The Fight To Save Journalism From Big Tech
John Stanton and Laura Bassett, two seasoned journalists who were laid off by Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post respectively, have teamed up to launch the Save Journalism Project.
July 25, 2019 at 4:28 am
If you are a regular in Black spaces on social media, you may have seen the hashtag #EbonyOwes. Following this hashtag will reveal documentation of the Ebony Magazine’s unconscionable fall from grace. Starting in 2017, a group of freelance writers took the iconic publication to court to demand pay for work stretching back to 2015. Ebony settled with the writers last February but has yet again found itself in the hot seat over unpaid funds. According to The Root, the magazine fired its entire online editorial staff — three writers, one videographer and a social media director — without pay.
While whatever dysfunction has kept Ebony from paying its staff is unknown, Ebony is likely experiencing financial woes that many other news sources are going through. Publications rely on ad revenue to operate. Unfortunately, with the emergence of more conveniently targeted Google and Facebook ads, newspapers and magazines struggle to obtain its lifeblood. To sum it up, companies spend their ad budgets on Facebook and Google ads nowadays instead of traditional newspaper advertising. The Pew Research Center estimated that newspaper advertising revenue nosedived from $49 billion in the mid-2000s to around $16.5 billion in 2017.
What has been the effect of the dominance of online ads? According to data compiled by the University of North Carolina, 1,400 cities in the United States have lost a local paper in the last 15 years. If you get a county paper, you’re in the minority, as 60% of counties in the U.S. are without a daily newspaper. On a more human level, 2,400 newsroom employees have been laid off this year, which would make 32,000 laid off over the past decade. The Pew also found that the number of newsroom employees has dwindled from 74,000 at the industry’s peak in 2006 to 39,000.
Journalists aren’t taking this waylaying lying down. John Stanton and Laura Bassett, two seasoned journalists who were laid off by Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post respectively, have teamed up to launch the Save Journalism Project.
“High-quality journalism has been recognized since America’s founding as fundamental to the functioning of our democracy,” reads the campaign’s homepage. “But now, journalism in America is facing an existential threat from the monopolistic control of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Big tech’s dominance over the digital advertising market and their unrivaled capacity to monetize its platforms are having drastic effects on journalism as a whole.”
Stanton and Bassett have a few goals they are trying to accomplish through the Save Journalism Project. One is simply to make the masses more aware of what’s going on with the news financially. According to The Hill, “They plan to interview lawmakers and hold events around the country with experts and other laid-off journalists to try to encourage a discussion that will generate solutions.”
On top of that, it would behoove the fledgling organization to throw whatever weight behind the bipartisan legislation recently introduced to both the Senate and House that would benefit new organizations. If the bill is ratified, publishers would be exempt from antitrust laws, which would allow them to haggle collectively with Facebook and Google for a larger share of ad revenue.
How beneficial would this actually be for news publishers? Say the bill passes, and Facebook and Google have to give up some of their ad revenue. How much money would be doled out, and how many ways would it have to be split? Would it be a true stimulus package for the factions in the news collective? Will they be given enough to rejuvenate their publications? It doesn’t seem like it. If this goes through, will Google or Facebook be found of any wrongdoing? Probably not. Would they really be punished with a substantial tax? The Big Tech companies have influence on Capitol Hill, too. It’s not like the government is going to pillage their pockets. That’s if the bill even gets passed; it could always be vetoed, leaving news media completely vulnerable.
Nevertheless, there is an element to this that the Save Journalism Project is trying to highlight the most. Journalism is dying, not just the physical publications but the necessary art itself. Real journalism has been keeping society informed of the facts for centuries. Journalists around the nation research, conduct interviews and write the stories that truly matter to American citizens every day. However, along with the news, readers’ media literacy abilities have been dwindling, and hard journalism publishes less and less. With so many people only reading headlines, taking “fake news” from dubious outlets as fact and being distrustful of mainstream media, hard journalism has taken a hit. It is uncertain whether or not the majority even wants authentic news anymore, but shouldn't such a vital part of our culture be preserved regardless?