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The conference lasted a day, and had a wide variety of presentations. The key aspects for the research project were:

  • Mark Thompson of the New York Times indicated that they aim to develop their main source of revenue from subscription from a highly engaged audience. They see themselves not as a content provider for a social media portal, but as a focus of audience attention. If this is true, copyright laws are not likely to be a core aspect of the NYT’s business plan, save insofar as it inhibits leakage of content and therefore subscriber loyalty and revenue.

Comparing Silicon Valley and journalism in respect of how news flows

  • In other presentations, it was argued that there is a tension between the ambitions and functions of social media platforms and that of journalistic outlets. For social media, and Silicon Valley in general, popularity is a proxy for success: for traditional journalism, it’s more complicated. Another way of putting this point is that there is a key distinction between valuable and profitable that is often overlooked by Silicon Valley.
  • This may lead to unsatisfactory conclusions in terms of the flow of useful information in a democracy. For example research at the time of the unrest in the city of Fergusson showed that Facebook’s news feed did not lead people to the events that were unfolding. This was held to be because it is difficult to ‘like’ news stories such as these, and this means Facebook algorithm did not bring the news of the disturbances to its audience’s attention. In contrast, Twitter did, because its algorithm is different.
  • Flaws and quirks such as these of social media as a route to news can lead to the view that social media companies should tweak their algorithms, to keep the populace informed. A counter argument to this is that this sort of control of the information flow is not an appropriate thing for social media companies to do.
  • A representative of Facebook argued that Instant Articles was a benefit to the news industry. He dismissed a recent reported fall in the amount of referrals that Facebook gives to news publishers’ sites, as being down to the move in consumption habits from viewing news on desktops to viewing it on mobile devices. He said Facebook dealt fairly with publishers because it gave news companies a variety of options of how to submit content to Instant Articles. He also did not consider it appropriate for Facebook to alter their news feed to deal with the distribution of false or damaging information – we wouldn’t, he said using the offline world as an analogy, do this in general conversation. He said that they were doing things to attempt to resolve the flow of misinformation, for example by suggesting other links that people might like to follow, and ensuring these came from more reliable sources.

Funding models for journalism

  • Venture capitalist money will only flow to ideas of this type that are profitable. This is unlikely to be general journalism, and unlikely to be accountability – investigative – work. Financial journalism, on the other hand, is more attractive to VC funders.
  • It’s difficult to predict now whether subscription models of funding will be viable for everyone in the long term.
  • Content producing companies can make money from generating marketing material and clothing it in the form of journalism. Some recent research cited showed that new journalists are expected to produce 60% news, and 40% marketing material.
  • The channels that control access to the audience’s attention are increasingly no longer news publishers, but social media platforms. 
  • Moreover, audience attention spans are becoming more shorter: eight years ago, it was a three-paragraph blog that caught attention. Now, it’s a short tweet. News businesses dealing in news content have to address this.
  • Revenue from display advertisements are weak, as audiences don’t like them. Advertisers seek other more efficient ways of connecting with the audience – sponsored content and (like Red Bull) content-producing marketing departments. Business models founded on display advertising are unlikely to be successful in the long term.

Subsidising content is unlikely to catch on in the US. Other, non-commercial funding routes being examined include non-profit funding, and philanthropy. For example, Corporate Social Responsibility may be a means of channelling funds to investigative journalism.