The Media Today

The media today: Rupert Murdoch opens another front in the press’s war with Facebook

January 23, 2018

The latest salvo launched at Facebook’s attempts to fix its fake news problem came Monday from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Following Facebook’s announcement that it would rank outlets by “trust,” the News Corp. honcho challenged Mark Zuckerberg’s company to pay publishers a carriage fee, similar to the way cable companies pay for channels.

“If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies. The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services,” Murdoch said in a statement on Monday. “Carriage payments would have a minor impact on Facebook’s profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists.”

Murdoch has always been skeptical of Silicon Valley, and he’s still one of the most powerful people in media. His suggestion that Facebook subsidize journalism highlights the growing rift between Facebook and the publishers that the company relies on to populate its News Feed with, uh, actual news. The platform’s “trust” announcement came one week after it said it would tweak its algorithm to prioritize content from family and friends over that produced by brands and news outlets.

TRENDING: “Like a hurricane, it was coming our way and we could neither stop nor escape it”

CJR’s Mathew Ingram says that Facebook’s recent announcements could actually make the fake news problem worse. He notes that scurrilous content often draws more engagement than hard news, and that trust is inherently partisan, meaning that both of Facebook’s “fixes” have major bugs. “The bottom line is that Facebook is prioritizing discussion and engagement, and that is likely to reward some of the worst media outlets,” Ingram writes. “And in order to try and ameliorate that effect, it’s going to decide which are the most trusted publishers based on user votes—a solution that is almost as problematic and ripe for confusion as the problem it is trying to solve.”

Below, more on the contentious relationship between Facebook and the news industry.

  • A bit of introspection: Facebook admitted the unintended consequences of its product on Monday, with Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s product manager for civic engagement, acknowledging, “At its best, it allows us to express ourselves and take action. At its worst, it allows people to spread misinformation and corrode democracy.”
  • Murdoch’s pipe dream: Reporting on Murdoch’s comments, CNN’s Hadas Gold writes: “Critics and observers say that after years of publishers giving the tech companies their content for free, attempts to get them to pay now are unlikely to succeed unless the publishers can form a unified front.”
  • A first step?: The Verge’s Nick Statt says Murdoch’s new line of attack could be “the first monumental step toward a call for Silicon Valley to subsidize the news business, a rather radical but increasingly more attractive option for struggling publishers that see the tech industry as more of a corporate leech with purely financial motives, rather a liberating force for the spread of information.”
  • Leading the charge: Last fall, BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg and Mark Di Stefano reported on Murdoch’s long-standing antipathy toward Silicon Valley’s tech companies. “Murdoch and his chief newspaper lieutenant, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson, have taken a central role in the news industry’s corporate war against Facebook and Google,” they wrote.
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Other notable stories

  • For CJR, Michael A. Fuoco offers a first-person account of the battle between reporters at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the paper’s publisher over an editorial defending Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations.
  • Cool new project from The News Integrity Initiative, Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, who are coming together to create the Community Listening and Engagement Fund (CLEF),  which they describe as “a new grant-making initiative to help news organizations produce more relevant and trusted coverage for the diverse audiences they serve. The Fund will subsidize the costs for newsrooms to adopt proven technology tools that enable them to engage with and listen to their communities.”
  • A Michigan man is under arrest after threatening to kill CNN employees, reports CBS’s Atlanta affiliate. Brandon Griesemer made 22 calls to CNN about a week ago, reportedly saying, among other things, “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.”
  • Media Matters reports that the Sunday shows barely mentioned Saturday’s Women’s March. Politico’s Jack Shafer explains why that event, and Friday’s March for Life, receive relatively little attention.
  • NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that New York Daily News Managing Editor Robert Moore is under investigation for sexual harassment. The News’s parent company Tronc “would not say whether he remains on the job or has been suspended or placed on leave.”
  • New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger answered some reader questions over at the Times’s Reader Center. He defended the paper’s decision to do away with the public editor position, by suggesting it cut out the middle man.

ICYMI: A newsroom was told by management to run a “vile” editorial. Staffers made a bold move.

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.