Guardian editor Katharine Viner says digital journalism model 'currently collapsing' as Facebook and Google 'swallow' ad revenue

Facebook has become the “richest and most powerful publisher in history by replacing editors with algorithms”, according to Guardian editor Katharine Viner.

She accused the online platform of having shifted “entire societies away from the open terrain of genuine debate and argument, while making billions from our valued attention”.

In a speech to Guardian staff, members and supporters last night, Viner said the current business model supporting journalism was “collapsing” as Facebook and Google “swallow digital advertising”.

The two web giants, known collectively as the Duopoly, are taking the lion’s share of digital advertising money in the UK and the majority of any new growth in advertising revenues.

Press Gazette has called on the Duopoly to “stop destroying journalism” and pay more back to news publishers, on whose content they rely.

Said Viner: “The transition from print to digital did not initially change the basic business model for many news organisations – that is, selling advertisements to fund the journalism delivered to readers.

“For a time, it seemed that the potentially vast scale of an online audience might compensate for the decline in print readers and advertisers.

“But this business model is currently collapsing, as Facebook and Google swallow digital advertising.  As a result, the digital journalism produced by many news organisations has become less and less meaningful.

“Publishers that are funded by algorithmic ads are locked in a race to the bottom in pursuit of any audience they can find – desperately binge-publishing without checking facts, pushing out the most shrill and most extreme stories to boost clicks.

“But even this huge scale can no longer secure enough revenue.”

Taking aim at her digital rivals, Viner said that on some news websites, journalists “churn out ten commodified stories a day without making a phone call”.

“Readers are overwhelmed: bewildered by the quantity of ‘news’ they see every day, nagged by intrusive pop-up ads, confused by what is real and what is fake, and confronted with an experience that is neither useful nor enjoyable,” she said.

“Many people get most of their news from Facebook, which means that information arrives in one big stream – which may contain fact-based independent journalism from transparent sources alongside invented stories from a click farm, or content funded by malevolent actors to influence an election.”

Viner said in some cases it was hard to know who was behind the news, with stories and publications produced or owned by the very people they ought to be holding to account.

She said: “Many free local newspapers in the UK are funded by the very councils they should be holding to account. It is asking a lot of individuals to sift the real from the fake when they are bombarded by information – how do they know who to trust?”

Viner said trust was at an “historic low” when it came to the media, adding: “This not a blip, and it should not be a surprise, when so many institutions have failed the people who trusted them and responded to criticism with contempt.

“As a result, people feel outraged but powerless – nothing they do seems to stop these things happening, and nobody seems to be listening to their stories.

“This has created a crisis for public life, and particularly for the press, which risks becoming wholly part of the same establishment that the public no longer trusts.

“At a moment when people are losing faith in their ability to participate in politics and make themselves heard, the media can play a critical role in reversing that sense of alienation.”

Viner said journalists “must work to earn the trust of those they aim to serve” and become “more representative of the societies we aim to represent”.

She said members of the media were “increasingly drawn from the same, privileged sector of society” and that this problem had “actually worsened in recent decades”.

Viner referenced a 2012 government report that said journalism was behind professions such as medicine, politics and law in “opening its doors to people from less well-off backgrounds”.

“This matters because people from exclusive, homogenous backgrounds are unlikely to know anyone adversely affected by the crises of our era, or to spend time in the places where they are happening,” she said.

“Media organisations staffed largely by people from narrow backgrounds are less likely to recognise the issues that people notice in their communities every day as ‘news’ – the discussions inside such organisations will inevitably be shaped by the shared privilege of the participants.”

She added: “If journalists become distant from other people’s lives, they miss the story, and people don’t trust them. The Guardian is not at all exempt from these challenges, and our staff is not diverse enough.

“Because of our history, values and purpose, we are committed to addressing these issues – but there is still a long way to go.”

Viner pointed the finger at the likes of US president Donald Trump in saying that “those in power have exploited distrust of the media to actively undermine the role of journalism in the public interest in a democracy”.

She said: All over the world – in Turkey, Russia, Poland, Egypt, China, Hungary, Malta and many other countries – powerful interests are on the march against free speech. Journalists are undermined, attacked, even murdered.

“In these disorientating times, championing the public interest – which has always been at the heart of the Guardian’s mission – has become an urgent necessity.”

In a Q&A with Guardian political editor Anushka Asthana after her speech, Viner said the Guardian was politically neutral and noted the silence in the room when she said: “I defend our right to back the Conservatives at some point in the future in an election. Who knows.”

She said: “All good news organisations will stick to the facts and that’s what unites all good news organisations.”

Despite earlier claiming Facebook was responsible for “shattering the public square into millions of personalised news feeds”, Viner said: “Reading the Guardian’s journalism on Facebook is great, but it’s what’s around it… reading the news [on the platform] it can be hard to differentiate between something that’s real and [something that’s] fake.”

Picture: David Levene/TheGuardian



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4 thoughts on “Guardian editor Katharine Viner says digital journalism model 'currently collapsing' as Facebook and Google 'swallow' ad revenue”

  1. Katharine Viner may be right about the effects of Facebook and Google on the business model of newspapers but when she lectures others on the importance of fact-checking, trust, open debate and free speech it is an act of hypocrisy. She accuses others of “desperately binge-publishing without checking facts” and “pushing out the most shrill and most extreme stories to boost clicks” but The Guardian has done that and worse for years.

    The Guardian has published articles without fact-checking them. The Guardian has failed to remove or amend statements that have been proved to be untrue and allowed its readers to continue to share links to debunked reports. The Guardian has published statements that it knows were untrue at the time of publication. “Comment is free, but facts are sacred” has gone from being a statement of The Guardian’s values to being false advertising.

    The Guardian published some false statements before Alan Rusbridger’s “digital first” strategy (such as its smearing of Noam Chomsky in 2005) but The Guardian has got worse since it went “digital first” in 2011, since it decided not to join IPSO in 2014 and since Katharine Viner became editor in 2015. The Guardian is a dishonest, sanctimonious, hypocritical newspaper which has betrayed its readers and its history and one of the people who has done most to make The Guardian a newspaper which trades in lies and smears is Katharine Viner. For her to ask readers for money and claim that The Guardian “will stick to the facts” is an act of fraud.

  2. How do I know what I gave just read, in your article is a not fake news, people use fake news, when they don’t get they he result they heat theyheatheym, want, remain voters are , typical example of, this, hoping this will another ref,, when, can we see article about remail supporting papers having published fake news, but of course we won’t, g for 2 reasons, yiunare or one, and they don lie????????

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