These are dark days for the media business, and the industry I cover, technology, is the chief culprit.
Not so long ago established media companies blamed Google and its ruthlessly efficient search-word advertising network for hollowing out the profits of newspapers. Today, Google has faded as the scariest arriviste to spoil the media party. Facebook now is the bane of our existence. It is vacuuming up the revenue that once accrued to publishers because so many people learn much of what they know on Facebook.
Some of what people learn on Facebook (FB) turns out to be fake. Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, appeared on NBC’s Today show Thursday and told Savannah Guthrie Facebook isn’t responsible for Donald Trump’s election. “We don’t think it swayed the election,” Sandberg said, offering no evidence to defend the assertion. “But we take that responsibility really seriously.”
You could tell just how seriously Facebook takes its responsibility by the way Sandberg then deflected the conversation toward the advent of Facebook Live and its impact on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the most talked-about topics on Facebook in 2016, including Pokemon Go.
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Another potent force in journalism that declaims its role as a force in journalism is LinkedIn. It cleverly turned itself into an opinion firehose, a high and low version of what newspaper op-ed pages used to be. Microsoft (MSFT) completed its $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn Wednesday and promised not to screw up the largest merger in its history.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Time Inc. (TIME), which owns Fortune, reportedly has retained investment bankers to field acquisition and partnership offers. That too is a sign of the times. Time Inc. remains the largest U.S. publisher of magazines in an era when magazines are yesterday’s news.)
Perhaps the biggest threat to journalism right now has nothing to do with technology. Washington Post Editor Marty Baron, whom I interviewed for my March profile of Jeff Bezos, spoke powerfully last week about why even in these troubling times the role of the press is so important. Read his comments here.
And buy a magazine or newspaper today, for goodness’ sake.