Newspapers and associated media outlets are under more threat from Google and Facebook than many may have guessed and the organizations responsible for the news have decided not to take that threat lying down. According to David Chavern, who acts as both the President and CEO of the News Media Alliance – an organization representing a group of 2,000 digital and print outlets in both the U.S. and Canada – as much as 70 percent of the advertising revenue generated by news organizations actually ends up going to either Facebook or Google. Perhaps more disturbingly and more importantly, studies have shown a decline in revenue for the industry of about a third over the last 10 years. That's despite that ad revenues are the chief form of income for those organizations. The News Media Alliance has since asked representatives from the legislative branch in the U.S. for permission to collectively renegotiate the terms for sharing between news organizations and the two internet giants' sites.
The request could not come at a more important point for the news organizations themselves. Google and Facebook are hard at work, finding new ways to increase revenue through new features and improvements meant to drive traffic to news sites and sources with greater accuracy. In the case of the search giant and its array of applications, some of which are designed specifically for news consumption, changes have been made that could effectively drive users to the larger news organizations. Tools to ensure users get their local news and can fact-check news sources play a large role in that. On the other hand, Facebook has its own features rolling out or planned with a similar goal in mind. One such feature, which is said to be available by the end of 2017, allows users to "subscribe" to news providers. The problem with all of this is that both Google and Facebook are effectively being paid for providing content that neither plays a major role in creating or in creating the market for. As Chavern says, "they don't dig through public records to uncover corruption, send correspondents into war zones, or attend last night's game to get the highlights." Although having more readers directed to news organizations could drive up profits for those companies, he goes on to accuse both tech giants of expecting an already stressed industry to do all of the really costly work, while they collect the majority of the profits.
For their parts, Facebook and Google have both publicly stated that they will actively work with the organizations to address issues and concerns. The head of news partnerships at Facebook, Campbell Brown, stated that the company is "committed to helping quality journalism thrive on Facebook." He went on to say that although progress has been made through its partnership with publishers, more work still needs to be done. Google's own statement echoed those sentiments, remarking that the tech giant is and remains "deeply committed to helping publishers with both their challenges and their opportunities." Google also pointed to its creation of products and technologies with the specific goal of helping to "distribute, fund, and support newspapers." Fortunately, both companies appear more than willing to work out any kinks that might exist in their partnerships with news agencies and media providers. So, it should be entirely possible to work out any new details or deals without legal intervention in either case.
In the meantime, Chavern reiterates that a deal needs to be made that provides a better economy for legitimate news agencies. Brand awareness, he says, is going to need to be the first issue addressed. He points to Facebook, in particular, on that front, saying that news readers on Facebook often become confused and believe that Facebook is actually producing the content. That leads to an entirely separate issue as well, because it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate reliable news from the "fake news" that can spread on social media. Another issue that needs to be addressed, which also has the added issue listed above, is the problem with free news vs. paid news. When news is delivered for free, according to Chavern, it can lead to lazy reporting and it also takes money away from organizations that spend a lot of time and money trying to get the facts down correctly. Under current antitrust laws, it is not allowed for corporations or organizations within an industry to group together and negotiate on matters like these. Chavern says that they don't want to change the laws themselves, but want to be able to negotiate collectively when it comes to dealing with huge intermediary distributors in the tech world, such as Google and Facebook. Whether or not they end up with permission to do that remains to be seen.