A better media is possible

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A better media is possible

There is now no trust in the media. Its business model is no good. And journalism is under attack from all sides. So why does Vanessa Baird think that the news media has a good future?


Credit: Amorim / Cartoon Movement

For the past few years I’ve been going to the Media Democracy Festival in London. The meeting of activists, journalists, students, and academics, is usually full of criticism of the media.

But this year it felt different.

Maybe it was because the end seems closer, the media is full of fake news and broken business models, and trust is lost.

But there was the feeling of possibility.

Sure, people talked about what’s wrong. But there was also a lot of ideas about how to put things right. Some of the ideas are in this magazine.

And there were reminders about the real purposes of journalism – to look for truth, to inform, and sometimes to entertain, but also to hold power to account. This makes it important for a healthy democracy – and it is worth fighting for.

A broken business model

The news media is in trouble. Most media publishers made a big mistake. They trusted the internet and followed the idea of making content free online.

Sure, publishers would lose money when print sales fell as readers got all their news for free online. But there would be more readers online and this could sell advertising.

It could have worked. Content reached many more people.

And there was a lot of advertising money but it went to Google and Facebook. Today those two companies get almost half of all online advertising money . Some people think they get more.

Traditional news media are the big losers. Between 2006 and 2017, newspapers in the US lost 75 per cent of advertising money. Before it was their main income.

One example of this was Facebook’s idea of new kinds of content like live video but then they stopped the idea. In some countries, Facebook suddenly took away publisher posted content from newsfeeds.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was under attack for hosting fake news and violent videos. He said Facebook would go back to its first idea of linking people, and it would prefer community and ‘local news’.

And another broken business model…

Mark Zuckerberg and his tech people have broken another model - the idea of the worldwide web as an open and free link between people. This was the idea of its inventor Tim Berners-Lee.

It is now clear that Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) have changed into very big advertising companies and data thieves. They have used their ‘free’ services to get information from their users. Data is the new oil, they say. But oil is limited. Data is unlimited and people are happy to give it away freely.


Andrew Keen is a tech innovator and now a critic. He says the technology is not the problem, it’s the web’s economy, which is about winner takes all.

Cambridge Analytica used personal data taken from about 87 million Facebook users to use political advertising to try to influence elections. This is an example of a system that has been operating for years. It’s about collecting personal data to sell to others.

Readers and viewers, who enjoy a lot of content on their phone or tablet or laptop, may be quite happy with this situation. Why should they care?

Anger makes us share

One answer: it’s bad for journalism and for democracy. There is more online news but paid jobs in journalism are ever harder to find. We have lost half of all newspaper jobs in the US in the past 15 years. Canadian newsrooms have become 30 per cent smaller in the last four years. In Britain more than 200 local papers have closed and the number of regional journalists has halved. About 58 per cent of the country has no daily or regional newspaper. Even the new digital media is suffering. Buzzfeed recently cut a third of its UK workers with more job losses in the US.

The difficult situation of independent media means larger companies are buying it with serious political results. In Turkey the very big Demiroren Holding, which supports Erdogan, bought the liberal Dogan Media (titles Hurriyet and Posta). In the US, Sinclair, which supports Trump, already owns 193 radio stations and is hoping to buy 42 more.

As we lose jobs in journalism, there is a lot more work for reporters. If they have to write 17 articles every day, ‘cut-and-paste’ and the use of press releases becomes the only way.

The speed of news and the need to ‘keep up with Twitter’ mean that journalists, even at the public service BBC, often have just minutes to prepare for a broadcast.

Social media has affected the content, too. The only important thing is to get attention. Research shows that Facebook and Google use disagreement and abuse and not research and debate. ‘Success’ depends on emotional reaction and ‘what makes people share more than anything is anger’. Reporting becomes inaccurate and terrible fake news gets so many more clicks.

With a news industry which has so little money, corporate advertisers can control everything. In 2015 British journalist Peter Oborne resigned from the conservative Daily Telegraph because it did not report the wrongdoing by HSBC bank. This was because the newspaper had a valuable advertising deal with the bank.


None of this is good for trust. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that globally trust in the media has fallen to its lowest. In 22 of the 28 markets in the survey it is now the least trusted institution.

The big drop in trust is mainly in digital platforms, especially search engines and social media. Sixty-three per cent of people in the survey say they do not know how to tell good journalism from fake news.

Trust in social media platforms fell last year, but trust in journalists rose by 61 per cent in the UK - although it was very low before.


Reference: Reuters Institute 2017 Report

There is more confidence in journalists in the US, Germany, and Denmark than in the UK, France, and Australia.

Public trust in the British press is still suffering after the 2011 phone-hacking scandal. And it is suffering after the press did not sign up for a legally recognized independent regulator, as the Leveson Inquiry recommended.


So, is there anything positive to say?

People know more about fake news and there is action against it. Media commentator James Breiner says that trust in journalism is coming now. If people do not lose interest completely, we could be coming to a time of real media education and critical thinking. There are already signs that reporting news in a too simple is changing. Long-form investigative journalism is now in fashion. People say they want public-service journalism that reports on corruption and holds authorities to account. Independent investigative groups are working together with good success – for example, Ojo Publica (Public Eye) in Peru worked with several others to expose the Panama papers.


Changing media habits. References: Reuters Institute 2017 Report

Young people won’t pay for news, we are told – and then they do. After Trump subscriptions to quality US papers rose and this was mainly thanks to younger readers. Musician-activist and academic David Lowery, who fought against Spotify, says his younger students understand the need to pay for content. They understand that ‘nothing is free’.

Advertising is also open to question. Berners-Lee does not think that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. We need to be ‘more creative’, he says. ‘I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, and not increase our fears and our differences.’ And big global corporations have lost hundreds of millions of dollars to advertising fraud when robots and not humans view pages and video. More and more people are using digital ad-blockers. Instead, readers, viewers, and listeners are paying for journalism directly through crowdfunding, donations, subscriptions, and memberships. The Guardian newspaper in Britain, now gets more from its reader members than from corporate advertising.


Time for a change: Valerie Bony is working against the idea of male-dominated journalism in her country, Ivory Coast.

Photo: Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters

Thanks to the work of journalists like Carol Cadwalladr, and whistleblowers like Chris Wylie, the negative side of surveillance capitalism is now in the public eye. More revelations are likely – Google has even more of our private data than Facebook does. There is more and more support for the idea that the big US tech companies are too powerful and need regulation.

Maybe, at last, things are turning against big media bosses with their power over governments. For over a year now, Rupert Murdoch’s plan to get overall control of Sky News has been stopped thanks to the Media Reform Coalition.

And, finally, let’s not forget the smaller media companies. With their idealism and without the profit motive, they are developing new ways of working and organizing. The New Internationalist is a good example. In 2017 it started the largest media community share offer ever and now more than 3,000 of its readers and supporters own it cooperatively.

The media crisis is producing new ideas. The future depends on the readers, viewers and listeners of news media, as well as the journalists.

In the end it may depend on all of us who believe that a better media is not only possible, but 100% important.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2018/06/01/a-better-media-is-possible

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).