Tech and news: who pays?
The Guardian reports today
that UK newspaper industry body The News Media Association has joined calls for a social media regulator. I’m not going to call that idea out too strongly, as the devil is entirely in the detail.
The NMA also offers a proposal that tech firms should “give reasonable notice of any changes to terms of business or to algorithms which impact news publishers.” That’s fair enough. Facebook in particular has pulled the rug out from underneath publishers with little warning too many times.
However, I’m saddened to see another old chestnut return. The NMA also thinks Google and Facebook should fund journalism, as big tech companies profit from the hard work journalists put into breaking news.
Well, guess what? News sites profit from the audiences Google and Facebook provide them. Okay, ‘profit’ might sometimes be a strong word in these tough times for journalism, but news organisations definitely see a huge amount of traffic from big tech companies.
A content feed coming to Google’s homepage on mobile (see above) is going to be massive for some news sites, which will almost certainly see a motorway’s worth of traffic as a result. And as much as some publishers grumble about Google News showing snippets of articles, they pretty much all want to be on there because… yes, people click on the links once they’ve read the snippets.
As for Facebook, well, it’s not the traffic bonanza it once was. And Facebook now charges news sites for anything approaching the reach they once had on there for free. But really, do publishers expect not to have to pay for advertising?
The whole 'tech firms profit from our work so they should fund our work’ argument is bogus. The news industry has a grudge against tech firms for reducing the share of public attention it gets by allowing the public to create and share their own content, and for providing a more appealing offering to advertisers than news sites can offer themselves.
That’s not underhand or evil, that’s just evolution.
If Facebook has to begin paying to display previews of articles, you can bet news firms will be paying that money straight back to Facebook, to buy more reach for those articles.
There might be an argument – somewhere, somehow – that tech firms should fund journalism, but 'tech firms profit from news’ isn’t it.