Michael Nunez, reporting for Gizmodo:
But if you really want to know what Facebook thinks of journalists
and their craft, all you need to do is look at what happened when
the company quietly assembled some to work on its secretive
“trending news” project. The results aren’t pretty: According to
five former members of Facebook’s trending news team — “news
curators” as they’re known internally — Zuckerberg & Co. take a
downright dim view of the industry and its talent. In interviews
with Gizmodo, these former curators described grueling work
conditions, humiliating treatment, and a secretive, imperious
culture in which they were treated as disposable outsiders. After
doing a tour in Facebook’s news trenches, almost all of them came
to believe that they were there not to work, but to serve as
training modules for Facebook’s algorithm. […]
That said, many former employees suspect that Facebook’s eventual
goal is to replace its human curators with a robotic one. The
former curators Gizmodo interviewed started to feel like they were
training a machine, one that would eventually take their jobs.
Managers began referring to a “more streamlined process” in
meetings. As one former contractor put it: “We felt like we were
part of an experiment that, as the algorithm got better, there was
a sense that at some point the humans would be replaced.”
If news curation can be automated, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Progress in the industrialized world has always involved previously labor-intensive jobs being replaced by automated machinery. We’ve gotten to the point now where some of this work is white collar, not blue collar, and some journalists seem offended by the notion. Their downfall is their dogmatic belief in not having a point-of-view, of contorting themselves to appear not to have a point of view — which, as Jay Rosen has forcefully argued, is effectively a “view from nowhere”. The irony is that machines don’t have a point of view — they are “objective”. Over the last half century or so, mainstream U.S. journalism has evolved in a way that has writers and editors acting like machines. They’ve made it easier for themselves to be replaced by algorithms. Most readers won’t even notice.
I do two things here at DF most days: find interesting things to link to, and comment on them. An algorithm may well beat me at finding interesting links. My job then, is to be a better writer — smarter, funnier, keener, more surprising — than an algorithm could be. When I can’t do that, it’ll be time to hang up the keyboard.
Update: Kevin van Haaren:
@gruber Computers algorithms aren’t objective they reflect the
point of view of their creators. It’s a reason diverse teams
should make them.
I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, but this is a good point. What I’m saying is more If what you do can be replaced by a robot (whether hardware or software), it will happen — and modern U.S. news journalism’s brand of “objectivity” feels algorithmic.
★ Tuesday, 3 May 2016