How news streaming services are fighting fake news

“Nothing happens in American life unless it happens on TV” - Anonymous

There was a long period of time when this quote was absolutely true. But in the era of fake news, seeing something on TV (and especially the internet) doesn’t mean it really happened.

We’ve all read the news that Facebook and Google are working tirelessly to develop processes and code that will help everyday people filter that which is fake, leaving only that which is true.

But there are others working toward this goal too. Streaming services, like ours at Haystack TV. Our aim is simple -- to take credible news media, usually found on OTA and cable channels, and funnel them into OTT experiences that are more in line with modern viewing habits.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of news outfits whose dogged approach to journalism results in high quality, trustworthy and informative news that consumers can trust. The problem is that the medium of choice for younger, (particularly) millennial audiences, is social. Though efforts have been made to get good journalism in front of these massive audiences, few have succeeded. The long-tail effect of this will certainly hurt traditional media in the long run, and the nation’s access to good information will suffer if that happens.

The democratization of content, and news, at the hands of the internet was supposed to be the great liberator of information. And indeed, the definition of news has been taken extremely liberally by many. Fake news has become so common, it can be impossible to detect.   

Earlier this month, “Jason Helms” (perhaps) of Bartlesville, Okla., did not actually burn down his house when torching his Nikes in protest at the Colin Kaepernick commercial. Nor did the imaginary Helms have the word “racist” tattooed on his forehead, nor burn down a house in Rochester, N.Y., or Florida in other variations of the ”story.”

However, it suited a liberal worldview to believe a racist right-winger would be stupid enough to do so, and so the story spread, faster than a Nike fire could burn up a nonexistent house.

This fake story went global, thanks to that digital democratization. You may have seen it on what you thought was an USA Today or Fox site that was actually an imposter. The story’s burning house image was an eight-year-old stock shot. The tattoo? Stock too.

Television news requires more vetting and has higher production value than its digital counterpart, and as such TV networks were among the first to notify the public that the story had been debunked. The problem is, by the time the truth came out, the fake story had done its damage. Twain was right when he said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

It’s unlikely that as many young viewers tuned in to watch the truth unfold as those who read the fake story to begin with.

That’s because consuming video news, beyond the traditional broadcast TV and cable news channels, has until recently been a surprisingly clunky experience. The fall in cable and satellite subscribers due to cord-cutting is worsening, particularly among millennials. With 65 percent of all American households now subscribing to a streaming service, more millennials subscribe to streaming than they do cable TV. Small wonder. Cable has not really changed for decades, and it’s expensive.

Cord-cutting is happening not just because of cost, but a lack of choice or being forced to pay for unwanted channels in inflated bundles. Traditional TV news does nothing to help the matter -- covering such a limited number of stories and replaying them over and over again in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

That’s where next generation of streaming services come in. Politically neutral aggregators will whitelist respected video news sources and deliberately include politically diverse content. They are purpose-built for news -- unlike Facebook and Twitter, accidental news sources retrofitting news into an entertainment environment.

Try as they might -- and they do now try -- the social media giants’ efforts to filter out fake news can appear a little like whack-a-mole in their vast seas of UGC. As soon as one fake news source is snuffed out, another pops up.

Streamed news’ ace in the hole is its ability to give millennial viewers a choice in how they get news -- when, where, how, for how long and in what order. But, crucially, it is always sourced from professional news organizations. This above all else, may be what stems the decline of news viewership among millennials, and battles back against fake news to give real news a fighting chance.

Ish Harshawat co-founded Haystack TV in 2014 with founding partner Daniel Barreto with the goal of bringing video news into the digital age in the same way Netflix has done for video entertainment. Ish's startup experience spans from building, distributing and designing products, managing teams, fundraising, hiring and more. He holds a masters from CMU and was the Mobile Architect at Cellfire (later sold to Catalina Marketing).

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