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Journalism facing the Internet oligopoly: Google, Facebook and news infomediation

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Presentation at the Capitalism, Culture and Media Conference - University of Leeds School of Media and Communication - September 2015

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Journalism facing the Internet oligopoly: Google, Facebook and news infomediation

  1. 1. Journalism facing the Internet oligopoly: Google, Facebook and news infomediation Nikos Smyrnaios, University of Toulouse Capitalism, Culture and Media Conference - University of Leeds School of Media and Communication - September 2015
  2. 2. Research question & method What do Google and Facebook do to journalism ? More than 30 interviews with French online journalists and editors as well as within Google France between 2006 and 2013 Study of Google News & Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithms Longtime observation of of the relationship between French publishers and Google (2003-2015)
  3. 3. The commonplace Since the advent of Web 2.0 in the mid-2000 the Internet is seen as: 1. A “naturally” democratic, inclusive means of communication 2. Driven by the ideal of “user participation” 3. Offering “desintermediated, direct and equal” access to the public to all publishers
  4. 4. The reality Restructuring of cultural industries in favour of tech giants Concentrated control of online distribution channels Complexification of the diffusion of digital content not disintermediation, but algorithmic re-intermediation I call this process “news infomediation” (Hagel & Rayport, 1997) It’s not just distribution Infomediaries operate a mix of aggregation, hierarchization & publishing of 3rd party content + monetization Thus they have great influence on content visibility => Strong impact on the public sphere
  5. 5. The oligopoly of referral traffic (but also mobile apps distribution & online newsstands)
  6. 6. Content Databases + Algorithms Publishing on platforms Popular services such as Google of Facebook index news sites’ content either automatically or via sharing Then they process it through algorithms combining different criteria This results in 3rd party content organizing and publishing on proprietary platforms that aggregate large audiences Publishers compete to make their content more visible on these platforms and gain traffic Crawling or Sharing Content organizining + personalization How does this work ? Public
  7. 7. Coopetition = simultaneous cooperation & competition Mutual dependency: Google & FB need publishers for the content, publishers need Google & FB for the traffic At the same time they compete for online advertising revenue and control over content But the balance of power is largely in favour of infomediaries Numerous conflicts between Google & media in France, Spain, Belgium, Germany. Lex Google in Spain & Germany failed In 2013 Google agreed to pay €60M over 3 years to French publishers to avoid copyright law In the meantime publishers “enslave themselves to Google” & FB Infomediaries vs. Publishers
  8. 8. Newsworthiness for Google 2 traffic sources: Google for archives Google News for hot news Ranking in Google news For news sites: productivity, reactivity, popularity, completeness For news topics: cluster size, novelty, sources For news items: novelty, originality, click-through rate, mentions in social media, sources etc.
  9. 9. Proliferation of “Keyword:…” style headlines (Google loves them) e.g. “Shovelware”: re-writing of press agency and PR material in order to maximize production volume Intensive use of Google Insights for most searched subjects and of Analytics for audience performance SEO: use of Sitemaps, meta-tags, microdata, internal links, publishing timing, keyword centered landing pages, re- publishing with changing headlines Mandatory practices, but on the rise: very important for free, advertising based news sites Consequences
  10. 10. Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm Dozens of criteria are used in order to define the degree of visibility of each piece of content shared by Facebook users The “recipe” changes regularly “to help users see more stories that interest them from friends they interact with the most” For instance in June FB announced taking into account time spent on stories
  11. 11. Consequences Incentive to publish on FB posts that maximize interactions => emotionally charged or controversial content Obligation to use images and video Intensive use of Facebook Insights Targeting socio-demographics upon publishing Investing in community management Promote FB pages and sharing, liking By trying to increase referral traffic publishers promote Facebook and obey to its rules to the point of giving away content through Instant Articles
  12. 12. What impact on journalism ? Journalism is increasingly hetero-determinated by the technological, economic and ideological framework imposed upon it by the Internet oligopoly on several levels: - On journalistic practices (writing style, topic agenda etc.) - On the choice of business models (free access Vs. paywalls) - On the acquisition of technical skills (SEO, CM) - On internal hierarchies (young technophiles Vs. old luddites) - On agenda setting (who decides what’s important ?)
  13. 13. Political Issues The Internet oligopoly incarnates post-fordist informational capitalism. Therefore it fosters ideology « Californian Ideolology », technological solutionism, radical transparency, US foreign policy/ mass surveillance, Neoliberalism/Libertarianism The Internet oligopoly has great impact on media, cultural industries and, par extension, on how we perceive the world Thus it’s critique & regulation are major political stakes