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Now Japanese TV issues false alarm about missile launch! And The End Of The Petrodollar? What’s ID 2020 And Are You Ready To Become Impacted By It? American journalism than even the shift from print to digital. There is a rapid takeover of traditional publishers’ roles by companies including Facebook, Snapchat, Google, and Twitter that shows no sign of slowing, and which raises serious questions over how the costs of journalism will be supported.

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Publishers are continuing to push more of their journalism to third-party platforms despite no guarantee of consistent return on investment. Publishing is no longer the core activity of certain journalism organizations. This trend will continue as news companies give up more of the traditional functions of publishers. This report, part of an ongoing study by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, charts the convergence between journalism and platform companies.

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In the span of 20 years, journalism has experienced three significant changes in business and distribution models: the switch from analog to digital, the rise of the social web, and now the dominance of mobile. Technology platforms have become publishers in a short space of time, leaving news organizations confused about their own future. If the speed of convergence continues, more news organizations are likely to cease publishing—distributing, hosting, and monetizing—as a core activity. Competition among platforms to release products for publishers is helping newsrooms reach larger audiences than ever before. But the advantages of each platform are difficult to assess, and the return on investment is inadequate. The loss of branding, the lack of audience data, and the migration of advertising revenue remain key concerns for publishers. The influence of social platforms shapes the journalism itself.

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By offering incentives to news organizations for particular types of content, such as live video, or by dictating publisher activity through design standards, the platforms are explicitly editorial. 2016 election have forced social platforms to take greater responsibility for publishing decisions. However, this is a distraction from the larger issue that the structure and the economics of social platforms incentivize the spread of low-quality content over high-quality material. Platforms rely on algorithms to sort and target content. They have not wanted to invest in human editing, to avoid both cost and the perception that humans would be biased.

However, the nuances of journalism require editorial judgment, so platforms will need to reconsider their approach. Greater transparency and accountability are required from platform companies. While news might reach more people than ever before, for the first time, the audience has no way of knowing how or why it reaches them, how data collected about them is used, or how their online behavior is being manipulated. And publishers are producing more content than ever, without knowing who it is reaching or how—they are at the mercy of the algorithm. In the wake of the election, we have an immediate opportunity to turn the attention focused on tech power and journalism into action. The platform companies, led by Facebook and Google, have been proactive in starting initiatives focused on improving the news environment and issues of news literacy.

If news organizations are to remain autonomous entities in the future, there will have to be a reversal in information consumption trends and advertising expenditure or a significant transfer of wealth from technology companies and advertisers. News organizations face a critical dilemma. Should they continue the costly business of maintaining their own publishing infrastructure, with smaller audiences but complete control over revenue, brand, and audience data? Or, should they cede control over user data and advertising in exchange for the significant audience growth offered by Facebook or other platforms? We describe how publishers are managing these trade-offs through content analysis and interviews. While the spread of misinformation online became a global story this year, we see it as a proxy for much wider issues about the commercialization and private control of the public sphere. Click here for a PDF of the full report.

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Introduction: Watermelons to Democracy They are publishers. They control the audience in many ways . They’re the gateway to the audience, and they determine what they will allow and what they won’t. In April 2016, on a windswept pier in San Francisco, thousands of engineers and executives crowded into the Fort Mason conference center to attend the annual Facebook developer conference. In the Media Track theater there was not a spare seat available. Media executives from America and around the world crammed into the aisles, hoping to hear how Facebook would help them make money from their content.

Seven months later, it was more than watermelons that had exploded all over Facebook. Websites producing fake stories on an industrial scale were popping up from California to Macedonia. In the horror movie of journalism’s disappearing business models, the fake news scandal was the equivalent of the phone ringing from inside the house. The unchecked viral spread of untrue, exaggerated, and wildly partisan pieces is forcing a long overdue debate about the rights and responsibilities of both news organizations and social media platforms. Safeguarding the independence of good journalism as it becomes a subset of social media is a critical task for both publishers and platforms.

Technology companies including Apple, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and, above all, Facebook have taken on most of the functions of news organizations, becoming key players in the news ecosystem, whether they wanted that role or not. The distribution and presentation of information, the monetization of publishing, and the relationship with the audience are all dominated by a handful of platforms. These businesses might care about the health of journalism, but it is not their core purpose. News publishers are struggling to understand how to work with these powerful new forces in the industry. The rapid adoption of smartphones has transformed media consumption, turning technology companies with their apps and operating systems into the new gatekeepers of information.

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Platforms for their part have started to acknowledge the role they play in news provision. But the exercise of editorial judgment has complicated their commercial mission: to get as many people as they can using their platforms as often as possible. The contradictions inherent in this developing role has led to rapid shifts and reversals in strategy. Instead, the company formed partnerships with several fact-checking and news organizations to flag dubious stories.

