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Facebook and the Impoverishment of the News Media Industry

SNA (Tokyo) — Journalism has been around a long time. The people who do that journalism are the journalists. Traditionally, most of the journalists worked for newspapers, informing their publics about current events through a daily print delivery, usually in the mornings.

The funding for journalism came from subscriptions and print advertisements. Companies and individuals put their ads in the paper, and this allowed the journalists to take their salaries and gave them time to write their stories.

But digitization, and especially Facebook, has been killing the news brands. Readers who take their news from social media are often not very conscious of who exactly is providing their news. News based on serious reporting and news which is trashy clickbait all began to look the pretty much the same.

As more people get their news from the internet, print newspaper subscriptions have declined, leaving less and less money for actual reporting—which can often be a time-consuming and expensive process. Digital ads make far less money than the old print ads did.

Meanwhile, Facebook became very aggressive about collecting its own advertising revenues. Facebook did not spend time and money to report the news, but because news stories are shared on their platform, they collect the lion’s share of the revenues from news organizations’ hard work.

By 2016, Facebook—a single company—was sucking in more ad revenue than all of the newspapers in the United States combined.

For journalists, this has meant massive job losses. After all, how are the news organizations supposed to pay journalist salaries if most of the ad revenues are being diverted to Facebook?

Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corp, stated, “Facebook and Google have popularized scurrilous news sources through algorithms that are profitable for these platforms but inherently unreliable… I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognizes the investment in and the social value of professional journalism… The time has come to consider a different route. If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services.”

Investor George Soros stated, “As Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware… Facebook and Google effectively control over half of all internet advertising revenue… Content providers also contribute to the profitability of social media companies because they cannot avoid using the platforms and they have to accept whatever terms they are offered. The exceptional profitability of these companies is largely a function of their avoiding responsibility for, and avoiding paying for, the content on their platforms.”

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg responded, “We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That’s why we’ve always put friends and family at the core of the experience… We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups. As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”

Franklin Foer of The Atlantic argues, “Facebook has just done media the biggest favor of them all. It has forced media to face the fact that digital advertising and ever-growing web traffic will never sustain the industry, especially if that traffic comes from monopolies like Facebook hoping to claim the entirety of digital-advertising dollars for themselves. Media can’t deny this, but it doesn’t want to sustain the pain and heartbreak that comes with transition; and it’s reluctant to let go of the notion that it might exploit Facebook to achieve global scale.”

Mathew Ingram of the Columbia Journalism Review responded, “Moving from an advertising-focused model to one that relies on reader subscriptions may be the prudent move, but getting from point A to point B could be difficult, and some companies may not be able to make the transition. For them, Facebook’s latest algorithm could be what Mother Jones Senior Editor Ben Dreyfuss called ‘an extinction-level event.’”

Journalism is now facing that extinction-level event, trying to convince a reluctant public that unless they begin to provide financial support for journalism, they may not have any real journalism in the future.

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