The Guardian's Roy Greenslade recently published a column about "why Facebook is public enemy number one for newspapers in journalism."
It's a bunch of complete nonsense. I won't go through the whole thing, but here's just a snippet:
Facebook’s increasing dominance over advertising is causing the laying off of journalists, the people who produce the news that it transmits to its users.
The logical conclusion to that process is not only the destruction of old media, legacy media, mainstream media, whatever you want to call it, but the end of journalism as we know it.
Yeah. Okay. Let's be clear: this is bullshit. As Ben Thompson pointed out, the decline of newspaper revenue predates Facebook, by a lot:
Indeed, it seems that as newspaper revenue has declined, screaming newspaper reporters have been looking for a "dot com" to blame, every step of the way, rather than looking inwardly at their own failures to adapt to a changing marketplace. I remember, not too long ago, when it wasn't Facebook that was killing the news business, but Craigslist. I mean, everyone said it was true:
And, of course, after it was all Craigslist's fault, it was, undoubtedly, the fault of Google and its Google News product. That's why Europe is so busy trying to force Google to pay for newspapers that it links to. And, of course, once again, lots of media folks jumped on the blame Google bandwagon:
A few notes on some of the above links. The "study" that is cited in some of the first batch about how Craigslist is "killing" newspapers was from the Pew Research Center -- the very same research shop that Greenslade points to in the link up at the top of this article blaming Facebook. Second, that first article in the second list, about Bob Woodward blaming Google... is also by Greenslade. Yet, in that case, Greenslade mocks Woodward for blaming Google (and very kindly provides a link to me mocking Woodward's silly claims
So let's get a few things out of the way here: Newspapers are struggling. They absolutely are. But it's not "because" of Facebook (or Craigslist or Google). Newspapers were going to struggle with the rise of the internet no matter what, because it laid bare the basic coincidence that made newspapers profitable despite themselves
. For many, many years, we've been pointing out that the true business of newspapers was a community business
, rather than a news business. It's just that in the pre-internet days, newspapers had a bit of a monopoly on being able to build communities -- often local communities -- around the news. But they had very little competition in that business, other than maybe a few other local newspapers (though consolidation took care of that in most markets). The business
, then, of newspapers was taking the attention they received from that community, and selling it to advertisers.
The internet structurally changed all of this, by creating all sorts of other areas where people could congregate and build communities. That's kind of what the internet is good at. And suddenly there's a ton
of competition in the community space. But newspapers, incorrectly thinking they were in the "news" business, often made decisions that actively harmed
the community aspect. They put up paywalls. They took away the ability to comment. They made it harder
for local communities of interest to form.
So what happened? The communities and their (valuable) attention went elsewhere
. And, these days, much of that "elsewhere" when it comes to communities is Facebook.
And, just like Google before it, Facebook has actually created a pretty valuable channel for sending people
to your news website. Many publishers haven't figured this out yet -- or how to harness it. Hell, just a month or so ago, I was talking about how we here at Techdirt
haven't figured this out at all (we get depressingly little traffic from Facebook compared to many of our peers). But you won't see us blaming
Facebook for this. It's on us. Have our ad rates dropped off a cliff? Yes. Is that Facebook's fault? Hell no. Even if all the advertising money that used to go to newspapers and news sites magically shifted to Facebook (which it hasn't), then it would be because of a failure on the part of those news companies to offer a better overall product for advertisers.
It's time for publications to stop blaming every new technology site that comes along, and to focus on actually adapting, changing and finding new business models that work. It may not be easy. And many will crash and burn completely. But that's not the "fault" of these new companies at all.