5 reasons we're launching now

The stage is set for a radical media experiment.

The first article was my best attempt at explaining how we’ve found ourselves in this predicament, and it took many weeks of writing and re-writing to put together. The most troublesome aspect of the early drafts was my tone. The truth is, I am very concerned about the issues that are plaguing our mass media ecosystem. I’m concerned because much of the news is harming our ability to construct a shared understanding of the world. That being said, I don’t want people to support Assembly out of fear. I much prefer to encourage hope for a future that could be.

Without further ado, here are 5 reasons why this is the perfect cultural moment to launch Assembly.

Reason #1: Our local journalists are heroes.

This felt like it was missing in the first article, so it’s first on the list today. How amazing is this documentary? Even if you don’t share the Assembly stuff, you should share that.

At the end of that video is a partial quote from a 1963 speech by Phil Graham to Newsweek foreign correspondents. The full quote is:

So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand.

I can only imagine the grit it takes for reporting now. I can only imagine the effect of isolation from their loved ones and families. The pressure of getting that story together under challenging and unusual circumstances.

They’re tough people. They’re real heroes.

I’ve been talking about the big and complicated problems with our media today, but I’m not on the frontline. I don’t know what it’s like to do the work. They do.

Reason #1: I hope Assembly can help people like them in the future. We need those people.

Reason #2: Coronavirus is changing the way we think about work.

The pandemic is slowly normalizing the idea of remote work in our culture.

Do you remember when it wasn’t so easy to work remotely? For most of my experiences, remote *anything* was not really an option. In my professional life, it was always highly encouraged to be on-premises for work. You might be able to convince your boss, but it wasn’t common.

The coronavirus is a massive cultural inflection point with how we think about work. We are finding ways to adapt across the board.

This is a huge opportunity for journalism. Every journalist working for a TV station, a newspaper, or a magazine, is currently rethinking everything about how and where they do their job. Many have already set out on their own in podcasts, blogs, and YouTube channels. And now thanks to Substack, an easy-to-use email newsletter.

CEO Chris Best says:

I think our asset is the platform that we’re creating. Because we don’t own media properties; we’re not a media company. Our goal is not to be a publisher that has a bunch of stuff. The whole point of Substack is that as a writer, you can use Substack to go independent, and we are spawning a million media companies.

Substack built a platform that offers journalists another option for work. An option that is more flexible and more independent.

Reason #2: Assembly wants to do this for live news media. Offer a new, flexible, and independent business model that gives journalists another option for work.

Reason #3: Two-sided marketplaces have proven to be powerful engines of change.

Two-sided marketplaces always involve two parties, most simply represented as buyers and sellers. The buyers and sellers transact for a product or service, and the place where this transaction takes place is the platform.

Two-sided marketplaces bring to mind disrupters like Uber, Airbnb, and LinkedIn. The buyers in Uber are riders trying to get from point A to point B, while the sellers are drivers making money in exchange for giving the rider a lift. Airbnb’s sellers are homeowners, and their buyers are people looking for a place to stay. On LinkedIn, the professional community is the seller, and recruiters looking to fill job roles are the buyers.

The more people there are on both sides of the equation, the better the benefits for all involved. eBay benefits from having more customers because it attracts more sellers to the platform - and the variety of sellers attracts even more customers. Meanwhile, the platform is incentivized to continuously improve itself - to encourage adoption by more and more participants.

Two-sided marketplaces are powerful because they introduce new opportunities for work while making things easier and more convenient for the customer.

Assembly is designed as a two-sided marketplace. The buyers here are us, consumers of the news. We want a certain product: news that is informative, understandable, and trustworthy. The sellers are journalists who want to give us that product.

Reason #3: When there is demand, two-sided marketplaces work. I believe the demand for better news is enormous. If we can get the idea out there, I think people might just give us a chance.

Reason #4: The problem of advertising is becoming less of a secret.

The Social Dilemma was one of the main catalysts that led me to decide now might be our best chance yet to strike a chord publically. The documentary tackles exactly the same problem of advertising incentives in information-sharing, only on social media platforms rather than the mainstream media news platforms.

I hope the doc continues to spread the idea that maybe this is a future we need not stumble blindly into anymore. Maybe we don’t want every transaction of information between people subjected to a shady third-party scheming of ways to sell us stuff we don’t really need.

On an unrelated note, I really don’t want to be getting conspiracy videos in my Facebook messages anymore. There must be a better way for us to find facts we can agree on.

Reason #4: Our culture is becoming more aware of the pitfalls in the advertising business model. Big tech regulation season is just beginning. Regulatory discussions for big tech companies are an ideal cultural backdrop for pitching our startup because it brings to the foreground everything Assembly is not.

Reason #5: AI is here now, and will continue to get better.

Thanks to movies like The Terminator and I, Robot we seem to fixate on this idea that AI takes over the world suddenly and violently. Reality is a bit more boring: AI already has taken over the world.

It’s not like we have sentient computers controlling everything like digital puppetmasters. Instead, we have a lot of separate individual systems that rely on huge amounts of computational power and purposefully-engineered algorithms. This takes many forms. For example, machine learning models are spun up and deployed en masse to solve business problems, and then evaluated based on which ones were most effective.

We don’t have a single AI that is anywhere near capable of everything a human can do, and that prospect still seems very far out. AI mostly does very specific things, and it needs a lot of data to be trained to do those things well.

Even with all that said, we are living through a real-time explosion of data. It’s difficult to explain how much data there is, and due to unrestrained surveillance capitalism, it’s flowing through every corner of our lives. There’s plenty of customer information being collected to train AI.

The positive side of the coin is that AI is improving our lives as well. It’s allowing us to make self-driving cars and bridge language barriers with automatic translations. It’s a powerful technology and a big responsibility. Scientists and engineers are coming together now more than ever with the goal of applying it towards the common social good.

With Assembly, we want to use AI in creative ways, to make an amazing new product. A product that makes the news engaging and creative while still maintaining quality. We really believe it can be done. All the pieces are there and just need to be put together.

Reason #5: AI is unlocking opportunities to develop products that are better, more effective, and more beneficial to society. Assembly is ready to take on this challenge for live journalism.