Jackson Hole, WY News

Facebook and Google have been brutal to the news business. But that primarily reflects a failure of imagination. The tech giants are the world’s best distribution platforms and could be an answer for journalism instead of a grave threat.

As readers have shifted to digital sources the two companies have taken a large majority of online advertising revenue. More important, the platforms now act as “regulators” of the news business, determining what information gets delivered to whom and when. With the flick of an algorithmic finger those two companies decide what news you see and whether a publisher lives or dies.

The impact on journalism has been clear. Recently, we have seen over 1,000 planned layoffs at Gannett, BuzzFeed and HuffPost, and no one thinks we are anywhere near the end. Facebook and Google’s answer so far has been to pledge to spend $300 million each over the next three years to help journalism. But that money will be dribbled across a huge news landscape, and much of it will undoubtedly be used to encourage further use of Facebook and Google products.

But such investments amount to charity, and charity will never be the answer. What news publishers really need are active partners who are willing to embrace the idea that quality journalism sustains our civic society and that the answer to bad information is more good information.

We can start with the fact that “free” isn’t a good business model for quality journalism. Facebook and Google flatly refuse to pay for news even though they license many other types of content. Both companies have deals to pay music publishers when copyrighted songs play on their platforms. And the companies also aggressively bid to stream live sports and entertainment content to run on Facebook Watch and YouTube. Those deals are varied and often secret, but none of them are based on “free.” Why are the platforms so unwilling to pay news publishers for access to the quality journalism that users need and value?

There’s no reason those who produce the news shouldn’t enjoy the same intellectual property protections as songwriters and producers. (Regulators in Europe are looking at replicating some of these safeguards for journalism.)

The tech giants are also run as “walled gardens” that minimize brands and separate publishers from their readers — even while hoarding information about those same readers. Imagine trying to build a trusted relationship with an audience when you can’t even know who they are. Publishers need new economic terms that include more revenue and more information about our readers. Any minor costs to these companies would pay huge dividends not only for our society but also for their credibility with Congress and policymakers around the world.

Facebook and Google also need to be willing to acknowledge investments in quality journalism through their algorithms. They are constantly on the defensive about spreading false and misleading “news” that hurts people. They could start to address the problem by simply recognizing that The Miami Herald is a much better news source than Russian bots or Macedonian teenagers — and highlighting original, quality content accordingly. Recognizing and promoting publishers that have consistently delivered quality news content can’t be that difficult for sophisticated tech companies. And there are a range of qualified independent ratings organizations, such as NewsGuard, that could help them separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whether they like to admit it or not, Facebook and Google are at real risk when it comes to the news business. Under the adage “You break it, you buy it,” the platforms now own what happens when quality journalism goes away. A study by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism found that more than 1,300 American communities have completely lost sources of local news.

David Simon, a former newspaper journalist who became a TV writer, lamented the loss of local coverage and said in an interview with The Guardian: “Oh, to be a state or local official in America over the next 10 to 15 years, before somebody figures out the business model. To gambol freely across the wastelands of an American city, as a local politician! It’s got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption.”

Facebook and Google could address those risks by embracing responsibilities and becoming partners, rather than minor benefactors, for journalism. They need to come to the table with a real deal on revenue, data and algorithms.

Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed has talked about digital publishers merging to gain more negotiating leverage over the tech platforms on these issues. Legislation sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, would allow news publishers to collectively negotiate with the two companies without violating antitrust rules.

Facebook and Google talk incessantly about how they are improving the world. Why not do something genuinely good for all of us and support journalism instead of destroying it? And it wouldn’t even have to be that hard. There is plenty of money and quality content to go around. All it would take is a little enlightened self-interest and a real commitment to the continued existence of quality news.

This was first published in the Jan. 31 New York Times.

David Chavern is president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, a trade association representing some 2,000 news publishers in the U.S. and Canada. Follow him on Twitter @NewsCEO. Guest Shots are solely the opinions of the authors.

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(7) comments

Chad guenter

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. "
Edward Bernays Author of Propaganda 1928

Nearly all "mainstream" media has operated under this exact status quo for generations.

