like deep fakes, but intended for good purpose. So anybody who used to watch soap operas, imagine characters that look and interact and feel very real, but were created or generated using all different types of A.I. technologies, you know, and they're great. They show up on set when they're supposed to, they don't act, you know, bad, and then do all kinds of terrible things, and they can be programmed, and they can also be personalized.

So this is all really, really interesting, except that recently, there's a company called DID that started generating digital copies of real famous people. And you can think of this as sort of analogous to escaping copyright infringement, so they very, very gently tweak your features just enough so that they can't be sued. But you can -- you can unleash these sort of digital twins out now all over the place, which is going to make the problems that you're talking about all the more complicated as we start a new decade.

STELTER: But sometimes this analogy is used for good, you're saying, it's just they can also be turned against people.

WEBB: That's right. So you know, there are plenty of circumstances, right, where if you were able to modulate and dubbed somebody else's voice, it just makes it easier if you're producing movies for international audiences.


WEBB: Or, I mean, imagine a soap opera that's tailored to your specific tastes and preferences, it would be really cool to have all of these different characters. The challenge, of course, with every technology is that it can be used for evil, as well as for good.

DARCY: And it'll get more difficult to track this disinformation that's produced --

WEBB: That's right.

DARCY: -- because we're moving toward private messages. You know, Zuckerberg has come out and says --

STELTER: Right, private groups on Facebook, etcetera.

DARCY: Right. We're moving away from this broad media. And everything, like I said, very fragmented, much more difficult to keep track of misinformation, disinformation, when there are thousand different, you know, places where things are spreading.

WEBB: To be fair, Zuckerberg did pivot to privacy earlier in the year. A lot of people have forgotten that that was Facebook's initial intention in January.


KAVANAGH: Disinformation is also becoming much more personalized. Think about all the data. There's so much data about us available online, either to a tech company who wants to collect it, or any other actor, potentially one with nefarious intent.

So imagine getting messages, that there are threats to your family members or threats to your house, or a specific threat to your region that's intended to really cause a panic or undermine trust in institutions. That I think is a real threat that we haven't really thought about in real terms.

STELTER: This is getting scarier and scarier. I got to be honest. You know, how does this relate to the news media -- the news media, Jennifer? How do you see the news media reacting to these kinds of threats and evolutions?

KAVANAGH: Well, I think the pressure to be first, to have the first story really pushes news outlets, whether we're talking about television or print or social media to get things out fast and to not necessarily verify them first. And that can lead to these viral trends that end up being hoaxes or false information.

So I think thinking about what we do when there seems to be some kind of panic or crisis and we don't have the full facts, what do we do in that first hour. I think that's something that news media can think about and should be thinking about, how you report and think about profits but also balance that with public safety, and the greater good.

STELTER: Let's just fit in a quick break. More with the panel in just a moment here on RELIABLE SOURCES.



STELTER: Think about all the devices you've accumulated in the past 10 years, voice-activated assistance like Alexa, and others, cameras and everything like Snap spectacles, their new gadgets in your cars and more to come like Spotify's car smart assistant, and of course, there's the Apple Watch, there's AirPods, there's all these other devices. We are really living in the smartphone age.

So what can we expect to media and tech in the next 10 years? The panel is back with me here to discuss that. And Amy Webb, you are our futurist, will the smartphone just be attached to our hands? What's going to happen in the next 10 years?

WEBB: Right. So the 2010s introduced us to the smartphone and the 2020s will be the beginning of the end of this product that we all hold so dear.

STELTER: OK, all right.

WEBB: And there's many reasons why. I mean, we've gotten to the point where there's not a lot of additional features that you can embed into this device. So it's not going away, it'll start to just recede into the background. What replaces it, smart glasses, accompanied by rings, and very likely bracelets. And if you stop and think, you know, maybe that sounds crazy. We've

got everything that we could possibly want to do in one device. If you were to go back to the 90s even a few decades before, you know a lot of people were carrying around portable CD players and DVD players and laptops. I had a portable Toshiba satellite pro that doubled as a self-defense weapon, it was so heavy and thick.

So, we were carrying all of these different devices that eventually converged into a single smartphone and we are at the beginning of another divergence where we'll have all kinds of peripherals and devices that help us get through our everyday lives that we were rather than hold.