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Its partners were believed to be unpaid. Journalism and news organizations stand at a critical point in their history as an independent force in democratic society. The opportunity to reach a global audience through the swipe of a finger is here, and it offers tremendous journalistic possibilities that are still not fully understood. But hyper-connectedness through the social web and mobile telephony has created a vast marketplace of information of which journalism is only a small part.

The architecture that enables news organizations to reach their audiences on social platforms also militates against their sustainability. Universal access to accurate information is at the heart of a well-functioning democracy, and that access is now shaped by the enormously powerful and largely unaccountable technology companies of Silicon Valley. While the market for information is still evolving rapidly, we have an opportunity to create a more robust and transparent model for journalism. The impact of social media on journalism has been as great an upheaval as any other in the history of the industry. During the first phase of web development in newsrooms—which stretched roughly from the advent of the commercial internet in 1994 to the widespread availability of broadband in 2004—the principal concern among news organizations was how to transfer print products to the internet. In the next decade, the wider availability of broadband and Web 2. 0 technologies made it possible to publish multimedia material anywhere.

Interactive journalism, comments on articles, podcasting, and crowdsourcing all offered exciting opportunities for journalism. Small sites like Homicide Watch DC won awards for demonstrating the power of using databases to build and tell stories with a team of just two. The emergence of the internet, and the principles of the open web that initially underpinned it, wrenched control from the few, transferring it to the many. It was, at its core and in its design, a democratizing technology. An explosion of new websites and services sprang up in the US over this period.

Larger legacy organizations like CNN, the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post were in a state of constant revolution, with varying degrees of success. While this period saw tremendous experimentation, the financials were grim. For much of the twentieth century, journalism had been supported through three main revenue sources, all of which were undercut by the internet. Classifieds and display advertising were upended by Craigslist and Google, respectively, and subscriptions proved difficult to generate for digital products. This didn’t simply reduce advertisers costs and publishers’ revenues. It also broke the vertical integration of the industry, which guaranteed access to audiences through privileged and high-cost distribution systems. In the open web, the attributes that once bound the industry together—the similarity of methods among a relatively small and coherent group of businesses, and an inability for anyone outside that group to produce a competitive product—were no longer present.

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While this twin shift—in both the production and funding of news—was highly disruptive to established news organizations, it was also championed by many as a positive evolution in the practice of journalism. The civic design of the internet and the civic purpose of journalism were ultimately aligned. Now we are experiencing a third wave of technological change. The move from desktop computers to the small screen of the smartphone and the development of a privatized mobile web enclosed and monetized the promise of the open web. The principles of the open web, which held promise for citizens and journalists alike, have given way to an ecosystem dominated by a small number of platform companies who hold tremendous influence over what we see and know. In the past two years alone, the integration between the news business and social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Google has accelerated.

Globally there are well over 40 different social media sites and messaging apps through which news publishers can reach segments of their audience. Facebook operates at a scale hitherto unseen. No publisher in the history of journalism has enjoyed the same kind of influence over the news consumption of the world. The rebundling of publishing power is arguably responsible for a mass defunding of journalistic institutions. Verizon, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook take more than 65 percent of all digital advertising revenue, according to Pew in 2016. Digital Content Next reported that 90 percent of growth in digital ad revenue over 2015 went to Facebook and Google.

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The influence of these companies over the exchange of information is often dictated by socio-technical systems that are hidden from view, and driven by incentives that are in private, rather than public, interest. We seek to shed light on the dynamics of the convergence between publishers and platforms, using new findings from more than 70 interviews conducted over the past 12 months, and from content analysis conducted over four one-week periods. See Appendix I for more on our methodology. All of those issues are proxies for the fundamental question of how our world of news and information has been upended by technological change. This report is our contribution to a better understanding of that change. See the appendix for fuller list.

The frequency and type of publishing related developments among platforms has accelerated over time as platforms compete to meet the needs of as many publishers as possible. Platforms are more explicit about their relationship to news, formalizing their relationships with publishers, and, in some cases, stepping into editorial territory. February 2, 2004: Facebook launches as a Harvard-only social network. July 15, 2006: Twitter launches as Twttr. September 5, 2006: Facebook News Feed launches, displaying activity from a user’s network. October 6, 2010: Instagram launches as a photo-based social network.

September 26, 2011: Snapchat launches as a mobile app for disappearing messages. October 12, 2011: Apple Newsstand, an app to read a variety of publications, released. November 20, 2013: Google Play Newsstand, an app to read a variety of publications, released. January 30, 2014: Facebook Paper and Facebook Trending launched. Paper was an effort at personalized news. Trending is a list of the platform’s top topics.

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