Year in review: Everything I wrote about media business and revenue models in 2019 (Damian Radcliffe – Medium)

This is the second part of a series bringing together all of my work from the past year. You can see Part One, the four new research reports I dropped in 2019, here.

I’ll share additional updates in the coming days related to my output on changing journalistic practice (including local media,) media trends, digital/tech in the Middle East, as well as the podcasts I hosted.

Why local journalism needs a funding pipeline (Yvonne Leow – Reynolds Journalism Institute)

In one year, nearly a billion dollars poured into the local news industry from tech companies and philanthropies:

  • March 2018: Google commits $300 million to fund local journalism programs and initiatives;

  • January 2019: Facebook pledges $300 million to support local journalism projects;

  • February 2019: The Knight Foundation says it will double its investment in local journalism to $300 million over the next five years (disclosure — I am a consultant for the foundation);

  • March 2019: The American Journalism Project announces a $49 million fund to support local nonprofit newsrooms.

If you were a budding or seasoned media entrepreneur, the message was clear: Now is the time to start a local news company, and predictably, many did.

Why Facebook Can’t Fix Itself (Andrew Marantz – The New Yorker)

When Facebook was founded, in 2004, the company had few codified rules about what was allowed on the platform and what was not. Charlotte Willner joined three years later, as one of the company’s first employees to moderate content on the site. At the time, she said, the written guidelines were about a page long; around the office, they were often summarized as, “If something makes you feel bad in your gut, take it down.” Her husband, Dave, was hired the following year, becoming one of twelve full-time content moderators. He later became the company’s head of content policy. The guidelines, he told me, “were just a bunch of examples, with no one articulating the reasoning behind them. ‘We delete nudity.’ ‘People aren’t allowed to say nice things about Hitler.’ It was a list, not a framework.” So he wrote a framework. He called the document the Abuse Standards. A few years later, it was given a more innocuous-sounding title: the Implementation Standards.

Why am I not seeing this ad? (Jan Pieter Balkenende – EU Observer)

Why am I seeing this ad? The question is simple - but the answer is still opaque. It has been some time since Cambridge Analytica shook up the world of political advertising, but its ghost still haunts electoral authorities in EU member states and the European Commission alike.

As it should, considering the mechanisms that allowed for such political manipulation to happen are still in place. As the EU is looking to regulate social media platforms, the question remains how to deal with political ads. While political ads broadcasted on TV are visible to anyone tuning in to that particular channel, online political ads are often only visible to a homogenous group of people who were targeted with such an ad.

We will finally confront systemic market failure (Victor Pickard – NiemanLab)

Those unconstrained by market ideology might dare to consider what a new, truly public, digital media system could look like in the United States and beyond.”

We need to fix the news media, not just social media (Public Knowledge – Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

Focusing blame Google and Facebook for the decline of in-depth news reporting and print journalism ignores the real and long-standing problems that lie at the heart of our troubled relationship with corporate media. Insisting that these companies should fund existing corporate media, or that we should solve the problem by allowing even more consolidation, would be a disaster for democracy.

‘We can’t reach the women who need us’: the LGBT YouTubers suing the tech giant for discrimination (Jenny Kleeman – The Guardian)

The platform made stars of Bria Kam and Chrissy Chambers. But now the duo, along with other gay content creators, say they are losing their voice and their living because of the unfair way an algorithm works

We can’t fight fake news without saving local journalism (Emily Bell – The Guardian)

Local news is often trusted more than national news but it is highly vulnerable to online disinformation

Universal Advertising Transparency by Default joint statement (EPD and partners)

The political campaigning landscape has changed significantly with the digitalisation of our public sphere, which has created new opportunities for political participation, but also poses significant risks to the integrity of elections and political debate. Unlike broadcast political ads shown to the wider public, online ads are tailored to specific homogenous groups of people, which can segment and polarise the voter base and distort political debate. Advertisers can purchase exorbitant amounts of ads and flood people’s social media feeds, thereby buying themselves space in public policy and political debates. The lack of transparency of which ads are shown to whom, why, and who has paid for them, further creates a situation where anyone - from a political party and interest group to a foreign advertising firm like Cambridge Analytica - can distort political debate and easily evade public interest scrutiny. This threatens the credibility of our electoral processes, and ultimately the legitimacy and representativeness of our democracies.

