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  • Writer's pictureUpanishad Sharma

The business of journalism: making money, Twitter addiction and fake news - (Part 2)

Making a profit

If generating revenue online is as easy as posting material on Facebook, will the new algorithm decrease the earning capacity of news companies? And how do websites make money off social platforms like Facebook anyway? Let me explain

Advertisements on Facebook are divided into two different ways. They are called the 'Traffic Campaign' and the 'Conversion campaign' respectively. A traffic campaign works by showing the ads to the target audience you select and people who are more likely to click on it. The entire system is based on gaining clicks and driving popularity towards the FB page.

The conversion campaign is what drives the populace to the main website. Through the systemised use of Facebook Ads, a website can immensely increase its popularity. Since the new FB algorithm stops a site right in its tracks, it also affects advertisements and how they function.

A ruling factor, along with research, is generating funds off social promotion. Websites all over the internet consider Facebook to be important in promoting their content.

Many news organisations, on the other hand, have resorted to paywalls to continue earning revenue. Speaking to Malcolm Moore of the Financial Times, I learned about many things affecting online journalism.

According to Malcolm, the biggest challenges in the online world are more than just Facebook. He says “The main challenge is making enough money from online news to sustain original reporting. The FT’s answer is to impose a paywall, and this has been successful. But a lot of our work is copied by rivals who then give it away for free.”

The move to have a paywall between the website and the readers seems like a good business model, but it hasn’t been very successful.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report of 2019 has declared in its findings that there has been just a small increase in the number of people currently paying for subscriptions. The primary growth here is centred around Norway 34% and Sweden 27% with the US and UK falling behind at 16-20 %.

The report also finds that most people have just a single news membership with ongoing payments. Facebook’s algorithm change, however, hasn’t affected the Financial Times. Malcolm had this to say: “The FT doesn’t depend on Facebook for its distribution. Our readers come to our website.”

Despite all of Facebook initiatives and many websites shift to paywalls, the company still remains the most important platform for news. The report reads: “In many countries, people are spending less time with Facebook and more time with WhatsApp and Instagram than this time last year. Few users are abandoning Facebook entirely, though, and it remains by far the most important social network for news.”

UK based newspaper The Guardian had a different approach when it came to generating income. For the long-standing publication, the decision to have a paywall didn’t make sense. So they decided to implement a model based on just subscriptions, donations and grants. This three-year model would have them break even by April 2019, and despite a slow start, it worked.

Money remains a vital concern for news organisations in 2019. User attention combined the ability to pay for news is a difficult combination to get right. Content must be curated in a way which appeases the audience while convincing them to pay for news.

Is Twitter Addictive?

With over 180,000 followers on Twitter, Malcolm's strategy in maintaining an online presence is pretty simple. He had this to say: I mainly tweet out the interesting articles I see either in the FT or elsewhere. Beyond not wishing to spread any false information, I don’t see any broader responsibilities.”

Having a healthy relationship with social media is essential to be aware of your surroundings, but the recent debate in the same field has suggested that journalists have become addicted to Twitter to the point they cannot survive without it. There's a long-running joke in the Twittersphere which goes by 'Never Tweet' suggesting that the more Twitter you use, the more you fall in the trap of being misunderstood and the only solution being is to never Tweet at all.

Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times recently talked about the same problem in his opinion piece. He argues about the platform taking too much time and energy and suggests that 'Twitter will ruin us and we should stop.'

I asked Malcolm the question to which he simply answered: "No, I'm not addicted to Twitter. In fact, I post quite rarely now."

Fake News

Apart from the Analytica scandal, one of the primary reasons Facebook’s news feed was overhauled because of the rise in groups of politically biased individuals using various measures to practice misinformation and disinformation.

The problem doesn't end with Facebook either. Just last year Facebook owned messenger WhatsApp was accused of harbouring false messages which caused several mob lynchings in India. After at least 24 people were lynched by mobs over biased news, the company responded by printing full-page ads on Indian national newspapers in English and Hindi. The ads contained advice on how to fight the spread of false information on WhatsApp.

However, according to Mark Zuckerburg, in the end, the responsibility comes down on a country’s government to combat fake news and ensuring unbiased coverage. Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month he had this to say about the 2016 scandal:

“As a private company, we don’t have the tools to make the Russian government stop. Our government is the one that has the tools to apply pressure to Russia," he said during an on-stage interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. “After 2016 when the government didn’t take any kind of counteraction, the signal that was sent to the world was that ‘ok we’re open for business’, countries can try to do this stuff. Fundamentally there isn’t going to be a major recourse from the American government."

He further recounted a situation when the company was thrown in during the Irish elections. When a group of American Pro-Life groups had run campaigns to drive opinions on Facebook, he felt that a private company shouldn’t have to make a decision in removing mass held beliefs.

According to Facebook, the biggest challenge remains to maintain a neutral space while ensuring the right to freedom of speech is maintained. That's also one of the reasons why the 'War Room' was launched. The same was covered by The Guardian when it visited the headquarters of the fabled place. Despite multiple measures by the company like making political advertising more transparent, reducing the distribution of false news, progress has been slow.

Nathaniel Gleicher, cybersecurity policy chief had the following to say to The Guardian on the issue: “We don’t have a crystal ball. We’re not going to be able to predict every tactic.” “Having all these teams in a room together will help.”

Mark Twain once said: "If you don't watch the news, you're uninformed. But if you watch the news, you're misinformed." In an ideal scenario, it would be recommended to consume news from traditional sources, but with most of the world being online, it becomes hard not to be a part of the crowd.

Journalism has been successful in using traditional media to its benefit. However, it's not as black and white, and the same goes for the internet. The best continuous would be to consume everything online a healthy level of scepticism and keep an eye on the newest technologies out there.

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