The Chairman of News Corp – Rupert Murdoch – has issued a public statement calling for publishers to be paid along similar lines to the carriage free one used by cablecos.
The statement seems to have been prompted by the tweaks Facebook has been making to its ‘news feed’ especially its recent move to grade how trustworthy a given news source is. Perhaps panicked by the implications for his polarising Fox News network, Murdoch expressed reservations about the plan, while simultaneously claiming it doesn’t go far enough.
“Facebook and Google have popularized scurrilous news sources through algorithms that are profitable for these platforms but inherently unreliable,” said Murdoch. “Recognition of a problem is one step on the pathway to cure, but the remedial measures that both companies have so far proposed are inadequate, commercially, socially and journalistically.
“There has been much discussion about subscription models but I have yet to see a proposal that truly recognizes the investment in and the social value of professional journalism. We will closely follow the latest shift in Facebook’s strategy, and I have no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg is a sincere person, but there is still a serious lack of transparency that should concern publishers and those wary of political bias at these powerful platforms.
“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. Carriage payments would have a minor impact on Facebook’s profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists.”
As a journalistic operation Telecoms.com clearly has a direct stake in this matter. One of the reasons most news sources usually follow the same narrow editorial agenda and, increasingly, do little more than copy and paste press releases is because so much money has been taken from the advertising model by Google and Facebook. In the US they account for 60% of total digital ad spend.
This dramatic fall in revenues for traditional media companies has resulted in a significant diminution of newsrooms and pressure on those few hacks that still have jobs to produce far higher volumes of content. When you only have a few minutes to write a story your scope to research, provide context and refine your style is very limited.
So on that basis we welcome Murdoch’s suggestion, but it does beg a new set of questions. If media revenue becomes directly proportional to social media sharing the tendency towards click-bait tactics may exaggerate further. Also, if the social media companies are actively favouring some media on their platforms, the danger of corruption seems very real.
From a journalistic point of view the most sustainable solution to the collapse in advertising revenues s for consumers to pay for favoured content directly, either at point of consumption or through subscriptions. That would require the reversing of consumer expectations that all content should be free, for which Google and Facebook are largely responsible in the first place.