March 13, 2017

Newspapers are dying, reasons 641, 722 and 816

Sleeping with the Internet enemy, which is becoming sleeping with Google as well as Facebook, is never a good sign. Not only are you letting them control how your  stories get disseminated, you're doing this while continuing to maintain all your legal liability yourself.

Here’s the bottom lines, and PR flak, on Google’s side:
The growing pact between large publishers of news and large platforms for social media is an alliance born out of desperation on the part of publishers and opportunity on the part of technology companies.  … 
 Google has been exploring the benefits and drawbacks of publishing for some time; being an entity protected by the First Amendment and freed from the obligations of utilities can be useful. Taking on expensive publishing risk is less convenient. However, just as the temperature of regulation in Europe heats up, with the government always trying to rein in the giant search company, Google has maneuvered its friendly tanks up the drive and into the garage of publishing houses. … 
 First of all, this is a clear signal of Google saying explicitly that while it might not employ many journalists (yet) it sees itself as being in the news business—not an accidental platform through which news moves, but an active ingredient in shaping how journalism is formulated and consumed. 
Sounds like a publisher in all but name.

And, here’s Facebook’s spiel:
Last month, Facebook disclosed it was negotiating with a number of news companies in the US to embed video and text within its own site from major publishers including The New York Times,National Geographic, and Buzzfeed. … 
 Two weeks ago at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Andy Mitchell, head of Facebook’s news partnerships, held the line that Facebook itself was staying out of publishing, even though the evidence is very much to the contrary. George Brock, a professor at City University in London, asked Mitchell whether Facebook felt any responsibility for the integrity of its news feed. Mitchell gave the perfunctory Silicon Valley answer that the company cared about improving the “user experience.” Brock suggests that this denial of responsibility is insulting to audiences.
Also sounds like a publisher in all but name.

And, “legacy” newspapers, in addition to not getting control over story dispersal, are leaving the ad dollars more and more in Facebook’s and Google’s hands. Oh, I’m sure any such arrangements will give the newspapers a percentage of the cut on Facebook ads, or Google ads that appear with stories either in Google’s news feed or online to G+. Will that offset likely further loss of onsite online ads? Probably not.

Indeed. The dynamic duo are attracting 99 percent of digital ad growth. No, not a misprint, it seems.

And, if you’ve got a paywall, like the NYT, how’s that going to affect your online circulation revenue? Not well, I’d think.

I don't know if the smell of desperation in the morning is like that of napalm, but it can't be too good.

Meanwhile, newspapers, especially in mobile versions, are looking at following the social media world down another rabbit hole. Just as ads are becoming ever more "targeted," and per the top of this story, newspapers are looking at doing the same with stories.

So, do blacks in more impoverished portions of the city of Baltimore get a different version of the Freddie Gray story than whites in west-side suburbs? Do poor people get different versions of Wells Fargo marketing subprime credit cards and opening accounts in their name without authorization than do rich people?

If so, then the news industry is taking a major step backward; might as well let Google and Facebook have the keys.

Finally, I don't doubt that fear of social media magnifying mistakes is paralyzing or at least constricting reporting.

The community newspaper world, both smaller dailies and non-dailies, still has a chance to avoid going too far down this rabbit hole. At some times, I'm semi-optimistic; some newspaper companies still officially state they are NOT "digital first."

On the other hand? You have a newspaper ownership company called Digital First Media. (And, it's had not one, but two, rinses in bankruptcy.)

And beyond that, at the non-daily world, being semi-addicted to Facebook Live videos, for which a publisher should know FB pays just pennies on the dollar to big dailies, and fractions of mills on the dollar to small non-dailies, may mean that perhaps your digital marketing advice may not be perfect.

There is still a future in newspapers, even as that future continues to shrink around the edges. It will probably involve more creativity on the digital side, but, for community papers, whether non-daily or daily, it should still be (both as an economic statement and a quality-commitment statement) print first.

Fortunately, some community newspaper ownership groups recognize that more than others, and are doing their best to avoid some of the mistakes big dailies made in the past.

Add in that print-vs-digital readership may reach a point of stasis, as has happened with ebooks vs books, and some newspapers may wind up not dying after all.

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