At the source of these problems lies the lack of transparency offered by digital platforms such as social media sites, video apps and search engines. While some platforms have found ways to provide some transparency on political ads (partly due to pressure by the European Commission), their voluntary measures fall short of providing meaningful transparency. One crucial weakness of the status quo is that it leaves platforms to decide what is and is not political advertising - and thus, what advertising will and will not be subjected to platforms’ transparency regimes. To avoid this issue and to recognise the kind of behavioural targeting and algorithmic delivery that underlies all types of social media advertising, it is necessary to require meaningful default transparency for all ads

UNCTAD: ARTICLE 19 joins the 18th Intergovernmental Group of Experts’ meeting (ARTICLE 19)

On 10-12 July, ARTICLE 19 attended the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) meeting on competition in Geneva. The event brings together experts and delegations from competition authorities around the world to discuss various challenges related to competition policy and enforcement, with the aim to exchange experiences and best practices.

This year’s agenda included, among other things, discussions on competition issues in the digital economy. ARTICLE 19 has been recently active in the field. We are convinced that competition rules can help to secure freedom of expression in a number of digital markets, and in particular in social media ones.

Against this background, we have submitted a written contribution to the UNCTAD Secretariat in preparation for the IGE meeting, in order to contribute to the debate and share our suggestions and recommendations with attendants as well as with a broader public.

Threats to media sustainability and freedom of expression in the digital era (Michael J. Oghia & Mira Milosevic – GFMD)

Journalists and the news media industry as a whole face unprecedented threats in the changing information environment — economic and market challenges, increasing distrust and denigration of their work, and new forms of digital repression — that are often overlooked in today’s regulatory conversations. Especially now with the perfect storm of disinformation, market destabilization, digital repression of critical voices, and the disruption of our daily lives caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the situation facing journalism and news media is dire. The need to address these challenges are what led us at the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), an international network of journalism support and media development organizations, to work with our members and partners to establish the Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media (DC-Sustainability). The DC-Sustainability is an open, multi-stakeholder initiative operating within the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that already includes multiple Global Network Initiative (GNI) members, and seeks to work more with GNI via GFMD to promote one of our core shared concerns: protecting our online information ecosystems by promoting human rights, press freedom, and access to information.

The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data (The Economist)

A NEW commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era. These titans—Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft—look unstoppable. They are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Amazon captures half of all dollars spent online in America. Google and Facebook accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year.

The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free (Current Affairs)

Is there a justifiable rationale for treating ideas—and particularly stories—as a form of “property”? One obvious reason for doing so is to ensure that writers and other creators don’t starve to death: In our present-day capitalist utopia, if a writer’s output can be brazenly copied and profited upon by others, they won’t have any meaningful ability to make a living off their work, especially if they’re an independent creator without any kind of institutional affiliation or preexisting wealth.

The media’s post-advertising future is also its past (The Atlantic)

There have been layoffs across Vox Media, Vice, and BuzzFeed (and dubious talk of an emergency merger). Mic, once valued at $100 million, fired most of its staff and sold for $5 million. Verizon took a nearly $5 billion write-down on its digital media unit, which includes AOL and Yahoo. Reuters announced plans to lay off more than 3,000 people in the next two years. The disease seems widespread, affecting venture-capital darlings and legacy brands, flattening local news while punishing international wires. Almost no one is safe, and almost everyone is for sale. It’s tempting to think that this is the inevitable end game of Google and Facebook’s duopoly. The two companies already receive more than half of all the dollars spent on digital advertising, and they commanded 90 percent of the growth in digital ad sales last year. But what’s happening in media right now is more complex. We’re seeing the convergence of four trends.

Targeted advertising is ruining the Internet and breaking the world (Nathalie Maréchal – Motherboard)

In his testimony to the US Senate last spring, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that his company doesn’t sell user data, as if to reassure policymakers and the public. But the reality—that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media companies sell access to our attention—is just as concerning. Actual user information may not change hands, but the advertising business model drives company decision making in ways that are ultimately toxic to society. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci put it in her 2017 TED talk, “we’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.”

Restoring competition in ”winner-took-all” digital platform markets (UNCTAD)

Digital platforms are at the centre of the global economy and daily lives of consumers.A handful of these platforms have become dominant in specific markets without facing meaningful competition. They include Amazon as a marketplace, Facebook in social networking, Google in search engines and Apple and Google in application stores.

Digital platforms rely on big data and are characterized as multisided markets with economies of scale, network effects and winner-takes-all features. These firms offer their products for “free” on one side of the market and earn revenues from online advertising and selling user data on the other side of the market.

