On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

Journalism is on the precipice with more than £1 billion likely to fall off the industry’s topline. Several years of projected structural revenue decline in advertising and circulation have occurred in just the past few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, with no letup in sight.

The UK’s rich heritage of independent journalism is at risk, with responses by Government and ‘big tech’ multinationals welcomed but ultimately inadequate. We make two further recommendations for engagement in this report.

Journalism enterprises from the small, local and specialist outfits through to national household brands will either fail or remain on a path to future failure.

COVID-19 has sent online news surging, with publishers experiencing massive traffic uplift, as trusted news sources become increasingly important.

But the industry is still heavily reliant on print revenues, and we are seeing supply chains come under extreme pressure as core readers self-isolate and retail giants close or de-prioritise news media. Advertising—including categories like retail and travel—has collapsed.

In face of existential threats to the sector, we have written to DCMS to mobilise Government funding to sustain news provision and journalism.

Even though Facebook is not a producer of news, 6.5 million UK internet users claim to mainly source their news from the platform. Posts and shares by friends in the user's network, in the context of Facebook's algorithm, determine the order of stories in the personalised News Feed, removing the control of the news agenda that publishers have for their websites

Premium publishers operating a paywall (The Times, The Financial Times) have a lower key approach to Facebook than publishers generating advertising revenue from referral traffic to their websites or from on-platform consumption of Instant Articles. The latter will seek to stimulate social media engagement, optimising stories through attention-grabbing headlines, and installing Facebook’s share and like buttons on their websites

Case studies of the news stories that were prominent on Facebook (measured by likes, comments and shares) in the periods leading up to the Brexit Referendum and General Election 2017 votes respectively demonstrate that newspaper brands (the Express for Brexit, and The Guardian for the General Election) achieved the highest reach on Facebook during these periods, despite being ranked below other news brands (BBC in particular) in terms of traffic to their websites

Facebook content shares suggest that misinformation had broad reach during both US and UK political campaigns, but outright fake news was rare, particularly in the UK 

Mis- and disinformation by both established and new publishers was distributed on Facebook, but monetisation took place predominantly off-site, and content was distributed by a wide range of search and social platforms 

Facebook has acted to limit the reach of disinformation, but can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do so alone as digital news distribution touches on complex questions including information and democracy, media literacy and heterogeneous cultural and social norms

Tinder is one of the most high-profile mobile apps on the market and has transformed the adoption of online dating

Tinder’s success is due in large part to its understanding of user experience, which is key to getting, keeping and upselling users through network effects

But the financial value of this success is limited by the industry: even a mobile revolution has not created a high-revenue mass market where none existed before 

In an immersive industry workshop in Turin celebrating La Stampa’s 150th anniversary, quality news publishers from around the world expressed a strong collective belief in membership, an editorial strategy supported by an emerging advertising opportunity

Editorial and service relevance was defined by widely varying publisher missions, categorised by a range of local and specialist use-cases, creating highly differentiated services for print, mobile and other delivery

A low-level hum in the discussions was a recognition that fundamental change in company culture – editorial and commercial as well as business operations – is a complex but urgent requirement for achieving a long-term sustainable news service

Despite a slowing of circulation decline in 2016, UK national newspaper brands continue to face profound structural challenges, with print advertising spend expected to be down at least -15% for the year

In digital advertising, tech and distribution platforms continue to dominate growth with newspaper publishers and other content producers competing for an increasingly small slice of the revenue pie

In this context, many publishers are turning to paid membership and content subscription models to generate online revenues; success here will require a radical shift in thinking to a retailer mindset that delivers high quality reader experiences through integrated execution of tech, data, marketing and design