William Addeo

Fake news? Newspapers are dying because they are fake, bias and privately owned properties with an agenda to spread their propaganda. Basically, it’s all garbage, coupons, bias and the same old stuff. Who really wants to hear Paul Krugman spew his venom every day. If it bleeds it leads has gotten old. People are worn out with fighting and have just shut down. The real problem? So called journalists think they are honest. Everyone knows left wing from right wing media. Government intervention and money and politics have destroyed the information cycle. It now has two flat tires. It’s not fixable till people stop buying it. It’s just like stock buy backs. A fake, phoney, fraudulent scam of crooks smoking weed who believe their own lies. It’s over. Without a revolution, America has run its course. Such a shame. The bigger shame? People will read this and disagree with me. Facts are now fiction and lies are the living truth. We live a total lie. God Blessed America, we destroyed it.

Sofia Jarmillo Staff
Sofia Jaramillo

William Addeo,

While we appreciate your opinion this is absolutely not true. The journalists in our newsroom hold themselves to high standards with ethical principles. We report only what we can confirm and we avoid bias opinions. Our paper is family owned and our advertisers do not get in the way of what we report on. We have reported multiple stories about our biggest advertisers, positive and negative. We report on what our community cares about and all sides of issues. If you'd like to discuss our process we are more than open to having a conversation with you. - JHNG Producer

William Addeo

Sofia Jaramillo,
So, who sets the ‘high’ standards in your newsroom? Do you have a fair and balanced newsroom? Who hires them? Would you dare to hire someone like me? I think not. Fact; 90% of so called news about Trump is negative. Is that fair and balanced? A lot of your papers guilt is news by omission. If you don’t like it, you don’t run it. Most people will agree with me on that one. Where is your coverage on the three Virginia politicians? Trouble is, you poll your own people, like most polls do. Are you telling me that CBS, NBC, CNN, Facebook, Google, Wahington Post owned by Bezos, New York Times and most TV talk shows including late night are fair and balanced? If you don’t think your paper leans left, you are not very well balanced. No pun intended. Till now, I have been treated very fairly by you and your staff. Except for the wolf incident, but that was because your reporter didn’t get the negative response he was hoping for on the street that day. My take on this? I think when I am too effective, you remove the article or move it to a side bar or delete me. I never get beat up on the facts. Just exactly, how do you define, “Personal attacks.?” You let people attack me constantly. I personally think that people like me get silenced because we speak the truth. Edward Snowden didn’t give secrets to the Russians, he gave them to the American people. For that he is being hung? I am open for discussion. Can you handle the truth?
God Bless America,
William Addeo

Sofia Jarmillo Staff
Sofia Jaramillo

Hi William,

We follow an ethical code set forth by the Society of Professional Journalist. Our reporters are expected to follow this code and we have three editors making sure they do so. We hold our staff accountable when they don't and we always print mistakes.

In regards to your commenting, I will send you a list of examples of when you used personal attacks in our commenting section so you can see how we define them and how often you are breaking our policy. If you continue to do so we will have to ban you. Other commenters who have broken our policy and are being warned as well. You are not being singled out. We are making a conscious effort to promote proactive conversation by reminding our frequent commenters that we do have rules. Going forward all we ask is that you please be mindful of our commenting policy.

Thank you.
-JHNG Producer

- JHNG Producer

William Addeo

Hello Sofia,
There is no, “Add reply,” on your comment below. You can’t have a serious conversation without offending someone. You have to come out of your safe space and face the world. Have we reached the times of, “The elevation of moral posturing about sensitivity over truth? Does disrespect trump free speech?” Personal attacks? Are you kidding me? When you argue, is that a personal attack? The answer is, you can’t debate without personally attacking what the other person believes to be true, whether it is or not. Double standards? Can you in your wildest dreams, imagine the media attacking Obama as much as they attack President Trump? Trump has been called every name in the book. I’d like to see the code you follow. Tell me, who defines hate speech? You and your editors? Are you guys the moral authority of today? Am I now personally attacking youright now? Are you offended? Today’s emotional hemophiliacs are running the university’s and destroying the youth attending left wing university’s which 95% of today’s higher learning is.
I feel you have personally attacked me for my beliefs and my constant revelation of the truth. Going forward, please be mindful of your policy. Thank you for your time.
William Addeo

William Addeo

Censorship??? I tried to print the four letter abbreviation for the national socialist party in Germany that a guy named Adolf started and.......The word was rejected as offensive by your editors. The pop up reads that an offensive word has been found and must be removed before insertion into paper.
Are you aware of the censorship of a word that is responsible for killing millions of people? Are you trying to change history? You call this freedom of the press?
I await your response with much curiosity.
William Addeo

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