The two US companies released numerous statements asserting that thousands of media outlets received financial and other support for everything from fact-checking or news coverage to training. Some publishers are grateful for these contributions, which they describe as essential as advertising revenue declines.
However, media experts raise questions in which they express some doubts about the money that the two companies paid under pressure. Is it a temporary solution, or are these companies actually working to save the press from its existential crisis after they originally contributed to this crisis?
In the United States alone, newspaper revenue from digital and print advertising declined to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005.
Several media analysts and news executives told Reuters that this three-year funding plan makes up almost nothing for the tens of billions of dollars lost to publishers as technology companies swallow the digital advertising market.
Google and Facebook accounted for 54 percent of US digital advertising revenue in 2020, according to market research firm eMarketer. Some critics have described these projects, including the $300 million contribution by the two companies, as a way to silence publishers’ complainants and to make themselves look good.
The two companies face worldwide legal battles and claims for news content as well as antitrust lawsuits from regulators and publishers. This “ephemeral charity” is just “the tip of the iceberg,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, a magazine publisher and president of USA Today, which participates in a Facebook-sponsored fact-checking program. “News publishers are not looking forward to Ihsan,” she added. We are simply asking for justice and fairness.”
Facebook and Google say publishers are benefiting from the use of their platforms, which contributes to their income from ads and subscriptions
Emily Bell, director of Columbia University’s Tao Center for Digital Journalism, said the money is essential to newsrooms in the short term, “but it’s not being spent at a level that has a lasting impact on the field” and “it really doesn’t change anything.”
The two giants confirmed that they are sincerely committed to helping local and regional outlets and that they will continue to provide support after the $600 million spending initiative expires in the coming months.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, said the goal of the Facebook Journalism Project is to help publishers “really transition into and thrive in today’s digital world where they have to find a very special audience in order to succeed.”
Ben Mooney, Google’s director of global partnerships, said the company is focused on “making sure there is a healthy, vibrant environment for premium journalism.”
Facebook and Google each made contributions to the news industry, other than $600 million. For example, they each committed $1 billion last year in grants and content payments to a number of media outlets around the world.
As part of this commitment, Google pays publishers such as Reuters to prepare and organize content for the News Showcase project, through which it provides excerpts for its News and Discover apps.
In 2020, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which is largely funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, announced that it had received about $19 million in grants from Google and $4 million from Facebook. However, Facebook and Google say publishers benefit from using their platforms, which contributes to their income from ads and subscriptions.
“We are a free service available to any content provider,” Brown said. The publishers’ participation, he added, “suggests that they are benefiting from the platform without us offering this additional investment.”
Facebook and Google each made contributions to the news industry, other than $600 million
Facebook and Google have generated $607 billion in advertising revenue over the past three years, according to the two companies’ disclosures. The two are among the largest funders of the global news industry.
The two companies have released limited information so far on how the $600 million is spent in grants and services and often make general statements or provide examples without providing financial details.
Several news executives said they are calling on the two companies to pay more for content and to strengthen work on prioritizing original news coverage. Facebook and Google say they have already modified their algorithms to achieve this goal.
On the other hand, publishers see a lifeline extending to them. An executive at the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, said a training “lab” funded by Google helped the newspaper determine the size and value of official subscriptions needed to cover expenses.
The two companies have a huge impact on the advertising revenue of news outlets because their algorithms determine whether an article has been prominently featured in a Google search or a Facebook news feed.
Google operates one of the largest online exchanges for digital ads that are automatically bought and sold via proprietary software. Because Google competes as the largest buyer and seller on that exchange, it is possible, some publishers and critics say, to turn the business in its favour.
In the United States alone, newspaper revenue from digital and print advertising fell to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005.
$607 billion in advertising revenue for Google and Facebook over the last three years
Google agreed on June 7, under a settlement with France’s antitrust watchdog, to share more data with ad buyers in general, reducing some of its competitive advantages over publishers.
In response to a series of lawsuits, the two companies have rejected accusations that their business practices harm publishers. Google said people use the services because they choose to, not because they have to.
But Frank Blizen, publisher of the Seattle Times, sees things differently. He said his newspaper participated in programs supported by Google and Facebook. He added, “If the two companies did not have a monopoly on advertising and direct research in the way they direct it, newspapers would have generated income so far.”