Phillip Smith

Double rainbows: business models for accountability journalism, plus misinformation & trust in news

One week, two fellowships: the adventure continues at Mozilla and JSK Stanford.

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2016 seems like a distant memory – where did the time go? Back in early December, I wrote about a “personal pivot” moment: keeping one foot firmly in place, while moving the other foot to position for a better shot at solving an important problem that I care deeply about.

However, by late December it was clear that a nascent movement was gathering momentum around the challenge of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, rumours, echo chambers, and so-called “fake news.” These issues were perhaps one of the most pressing problems facing media, democracies, and the health of the Internet at large and – even though I saw some opportunities for journalists – it was clear that the problem could derail people’s trust in news, and important journalism along with it.

MisinfoCon was one outcome of that momentum. Conceived by Jenny 8. Lee, supported by the global network Hacks/Hackers and Burt Herman, and underwritten by some enlightened funders, the outlines of a unique gathering were sketched in the days between Christmas and New Years. Announced in January, co-producer Jeanne Brooks and I scrambled to fill in the details, and to breath life into the world’s first creative studio focused on misinformation (with immense help from James Geary, as well as our advisors Mark Hansen, Craig SIlverman, and Claire Wardle).

When I said “yes” to working on MisinfoCon, it felt like there was no time to waste, nothing more important to focus on – it was an “ALL HANDS ON DECK” moment.

Three minute video recap from MisinfoCon.

That sense of urgency has only increased in the days, weeks – and now months – that followed. And, for me, these two challenges – business models for accountability journalism and trust in news – are deeply interconnected. The only burning question was: how was I going to continue to work on them both?

The answer to that question came into sharp focus last week.

For the next several months, I will explore the boundaries of Media, Misinformation & Trust as a Senior Fellow at Mozilla. And, following that, I will start as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford working on business models for accountability journalism. Bringing these two opportunities together is like seeing a double rainbow, and polite words can’t express how excited I am to have the incredibly unique opportunity to work on these at length, and to do so in the open and in collaboration with the braintrust at Mozilla and fellows in the JSK Stanford program.

It’s going to be an epic year, and I hope you’ll consider being a part of the journey. There are a few easy ways to get involved:

  • If you’re working on solutions to misinformation, please consider getting in touch to tell me about it – what problem are you trying to solve? What are you reading that’s blowing your mind?

  • I’m maintaining an online calendar of of events related to the misinformation theme. If you’ve been to an event that’s not listed, or you know of an event coming up that’s not there already, please drop me a line!

  • And if you’re similarly obsessed with exploring the new technologies and business models that might support modern-day investigative journalism – shout loudly. I’d love to be in touch.

And, if you just want to receive very infrequent updates on what’s going on, you can hop on my mailing list or connect in the usual places.

My deepest thanks to everyone – friends, family, and colleagues around the world – for your help in making this happen; I would not have found this laser-sharp focus, or dreamed of moon shots, without all of the gleaned wisdom, profound insights, and late-night debates.



Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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