Public investments for global news (Victor Pickard – Centre for International Governance Innovation)

Commercial journalism is failing in many countries around the world.1 Numerous factors contribute to this crisis, but at its root lies a “systemic market failure” in which for-profit news institutions, in particular those that depend on advertising revenue, are increasingly unviable. Symptomatic of this broader decline, traditional news organizations’ cost-cutting measures are depriving international news operations of the considerable resources they need to survive. In recognition of this systemic failure, a healthy global civil society requires structural alternatives — specifically, non-market models — to support adequate levels of journalism. In particular, we need a large global trust fund to finance international investigative reporting. Given their role in hastening the decline of journalism and proliferating misinformation, platform monopolies should contribute to this fund to offset social harms. While setting up such a fund will be novel in many respects, there are models and policy instruments we can use to imagine how it could support the public service journalism that the market no longer sustains.

Public infrastructure isn’t just bridges and water mains: Here’s an argument for extending the concept to digital spaces (Joshua Benton – NeimanLab)

“Our solutions cannot be limited to asking these platforms to do a better job of meeting their civic obligations — we need to consider what technologies we want and need for digital media to have a productive role in democratic societies.”

News media needs to convince readers to open their wallets. Consolidation has not helped (Elizabeth Hansen and Elizabeth Anne Watkins – Columbia Journalism Review)

Getting the editorial, business, and product teams of a news organization to work together is difficult for any publisher. But our data suggest that the uphill battle is particularly steep for legacy publishers, many of which have made decisions to centralize their product and analytics teams in ways that don’t serve the cause of reader-driven revenue. Those teams would be better able to help newsrooms attract paying readers if they were instead working much closer to the reporters, editors, and communities their newsrooms serve.

To highlight this, we offer insights from two ongoing studies. The first is an offshoot of the Tow Platform Press study, in which we are tracking workplace changes in mainstream digital and legacy newsrooms as they navigate third-party distribution platforms. That study began in January 2018 with 23 interviews across six newsrooms. The second is the Single Subject News study at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy. That study is an 18-month investigation into the audience development work of nine topically focused, digital newsrooms.

Media Viability: 6 strategies for success (MDIF / DW Akademie)

Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) gives financial and technical assistance to more than 100 media companies in 40 countries. In this guest post, MDIF’s Valer Kot and Peter Whitehead share insights from their experiences and from a media viability survey that looked at media organizations across the globe. Valer Kot is Senior Media Advisor at MDIF, Peter Whitehead is Director of Communications.

What is the biggest threat to independent media? Physical violence? Jailing? Local oligarchs capturing ownership? Though all are important and happen with worrying regularity, according to the media companies we work with the answer is something else. When asked to prioritise threats to their existence, our clients gave a clear, but less eye-catching, answer: Economics.

It’s time to reboot the startup economy (Tim Wu – OneZero)

The new laws and antitrust actions that would resurrect American innovation.

It’s not that we’ve failed to rein in Facebook and Google. We’ve not even tried (Shoshana Zuboff – The Guardian)

In a BBC interview last week, Facebook’s vice-president, Nick Clegg, surprised viewers by calling for new “rules of the road” on privacy, data collection and other company practices that have attracted heavy criticism during the past year. “It’s not for private companies … to come up with those rules,” he insisted. “It is for democratic politicians in the democratic world to do so.”

Facebook’s response would be to adopt a “mature role”, not “shunning” but “advocating” the new rules. For a company that has fiercely resisted new laws, Clegg’s message aimed to persuade us that the page had turned. Yet his remarks sounded like Newspeak, as if to obscure ugly facts.

Internet economics is a thing, and we need to take note (Geoff Huston – RIPE Labs)

In this article I talk about consolidation, the fact that more and more data traffic goes ‘dark’ and the importance of open measurement platforms and open data sets. We need public measurements that are impartial, accurate, comprehensive and of course unbiased as an essential precondition for the fair and effective operation of markets.

How to evaluate commercial revenue as a sustainability strategy for investigative media organisations (GIJN)

Nonprofit investigative journalism organizations are increasingly borrowing strategies from larger commercial publishers to supplement their grant funding and to extend their impact. While membership and subscription strategies are focused on your consumers, commercial revenue strategies mean making deals with other institutions.

There are three broad categories of commercial revenue strategies, each defined by what is being sold.

  1. Advertising: Selling marketers and advertising agencies access to your audience.

  2. Syndication: Selling other publishers access to your reporting or other internal data/information.

  3. Services: Selling other companies or institutions access to your skills or expertise.

How can competition law help to secure freedom of expression on social media? (ARTICLE 19)

Facebook, Twitter and Google are now the most prominent fora for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression. People around the world rely on these platforms not only for sharing their opinions and views with others, but also as a major source of information about politics and current affairs.

