Ask anyone today where they get their news, and there’s a very good chance they’ll say either “Facebook” or “Google.” Yet neither of those global corporations are in the reporting business. They are both publishers of other people’s news, not generators of original news content.
The Googles and Facebooks of the world would like us all to view them as a blessing to the world’s journalists. Their platforms connect an audience of millions with the news journalists write and record. But that vast audience is only one side of the coin. On the other side is a far more problematic dynamic — one that has had devastating impacts for real journalism in newsrooms across the country.
Google and Facebook make money — a lot of money — off of the content they serve up to their users. They insert ads and offer sponsored results that provide revenue from that vast audience as it searches for, likes and shares the news produced by journalists.
In fact, the model is hardly anything new — it’s half of the same model newspapers have used for as long as there have been newspapers.
A successful newspaper hires journalists who can produce useful, compelling stories and photos. That content creates an audience who wants to read and look. The newspaper sells space alongside that compelling content to advertisers who want access to the same audience. The advertising revenue then funds the paychecks of the journalists; wash, rinse, repeat.
But as we said, Google and Facebook are only using half the model — they are taking advertisers’ money and giving them placement next to the compelling content, but they are not also paying for the compelling content.
The results are unsurprising: Facebook and Google are raking in billions in ad profits, while community newspapers across the country are going out of business.
There are ways to stay afloat within this new ecosystem — this newspaper is proof. But without a significant, systemic change, it will only get harder for real journalism to survive.
Today, a subcommittee in Congress is holding a hearing on the interconnectedness of journalists and online platforms. There’s also a bill being considered that would make it possible for newspaper publishers to band together and negotiate a profit-sharing deal with online platforms.
“The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate and the House, including the chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee,” according to the New York Times.
It is vital that Congress follow through on this. The more money that gets sucked out of media outlets that produce real, verified, honest journalism, the less you will be able to read real, verified, honest journalism. Scams, propaganda, rumors, “fake news” — all of it has flourished in recent years as money quietly drained away from the institutions that have held everyone accountable throughout the history of this country.
We must break out of this mold that lets big tech companies reap the lion’s share of returns on newspapers’ investment.
This is perhaps the best chance the U.S. has had in a while — and it may be the last good chance we get for a while — to right the out-of-balance media ship before it keels over.