What is Facebook journalism

Facebook and journalism: a story full of misunderstandings

In the pretty Renaissance city of Perugia in northern Italy, Europe's media industry meets every year. From the BBC to the Bild newspaper, major media companies and institutions send their journalists, managers and experts to philosophize about the future of the media at the International Journalism Festival between Wine and Pizza. The main sponsors of the journalism spectacle are, in keeping with the state of the European media industry, Google and Facebook.

Facebook is in the spotlight in Perugia after CEO Mark Zuckberg's hearing in the US Congress. Facebook manager Campbell Brown canceled her planned speech on the day the festival started. But despite the spectacular, unfounded withdrawal, the data scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica was hardly discussed. The keyword Facebook triggered completely different reflexes among the industry gurus in Perugia.

Facebook foundation is supposed to finance the media

For the industry, the scandal in the behavior of Facebook is not the abandonment of the privacy of the users, but the economic dismantling of the publishers by the group. New York journalism professor Jay Rosen said that Facebook had to contribute part of its income to a foundation to finance the media. Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed News argued similarly: Facebook should not only finance media organizations, but also journalism training and other media initiatives. In short: The industry wants to hold out its hand and let its big brother Facebook buy the silence about its business practices.

Facebook and Google have almost completely taken over the digital advertising market in recent years. In 2017, according to one estimate, 84 percent of global revenues (excluding the Chinese market) went to them. In doing so, they brought heavy losses to many commercial media that are financed through advertising - news sites, but also print newspapers and TV stations. And even worse: the media increasingly feel they are dependent on the platforms to guide readers to their content. That is offensive for those who see themselves as the leading media.

Powerful grinning faces

Facebook lets the media organizations feel its superiority all too clearly. "Smiley faces" is what the former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger calls the representatives of the Zuckerberg group, "grinning faces". Anyone who talks to representatives of the Facebook group about their role in influencing public opinion and disseminating news will usually get smooth PR responses with no content. In addition, Facebook changes the newsfeed algorithm every few months, changing the way news articles are displayed to users. That drives the social media managers of the media and experts almost to white heat.

Facebook uses a newsfeed algorithm to make decisions about the distribution and quality of journalistic content, says journalism professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen from Oxford University. "But it is not Zuckerberg's role to decide what is good for us." The scientist calls for more cooperation between platforms and media publishers. “We need something like a UN or an EU, an entity for technical cooperation.” With this, Kleis Nielsen wants to ensure that the interests of the media are taken into account. He does not say how the media can then remain independent of Google and Facebook.

In any case, Facebook does not attach much importance to cooperation on an equal footing with the media. In Perugia, Facebook representative Nick Wrenn outlined the latest changes in the news feed. In order to make news articles appear prominently in the news feed, it does not need many likes and shares as before, but only the number of comments is important. In the future, the media will also interact with their readers in groups on Facebook. The changes mean that the media spend more time looking after readers on Facebook. The platform shows the publishers what they see as their role: as free moderators and compliant content producers.

The industry gurus are nevertheless subject to the misunderstanding that the Internet companies can be tamed. Facebook will still find its role and help the media to finance itself and find an audience, said all-purpose journalism expert Jeff Jarvis, who spoke at several events in Perugia. Like Google before it, Facebook will learn to be a partner for the media.

The malice of Google

In fact, Google representative Madhav Chinnappa could not resist a tip against the competitor. Google has learned to engage and collaborate with the media, Chinnappa told the festival audience. "I once said to Facebook that they should do more of it too."

While Facebook is arousing the desires of the European media industry, Google has indeed managed to appease publishers by spending millions on innovation projects, training courses and the promotion of young talent. There is practically nothing to be heard of the Alphabet Group's market power in Perugia. Maybe only because the assembled European media managers tasted the cocktails at the Google reception so good.

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About the author

Alexander Fanta

As the Brussels correspondent of netzpolitik.org, Alexander reports on the digital policy of the European Union. He writes about new laws and does investigative research on large technology companies and their lobbying. He is co-author of the study "Medienmäzen Google" on the group's journalism funding. In 2017 Alexander was a fellow at the Reuters Institute for Journalism Research at Oxford University, where he researched automation in journalism. Before that he was a foreign policy journalist for the Austrian news agency APA. E-mail:[email protected] (PGP). Twitter:@FantaAlexx. WhatsApp / Threema: +32483248596.
Published 04/14/2018 at 7:00 AM