Individuals’ freedom of expression and right to information, however, is currently under threat from these platforms. The platforms have a huge role in deciding what people post, see and share online, through the systems they use to moderate and remove user-produced content on different grounds. These systems, under the standardized Terms or Services (ToS), include grounds aimed at tackling hate speech, misinformation and terrorism, but can also be focused on placating political requirements, or boosting commercial confidence in the platforms.

Global journalism is fighting for international development funding but shouldn’t need to. Especially now. (Rieneke Van Santen – Medium)

As governments struggle in response to COVID-19, long-term investments in global media are needed to keep people safe and newsrooms healthy. Journalism is in a rough place. As the world relies more heavily on independent fact-based health information due to the pandemic, journalists everywhere are under increased pressure and in the line of fire, and not just figuratively speaking.

Global independent media find themselves in the vulnerable position of waiting for governments and donors to decide on their future funding as they adapt to the COVID-19 crisis.

Foundation grants have strings attached, and nonprofit journalists sometimes don’t like being told what to do by them (Laura Hazard Owen and Joshua Benton – NiemanLab)

Foundation grants have strings attached, and nonprofit journalists sometimes don’t like being told what to do by them. But comparing grant money to advertisers trying to sway coverage seems a bit much.

Facebook just dealt another potentially lethal blow to local journalism (CNN Business)

After years of losing advertisers and readers to the social media platform, the larger publishing industry is undoubtedly excited to be getting paid for its content. Plus, they will finally have access to Facebook's two billion users and steady revenue. But there will likely be some major collateral damage as a result of this deal: The likely obliteration of local news.

News aggregation seems to be all the rage right now. Last week, CNN announced it would launch a digital news service to compete with Facebook and Apple News, and pay news organizations to carry their content. A few months ago, News Corp. announced a similar product called Knewz.

Facebook and Google should pay for the news they use (Courtney C. Radsch – Thomson Reuters Foundation)

A proposed law in Australia would force Facebook and Google to pay for the news they use to improve their feeds and search results

Disinformation sites generate over $200 million: study (DW Akademie)

Ad revenue has effectively sustained websites flagged as disinformation sources with millions of dollars, according to a study. Despite talk of regulation, experts told DW the issue needs a "whole-of-industry solution."

Digital platforms, regulation, and media sustainability: A lesson for Europe from Down Under (GFMD)

The EC is not alone in its efforts to address the rise of online disinformation and misinformation campaigns. Countering propaganda has long been part of a government’s mandate, yet the open, fast-paced nature of social media presents new obstacles in this years-long struggle against untruthful information. Indeed, given the reality of today’s online environment and what it means for conveying accurate, high-quality information, it is important to address underlying mechanisms that have enabled the manipulation of online information spaces in the first place. By also addressing how information is created and disseminated from a market viewpoint, not simply a content viewpoint, it paints a more holistic picture of the challenges faced in keeping a citizenry informed.

A positive example of this holistic view was recently presented by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which published a comprehensive preliminary report on their Digital Platforms Inquiry as a result of a year-long open consultation process. This landmark document is meant to consider the wider impact of digital platforms on society. It also addresses key concerns about the role global digital platforms play in the supply of news and journalism in Australia, “what responsibility they should hold as gateways to information and business, and the extent to which they should be accountable for their influence.” Ultimately, the report stressed that digitalisation and the increase in online sources of news and media content highlight how the current sector-specific approach to media regulation is inadequate

Competition rules could protect human rights on social media platforms (Maria Luisa Stasi – OpenGlobalRights)

Social media platforms are abusing their dominant position and exploiting users with terms of service that fail to protect their human rights. Competition rules could help fix the problem.

Can Independent Journalism Thrive under Paywalls? (Prateek Sibal – Economic and Political Weekly)

Paywalls divide the public sphere by exacerbating information inequalities and thwarting a common understanding of what constitutes a public good, thereby hurting democracy.

“Big tech is watching you. Who’s watching big tech?” The Markup is finally ready for liftoff (Sarah Scire – NiemanLab)

After a false start, the unconventional team of algorithm investigators is ready to dive deep. “I’ve heard that we are tying our hands behind our backs, but there must be a way to engage an audience without subjecting readers to a surveillance ecosystem.”

