Tow Center

The Media Today: On the fight against Facebook and Google

July 12, 2017

Earlier this week, the News Media Alliance called for collective action by publishers against the “duopoly” of Facebook and Google, which now control both the distribution of and the audience for publishers’ work. The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg calls the bargaining effort, which appeals to the slow decline of journalism in the digital era, “an extreme measure with long odds,” but acknowledges the asymmetric relationship between publishers and technology companies.

Tow Director Emily Bell adds nuance to that picture for CJR, differentiating between the attitudes of legacy media publishers, who are largely leading this effort (Rupert Murdoch among them), and digital natives, who are not represented by the Alliance and whose business models rely on a good relationship with social media. For example, just two weeks ago BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti praised the forward-looking attitude of the tech companies, as opposed to the short-term focus of the media.

The approaches of digital and legacy media also correspond, Bell writes, to two visions on the future of journalism. “One…says a far closer relationship between publishers and social media is necessary.…Another version says there must be a necessary separation of journalism from a compromised and opaque system of power that often works as part of the surveillance state, and which has commercial priorities that can clash with the public interest.” Which vision will win depends on the regulatory environment of the years to come.

In the meantime, the duopoly lives on!

  • “Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance,” The Wall Street Journal found, in an “academic influence campaign.”
  • Facebook’s latest concession to publishers is to roll out a subscription function on its proprietary article format, Instant Articles. It’s a tricky move, because, as Digiday points out, “Facebook believes in creating a uniform user experience”—but each publisher’s business model creates different needs.
  • Google and Facebook are actually taking part in their own collective action. They are among a group of large tech companies staging a “day of action” against the rollback of net neutrality.
  • We usually think of Silicon Valley as a space crowded with internet startups, but is it? “We haven’t had a major new technology company in more than 10 years,” writes Timothy Lee at Vox.
  • From the CJR archives, Emily Bell lovingly encourages the tech companies to voluntarily fund an endowment for journalism.

Other notable stories

  • In yesterday’s installment of The Russia Files, Donald Trump, Jr. scooped the Times, publishing his own email chain after the Times, about to publish the same, asked him for comment. CJR’s Pete Vernon asks whether Trump Jr.’s move will tempt reporters to forego the usual request for comment.
  • Jared Yates Sexton, who has been investigating the DJT story for the past year, was shocked when Trump Jr. tweeted out the emails. CJR’s Meg Dalton spoke to him.
  • A new study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center examines the failure of media coverage around the Flint water crisis. Coverage came too late, the report says. And, “Complaints of citizens were discounted when compared to the comments of officials, residents were portrayed as hopeless and downtrodden despite months of action, and narratives of ‘heroes’ excluded African American activists in a city that is 57 percent black.”
  • The Intercept, which was heavily criticized last month after Reality Winner was arrested for publishing leaked documents that may have revealed their source’s identity, is paying Winner’s legal fees, reports Margaret Sullivan.
  • A fun profile of the marriage between a Fox News reporter and an NPR reporter, at CJR.
Nausicaa Renner is digital editor of CJR.