STELTER: For your Future Today Institute, you have some other forecasts in your annual letter. We can put those on screen. Are there any others that are really relevant to media these days?

WEBB: You know, I would say that there are several. So I mentioned earlier, synthetic contents. You know, this sounds kind of hokey and bizarre, but there's another aspect to deep fakes that's not just about intentionally trying to mislead people. And so we're going to start to engage with, you know, all different types of content that has been generated for us.

We're at the beginning of augmented audio reality. So at the beginning, we'll have glasses on that you won't necessarily see an overlay with but rather, you'll have digital assistance perpetually tethered to your ears.

STELTER: Interesting.

WEBB: You know, those kinds of things happening as well as things like scoring. Everybody alive today is being scored in one way or another and that has serious implications both good and bad for the content that you see, the prices that you pay, and generally how you perceive the world around you.

STELTER: Hearing this from Amy, it makes me think more about media literacy and tech literacy. And Jennifer, that's something that just can't be stressed enough, the need for us to be literate about these devices, and these platforms, and this content that's being piped to us from every direction.

KAVANAGH: Yes. And the challenge is that technology changes really quickly, but institutions like schools change really slowly. So right now, what we see is a gap between the skills that people need to use smartphones, to navigate a complex media landscape, and the skills that they have, and the skills that they're getting in schools.

There's a lot of energy and interest in media literacy, but we don't yet know all that much about what an effective media literacy curriculum looks like. And so that I think is a real priority area for educators, for researchers to figure out. If we want people to be prepared to navigate this space, what do we need to do? What training both first children but also for adults, which are even harder to capture because they're already out of school? STELTER: Right, they're already are. Oliver, are you ultimately a pessimist or an optimist about the future of media and tech?

DARCY: I'm probably on the pessimist side right now. You know, it just there aren't very many signs. It seems like the things are going to get better before, you know, before they get even worse. And particularly with things being fragmentizes, with people stuck in their bubbles, getting more and more stuck in their bubbles, and then seeing the dishonest individuals who will capitalize on this for profit, it doesn't leave much hope that that, you know, we're going to see anything better in the next few years. Maybe ultimately in you know, 10, 20 years, but right now with this new technology, you know, and in the companies who are Facebook and Google, all these companies they don't seem to yet understand how to grapple with what their power, I can't --

STELTER: They say they do. They say they're trying to take steps in the right direction.

DARCY: Well, they say a lot of things, right? But at the end of the day, if you look at the results, a lot of times, you know, they're very slow to move things. They still allow -- you know, Facebook this year just partner with Breitbart, and their Facebook news tab. They're still making very odd decisions like that. So it doesn't leave much room for hope, at least from my perspective.

STELTER: And that's in the news business. On the entertainment side of the media world, we're seeing the so-called streaming wars, right, Amy? I think they're actually the streaming Olympics.

That's a term my colleague Frank Pallotta used on, because there's not a zero sum game here. There's been multiple winners and the streaming wars, but obviously, Netflix is the king. Do you think 10 years from now it's going to be all streaming? I mean, will cable news still exist in 20 years?

WEBB: Well, again, I think we should approach the 20s as an era of transition. At the Future Today Institute, we built a model trying to understand what the ceiling is, that the average American would pay for all of their different streaming services and aggregate.


WEBB: And the amount that we centered on was $38. So if you stop and think about it for a moment, these streaming services aren't just competing against each other, cable is not just competing against them, but there are games in the mix, there's electric and digital exercise programs. I mean, they're connected mirrors that you can buy an exercise within in your home.

So there's a lot happening in that ecosystem. And at some point, I think all of these organizations and companies need to empathize with the consumer and think through the implications of asking them to pay for so many different things. I mean, what's the value proposition.

STELTER: That is going to be a giant question for 2020, but also in the years ahead. To the panel, thank you so much for being here. Great to see you all. You know it's CNN's 40th birthday in 2020. I think we'll still be around in 2030.

That's a wrap on this year's reliable sources on T.V. but make sure to visit for our brand new podcast episode. We're reviewing all of the year's biggest media stories with our media team. Oliver is on the podcast along with Chloe Melas, Frank Pallotta, and Kerry Flynn.

And while you're at, also sign up for our nightly newsletter. We'll see you right back here in the New Year.