Are analytics leading us to a dictatorship?

January 19, 2016

Now that’s one doozy of a headline but I mean every word. The constant measurement and optimization of news headlines have permitted savvy individuals to game the system. It’s hard not to look at the current political situation in the US with a certain sense of disillusionment. I don’t really believe that some of these candidates will really implement their radical ideas. That being said, the opportunity for them to get elected and potentially enable radical policies is statistically possible. How can this occur in a supposed democracy?

A tough decade

Let’s take a step back and see what’s happening. For the past 10 years, media has been struggling with their business model #understatement. For publishers, the decline of traditional revenue streams has been a life and death struggle. This has forced publishers to adopt the tactics of younger upstarts nipping at their buds. A new generation of publishers are super focused on measurement and optimization. These new players which include Business Insider, Vice Huffington Post and of course Buzzfeed have risen to the top largely thank to their unwavering adoption of new technologies. The undercurrents at play are constant connectivity (thank you cellphones) and real time feedback loops (thank you facebook and twitter)

The media strikes back

Traditional media outlets have responded by copying these tactics and innovating upon them as well. CNN rotate their home page every hour or so capitalizing on the latest trending news item. What drives page views drives revenues.

The current election coverage is pretty much non-stop. This continuous coverage plays well into this constant measurement and optimization of the news cycle. It would be political suicide five years ago to propose these radical policies. But the formula today is different. More absurdity means more traffic means more revenue.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the disruption of media and subsequent new business models that have are alone responsible. There are many many other variables at play here.

Implications for the new media world

Savvy individuals are clearly gaming the system. The more controversial the proposal, the more exposure they get. Exposure equates relevance in today’s media landscape. It will be up to media organizations to take a stand and push back. Some like the Huffington Post already have, more courage like this is needed.

Given media’s current challenges, this is a huge challenge to overcome. Reporting on the issues that matter versus what drives traffic.