Why newspapers shouldn’t get too close with Internet giants

Why newspapers shouldn’t get too close with Internet giants

I felt a little froggy this morning and decided to watch Editor and Publisher’s live panel on “The Future of Local NewsMedia – The Experts.”

I usually slow roll my Wednesday morning after a long day of production on Tuesdays and figured, what the hell, I want to be pissed off this morning.

For the most part, this panel didn’t piss me off actually. I disagreed with many on what the future looks like, and I certainly don’t buy into Ken Doctor and his model at our scale in south-central Kansas. I look forward to seeing what he does in California, but sorry, what you propose would likely put Kansas in peril. Enjoy your “small market” in Santa Cruz, Calif.

I’ll start with what I agreed with: revenues are going to be more reader based than in the past. I don’t think they are going to be the majority of what a company our size does, but we have always felt that a company that cares about its readers and strives to earn their business is a smart way to work in the publishing industry. In our company, we have built reader revenue through selling subscriptions to our news products, book publishing, events (we throw a helluva concert in late September when the country isn’t on fire – thanks, COVID), and we host panels and debates for the public to enjoy.

A company focused on what readers want is a company that will strive, in our opinion. I didn’t hear one panelist say that a company focused on reader revenue should naturally attract advertisers, though. That seems odd. Maybe they aren’t downplaying the role of advertising in our future, but it sounded like it.

If eyeballs on Facebook can attract advertisers, so can a publishing company, and we know if we focus on getting eyeballs and selling something readers get value from, it’s not a hard sale to the local bank why they should have an ad next to that content.

Overall, I felt this panel had a lot of positive thoughts and, unlike most panels I hear, didn’t pander to Gannetthouse and other financially driven hedge funds that own newspapers. Many of these panelists called that kind of model out on the table. I appreciated that.

Oh, I wish the panel would have ended there. I would have felt better about some of these experts and what they are preaching.

As the topic moved to social, it got a lot worse. A few of them said that not only should the richest companies in the history of the world not pay us for our content, we should be collaborating with them more. These experts and their media associations don’t lobby the government, but they are happy to spend time working with the devil to actively move us to be more reliable on social. Wonderful…

I have zero intrust in collaborating with Zuckerface or those Google boys, and neither should anyone else in our industry.

There is a fundamental problem with solid journalistic efforts collaborating with the tech giants, and that problem is that they incentivize “Fake News” and echo chambers. They profit from those things existing.

Bookface is the biggest echo chamber in history. Anyone and everyone should watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It will likely leave you with a different chill than some would put with Netfilix.

Without directly saying it, the entire 1.5-hour program is a huge ad for why people should read newspapers. They advocate for finding solid news and information and limiting how much time you spend on social. Everyone interviewed practically made these social media giants as founders, engineers, or business managers. They had the inside look.

They show very clearly what social media has done to our brains and how fake news can take over your account. The best way this was said was by some hippie-looking dude who essentially said: When you go to Wikipedia (you could also insert newspaper website or physical newspaper here), it’s the same for everyone. When you go to Google or social media, you are getting something they think you want. It’s not objective. It’s not necessarily real, either. If it’s the same for everyone at least people can look at that information and decide what to take away from it. Social doesn’t work like that.

So, why in the hell would newspaper industry experts want to work with platforms that actively profit from deceiving its users and then in the same breath say we should be focused on reader revenue?

Here are the facts: you can’t focus on your readers if you are working with the very people who are trying to feed them false information and profit from it. Our associations should be actively working to free us from social media not work closely with them.

Selling dope is a lucrative enterprise that has an active active user base that comes back over and over and over again for another hit. We aren’t collaborating with that industry for a lot of reasons, but mainly and simply, it’s bad for people.

Until we start realizing that both dope sellers and social media giants call their customers users for a reason, we can’t be focused on readers. You can’t live in both worlds.

So, and I know this is getting long, why do our papers post to social media at all? Aren’t we just collaborating in a lesser manner?

In short, I don’t see it that way. It’s better to have our solid reporting out there for people to stumble onto and potentially find and read than not. I hate it, and I wish we didn’t have to, but for now, it’s something most newspapers should be doing, as at least maybe social media users will take time to live outside their created echo chamber. This is all a company like ours can do. Bigger organizations that represent our industry could be doing better and don’t have to work with these pushers on our behalf.

Finally, my biggest issue with these experts was that in one breath they said they don’t have the people to lobby governments and they aren’t political so they don’t get involved with if social should be regulated and pay our industry, but in the next breath, they said they are actively collaborating with them.

I think maybe the goals and missions of these groups aren’t aligned straight.

Big tech and social are the enemy to our industry. I don’t think we should be actively working with them to figure out how to make them richer while getting some guilt money when they next pandemic comes around.

Instead, we should be working to get big tech and social regulated so we are all playing on the same field and by the same rules. They shouldn’t be allowed to operate in the unregulated wonderworld they do, and the fact that they do is actively bad for our industry, the health of the country, and the health of our minds. To say, ‘They have cool toys and have built great networks; we should just work with them’ is foolish.

Till next time, live long and prosper newspaper friendos.

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