Is Silicon Valley responsible for the waning influence of the legacy news media? Scores of laid-off journalists — including several who spoke to a House panel this week — believe that’s the case.
If they’re correct, the next question is whether “Big Tech” should do something bail out failing news organizations.
“When it comes to dominant online platforms, a news article is valuable if it is viral, not if it is verified,” News Corp General Counsel David Pifofsky told the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel on Tuesday.
“When it comes to dominant online platforms, a news article is valuable if it is viral, not if it is verified.” – David Pifofsky
The hearing, convened by House Democrats, served as a forum for aggrieved members of the news industry to describe how consumers in the digital age seldom go to news websites directly. Instead, they find stories through aggregators — such as search engines or websites like the Drudge Report — who compile the most interesting headlines.That can be frustrating for journalists who feel that consumers aren’t reading their latest 4,000-word analysis on, say, efforts to reform the United States Postal Service, and who feel that Big Tech is allowing consumers to avoid their stories too easily.
Does that problem require a legislative solution? Skeptics aren’t convinced.
“Journalists have never been much for introspection,” Jason Lewis, a former talk radio host, said in an interview. “I can think of no other industry that hasn’t gone through some ‘creative destruction’ due to technological advancements.”
“I can think of no other industry that hasn’t gone through some ‘creative destruction’ due to technological advancements.” – Jason Lewis
Lewis, who worked in radio for more than two decades before representing Minnesota as a Republican in Congress from 2017-19, said “creative destruction” changed the nature of radio as much as the print industry. The difference? His colleagues haven’t complained.
“Radio broadcasters are just two steps behind the printed word when it comes to the failure to monetize the internet. Major markets continue to lay off local talk talent for cheaper syndicated fare and podcasts are starting to rule the spoken word, but I’ve yet to see unemployed conservative talkers demand their jobs back ‘or else,'” Lewis said.
Print and online media platforms have been especially vocal this year about their plight.
“Google made $4.7 billion from the news industry in 2018,” a Sunday New York Times headline insisted. The paper cited a study by the News Media Alliance, a trade association representing newspapers including the Times. It also quoted Alliance President David Chavern demanding a cut of the cash. “They make money off this arrangement, and there needs to be a better outcome for news publishers.”
“This journalism crisis is also a democracy crisis.” – Jerrold Nadler
That grievance comes at a poor time for Silicon Valley. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are reportedly exploring broader antitrust actions against Facebook and Google, respectively, and the companies face a deeply unsympathetic public.
Both companies have voluntarily committed to supporting the news industry, pledging $300 million each to journalism initiatives over the course of three years. Critics say it isn’t enough.
“This journalism crisis is also a democracy crisis,” Democratic House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said at Tuesday’s hearing. “As sources of trustworthy news disappear, American civil life suffers.”
Twitter and YouTube both cracked down on our Pinterest insider story. At issue were leaked documents, which journalists publish all the time. We won't sit and complain though. We'll keep investigating. Tech insiders -we'd love to hear from you. Be Brave: https://t.co/ilDYVUZpSj pic.twitter.com/WbkHYNPqTR
— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) June 14, 2019
To make matters worse for the companies, conservatives were reminded this week that they have their own axe to grind.
When Project Veritas — a self-described investigative journalism outlet — revealed that social media platform Pinterest surreptitiously blocked certain pro-life content from appearing, multiple tech giants sought to suppress the news. Twitter suspended Project Veritas’ account, while Google’s YouTube removed the exposé completely.
Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney who sits on the Republican National Committee and who has represented whistleblowers in the tech community, said Congress should rethink its priorities.
“It’s not the place of Congress to take a bandaid approach to this problem by bailing out tired media outlets that have failed to keep their readers’ attention,” Dhillon said. “There’s no going back to the golden days of traditional media being respected and widely consumed.”
“Why do folks think they’re ‘entitled’ to get paid for writing an endless supply of liberal hit pieces against conservatives?” – Jason Lewis
She also highlighted a paradox. Even though the traditional media is struggling to survive, conservative media outlets are still widely successful — despite the effort by tech companies to put conservative publishers out of business.
“New media outlets like Drudge and Project Veritas are thriving despite Big Tech trying to shut them down through throttling, shadow-banning, and fake ‘hate’ labels, so why are newspapers struggling?” Dhillon said.
It’s fair to point out that Project Veritas takes donations from like-minded patrons, so the comparison isn’t exact.
On the other hand, the New York Times works out of a luxury office space in Midtown Manhattan, and pays staff well into the six-figure range. When Manhattan journalists complain that times are hard, it doesn’t mean quite what it means for most Americans.
“The internet obviously created some financial problems for the news business, but there are areas where the national media, especially print newspapers, could make some changes if they weren’t so stupidly stubborn,” said Eddie Scarry, a columnist for the Washington Examiner.
Scarry cited the Times’ Charles Blow, who writes mostly about his disdain for President Trump.
“Blow occupies one of the most prestigious, well-paid jobs in journalism: He’s a columnist for the New York Times and yet offers nothing that anyone can’t get for free.
If the Times or the Washington Post hired writers that people outside of New York and Washington, D.C. wanted to read and couldn’t easily get elsewhere for free, they’d find some answers for their flailing businesses.”
Could it be that journalists in the legacy media are so ideologically similar, there simply isn’t enough consumer demand to keep them all in business?
Lewis suggested it was possible.”Why do folks think they’re ‘entitled’ to get paid for writing an endless supply of liberal hit pieces against conservatives? Who told them that?” he said.
“It’s a bit hard to muster sympathy for journalists who are just discovering supply and demand.”