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The Press needs to be Freed from the Tyranny of Money

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sorin.cristescu
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last yearBusy5 min read

Money

An ubiquitous presence in modern commercial society, money can corrupt human nature itself, weakening or severing our social bonds. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and has been known throughout the centuries as an archetype of immorality. The repugnance of Judas' behaviour is in the severing of social bonds for mere money [1].
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In [1], the authors show that even the activation of the construct of money through priming techniques increased the likelihood that the primed individuals would demonstrate unethical intentions.

Social (dis)approval is a key element in the enforcement of social norms. Therefore, the interactions between economic incentives and social approval also have implications for the enforcement of social norms. [2]

In particular, rewarding people monetarily for obeying social norms has been shown to weaken norm enforcement and led to a gradual erosion of norm-guided behaviour. [3]

These things are at play in Steemit as well, witness the hand-wringing about circle-voting, reward pool raping and other exploitative behaviour that a system regulated by money and money only generates. But here I'll talk about something bigger than Steemit, our free press.

Free press and democratic Society

The free press is one of the most important institutions of our democratic societies. Yet lately it has been less and less able to play a cohesive role and has been caught into the same whirlwind that menaces to rip apart the bonds that hold us together.

In the past, when the respect for social norms and hierarchies was higher, people looked up to quality content and saw it as something to aspire to. In the current society where individual freedom has significantly increased and the importance of social norms and values has faded, money has remained the sole yardstick.

High-brow content sells less than low-brow content. Measured in money terms, high quality content is less valuable than low quality shrill clickbait.

What follows is an adaptation of a comment I made on a post by @hansikhouse. He advised it should be a standalone post, hence this article.

The only feed-back loop that exists between the journalists and their readership is mediated by money. Journalists need money to live, they get those money from people reading their pieces, hence they need to adapt their writing to maximize the number of people reading what they write.

As the bulk of the readership would rather read titillating news about Bieber and the Kardashians, it all becomes a kind of Dutch auction with respect to quality. The journalists end up battling to be the best at exercising the worst instincts and the reptilian brain and the amygdala of as many people as possible.

Authority

Whatever we say, the whole idea of "my opinion is as good as yours" is scientifically-provable to be bonkers. Your opinion is provably better than mine because you are smarter, better educated, more knowledgeable and I'm a stupid guy with the IQ of a cobblestone.

The only thing we have in common is that we belong to the same species, but our cells harbour completely different gene combinations.

Thus AUTHORITY. You are an authority and I am not. You are entitled to say that "that content" is of higher quality based on clear criteria. And I should take it from you, because you DO know better.

This current era of "we are all equally bright and valuable and our opinions cannot be ranked in any way" is ruining the society. When push comes to shove, in order to advance, respond to a challenge or threat, make progress, if you say "to the right" and I say "to the left" there has to be some structure that says : "when in disagreement on this particular topic, your opinion prevails". And maybe on another topic it will be my opinion, and that's ok.

But if the journalists' bread depends on selling as much copy as possible then we are going to select the journalists that can write for the greater number, and the greater number wants to read about Bieber and the Kardashians.

That doesn't mean that money should play no role at all. But they must not constitute the only dimension along which "quality of content" is measured and ranked.

A Constitution for Quality Journalism

An acclaimed social scientist, Jon Elster has studied constitutions in the context of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe [4]. He noted that they can serve as a "feedback mechanism" and "precommitment device". Insofar as they promote the values of stability, accountability and credibility, they have a significant influence on economic development. [5]

Here is where a system like Steem, based on a "reward pool" from which the journalists are paid, can help. But in order to not reproduce the same "spiral to the bottom" mechanics it needs to distribute the reward pool based on how close an article is to a "Constitution of Quality". Its structure should be guided, draw inspiration and incorporate the "norms, values, virtues, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms [that] work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible."[6]

I am convinced the free press could greatly be helped by such a "Constitution of Quality Journalism", if to its elaboration the Kardashian-loving masses are invited to participate in order to obtain their wide acceptance and socially-enforced commitment.

  1. Seeing green: Mere exposure to money triggers a business decision frame and unethical outcomes M. Kouchaki et. al. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 121, 2013
  2. Psychological foundations of incentives E. Fehr and A. Falk, European Economic Review, No. 46, 2002
  3. Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely, Harper Collins, 2008
  4. The Impact of Constitutions on Economic Performance Jon Elster, World Bank, Washington 1994
  5. Elster for Economists Salomon Kalmanovitz, Lectura Finanzas, Banco de la Republica de Colombia
  6. Morality J. Haidt and S. Kesebir - in "Handbook of social psychology", Wiley, 2010

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