The layoffs at Vice, Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed have hit the industry hard. Over 2000 jobs just disappeared from journalism. It seems that it’s not just local newspapers that are suffering. Platforms that seemed to have mastered the digital age don’t seem like they have mastered it so well now. Local news is still suffering. McClatchy just announced more layoffs are major papers around the country.
Journalism Has Changed
Most newspapers were slow to get online. The New York Times, at one time, simply posted the front page as it appeared in print on their front page. Some newspapers posted the paper as it appeared in print on various readers. There was little understanding of online reading habits and SEO in the early days. The writing was still made for a print format and simply wasn’t ready for what an online audience would one day consumer. Some people read online and online readership was growing. However, social media and the smart phone, made reading content online explode.
The big print-based journalism giants weren’t taking the online space seriously and when smartphones and social media hit the scene, they were woefully unprepared for the flight from print journalism. However, not only was their content not ready for digital, neither were their advertising revenue streams. Many papers tried to recover by focusing on digital strategy and digital ads but major players Google and Facebook made it easy to share and read their content without even seeing their ads. Even Apple News, one of the most popular news aggregators that is native to all iPhones and iPads, doesn’t show ads from the platforms and doesn’t share its advertising revenue with the platforms that it gets its material from. If you are a brand looking for exposure, are you going to advertise with a newspaper or digital platform when you can pour those dollars into Google and Facebook and get same or better results with a far larger audience? Advertisers have answered the question for us already.
Here’s how Facebook and Google are sucking up almost all the digital advertising dollars:
It’s Time for Revenue Sharing
foHere are Rouges, we are in the middle of this fight ourselves. We have to compete for the same digital ad-spend as everyone else. This is especially difficult as Facebook doesn’t let our posts reach all of our readers all the time. Of those that follow us on Facebook, only a tiny percentage of those people will natively see our posts. Even when we pay for advertising, we still can’t reach anyone as much or as often as we like. Under those conditions, it’s hard for platforms to survive, especially in an environment where 68% of adults get some news from Facebook. However, there is an easy fix: revenue sharing. Google and Facebook should be sharing some revenue with publications. It can be a small percentage, but it would fill in the funding gap that major publications are missing from digital advertising.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Social Media dealt a death blow to journalism by moving readers from visiting sites directly to social platforms and this advertising problem could be the final death knell. Journalism, especially local journalism, is important for democracy but it’s also important for how we talk about issues in our society and how we find out about things. It would be unfortunate if Google and Facebook started buying up newspapers and digital platforms and presenting that information only. Journalism works best when it’s independent and critical of all institutions, not just working as the publishing arm of a major platform where editorial standards are sure to be eased and critical of the owners of those platforms will be hard to find. Who knows if Google or Facebook will support long-form journalism or even investigative reporting that takes time and money to bring to readers.
We as readers, should not and cannot let Facebook and Google kill journalism. We are often changing out attitude towards social media anyway and this is another area where we need to make our voices heard. It’s time we all stand up for what our society needs and that includes journalists.