Australia is making Google and Facebook pay for news: what difference will the code make? (Amanda Meade – The Guardian)

The Australian government tabled world-first media legislation in parliament on Wednesday that will force Google and Facebook to negotiate a fair payment with news organisations for using their content in Facebook’s newsfeed and Google’s search.

The Australian law is separate to a recent deal Facebook made to pay mainstream UK news outlets millions of pounds a year to license their articles, but has a similar motivation. The social network signed the deals as it faces the threat of a government crackdown over its dominance of online advertising.

American journalism is dying. Its survival requires public funds (Victor Pickard – The Guardian)

Maintaining public media infrastructure should be non-negotiable for a democratic society.

Advertising is the Internet’s original sin (The Atlantic)

Ron Carlson’s short story “What We Wanted To Do” takes the form of an apology from a villager who failed to protect his comrades from marauding Visigoths. It begins:

What we wanted to do was spill boiling oil onto the heads of our enemies as they attempted to bang down the gates of our village. But as everyone now knows, we had some problems, primarily technical problems, that prevented us from doing what we wanted to do the way we had hoped to do it. What we’re asking for today is another chance.

There’s little suspense in the story—the disastrous outcome is obvious from the first paragraph—but it works because of the poignancy of the apology. All of us have screwed up situations in our lives so badly that we’ve been forced to explain our actions by reminding everyone of our good intentions. It’s obvious now that what we did was a fiasco, so let me remind you that what we wanted to do was something brave and noble.

A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue (Rasmus Kleis Nielsen – Nieman Lab)

2019 will be another terrible year for the business of news, and journalists will have to face the harsh reality that no one will come to their rescue — not benign billionaires, not platform companies, and not policymakers.

A digital declaration: On big data as surveillance capitalism (Shoshana Zuboff – Frankfurter Allgemeine)

In the cove below our window a pair of loons returns each spring from their distant travels. For many months we are lulled to sleep by their cries of homecoming, renewal, and protection. Green turtles hatch on the beach and go down to the sea where they travel thousands of miles for a decade or two before they retrace the path to that patch of beach and lay their eggs.

This theme of “nostos”, finding home, is at the root of all things human too. We yearn for the place in which life has been known to flourish. Humans can choose the form of home , but it is always where we know and where we are known; where we love and are beloved. Home is voice and sanctuary— part freedom, part solace.

5 Business Models for Local News to Watch in 2020 (GIJN)

he search for new financial models to support quality journalism is taking a decidedly local turn in the United States. Small-city US papers are failing in droves as analysts warn about growing regions of “news deserts” — communities without dependable sources of local and regional news.

(Editor's note)

Media Sustainability and Digital Markets

The sustainability and economic viability of journalism and news media is one of – if not the – most critical issues currently facing the sector. Yet, global debates raging in legislatures and policy circles often overlook or minimise their attention to the news, journalism, and information ecosystems, and the implications of digital platforms’ market power on access and the availability of quality news content online. This includes the wider impact that the digital economy and platforms have on society. Any serious effort to address the myriad problems plaguing digital platforms must also address the challenges faced by news media. In other words, content-related issues must also be seen within the wider context of market-related challenges, while clearly distinguishing content regulation from market regulation vis-a-vis platforms. In order to foster a pluralistic media ecosystem that detects disinformation and produces high-quality, fact-based news, media sustainability must be considered a significant priority.

As more of our lives and subsequent outcomes of our decision-making are transformed into data, the uninhibited and opaque collection, use, and trade of personal data by several companies has created virtual (data) monopolies and bottlenecks to efficient and freely functioning digital marketplaces. Moreover, barriers to entry for new, innovative services are constantly rising, while the space for public services, including public service journalism, is rapidly shrinking. Multibillion-dollar technology companies compete directly with media companies for the attention, loyalty, and engagement of users, as well as for the wallets of every advertising company that used to help support the business model of journalism. Therefore, discussions about media sustainability in the digital age must address market-related issues, the role of major platforms, and myriad other issues related to business models, advertising, and funding high-quality journalism.

GFMD is addressing this within the Dynamic Coalition on the Sustainability of Journalism and News Media (DC-sustainability), a GFMD-led, multi-stakeholder initiative within the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), our Internet Governance Working Group, as well as through our advocacy efforts (e.g., our issue paper, and our blog post titled, “Digital platforms, regulation, and media sustainability: A lesson for Europe from Down Under”).

Threats to Media Sustainability and Freedom of Expression in the Digital Era

Written by GFMD, this post was written for the Global Network Initiative (GNI) blog ahead of World Press Freedom Day 2020.

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