Help! Facebook is eating journalists

Tuesday, 8 March, 2016

Facebook is not the pet crocodile that journalists thought it was. Those are not tears; they’re teeth. So writes Emily Bell, more or less, in the Columbia Journalism Review. While reporters were examining the morphology, behavior and ecology of the Crocodylidae family (Zuck branch) they failed to pay attention to two significant things, says Bell:

“First, news publishers have lost control over distribution.

Social media and platform companies took over what publishers couldn’t have built even if they wanted to. Now the news is filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable. The news business is embracing this trend, and digital native entrants like BuzzFeed, Vox and Fusion have built their presence on the premise that they are working within this system, not against it.

Second, the inevitable outcome of this is the increase in power of social media companies.

The largest of the platform and social media companies, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and even second order companies such as Twitter, Snapchat and emerging messaging app companies, have become extremely powerful in terms of controlling who publishes what to whom, and how that publication is monetized.”

So, do we surrender or fight? Remember what Churchill said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Alas, the blue crocodile has an insatiable appetite and Emily Bell is not sanguine about the future: “To be sustainable, news and journalism companies will need to radically alter their cost base. It seems most likely that the next wave of news media companies will be fashioned around a studio model of managing different stories, talents, and products across a vast range of devices and platforms. As this shift happens, posting journalism directly to Facebook or other platforms will become the rule rather than the exception.”

Aw, nice crocodile. Here’s a delicious morsel of news. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

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