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2020
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Are platforms a bridge or a lifeline?

“You can’t throw a stone without hitting a newsroom that has received money from or gone through some training or boot camp hosted by Facebook or Google.”

Publishers face a challenging transition. As news organizations scramble to diversify their revenue streams beyond advertising, it may just be that the tech platforms that got publishers into this mess are still the ones they need to get out of it.

Two things have happened in parallel over the past year:

  • Ad revenue, on owned-and-operated sites and on platforms like Facebook, continued to decline for many publishers. Many have turned toward reader revenue.
  • Google and Facebook have ramped up support for journalism, allocating $600 million since last year, and have rolled out new products and initiatives to facilitate reader revenue.

Now, as news organizations map their paths to sustainability, support from Google and Facebook is often bridging gaps. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a newsroom that has received money from or gone through some training or boot camp hosted by Facebook or Google. And, in the case of Google, the company has taken the platform–publisher relationship into uncharted territory, giving McClatchy funding to start a new newsroom in Youngstown, Ohio, where the local daily paper closed this year.

As the Tow Center warned in its third report on the relationship between platforms and publishers last month, platforms’ journalism initiatives to foster sustainability also serve to expand platforms’ power over the news industry. As the Google News Initiative’s website puts it: “Gone are the days when news organizations — or tech companies — can ‘go it alone.'” It includes this quote from Google CEO Sundar Pichai: “Put simply, our futures are tied together.”

What does it mean when tech platforms are not just a boost or a bridge, but a lifeline? When they decide which newsrooms survive or get created, like in Youngstown? These are the questions that the news industry will increasingly grapple with in 2020.

Nushin Rashidian is co-founder of Cannabis Wire and a researcher at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Publishers face a challenging transition. As news organizations scramble to diversify their revenue streams beyond advertising, it may just be that the tech platforms that got publishers into this mess are still the ones they need to get out of it.

Two things have happened in parallel over the past year:

  • Ad revenue, on owned-and-operated sites and on platforms like Facebook, continued to decline for many publishers. Many have turned toward reader revenue.
  • Google and Facebook have ramped up support for journalism, allocating $600 million since last year, and have rolled out new products and initiatives to facilitate reader revenue.

Now, as news organizations map their paths to sustainability, support from Google and Facebook is often bridging gaps. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a newsroom that has received money from or gone through some training or boot camp hosted by Facebook or Google. And, in the case of Google, the company has taken the platform–publisher relationship into uncharted territory, giving McClatchy funding to start a new newsroom in Youngstown, Ohio, where the local daily paper closed this year.

As the Tow Center warned in its third report on the relationship between platforms and publishers last month, platforms’ journalism initiatives to foster sustainability also serve to expand platforms’ power over the news industry. As the Google News Initiative’s website puts it: “Gone are the days when news organizations — or tech companies — can ‘go it alone.'” It includes this quote from Google CEO Sundar Pichai: “Put simply, our futures are tied together.”

What does it mean when tech platforms are not just a boost or a bridge, but a lifeline? When they decide which newsrooms survive or get created, like in Youngstown? These are the questions that the news industry will increasingly grapple with in 2020.

Nushin Rashidian is co-founder of Cannabis Wire and a researcher at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

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