Meta ‘choking trusted news’ say NMA and Reach chiefs

Meta ‘choking trusted news’ say NMA and Reach chiefs

Meta is “choking trusted news” by deprioritising authoritative news within Facebook’s newsfeed, according to Owen Meredith, CEO of the News Media Association (NMA), and Reach CEO and NMA chair Jim Mullen.

In a letter to Sir Nick Clegg, Meta’s president for global affairs and former UK Deputy Prime Minister, Meredith and Mullen criticised Meta’s waning interest in promoting news on the platform.

“Particularly as we near a general election, these deliberate actions pose an urgent threat to democracy by choking trusted news — both financially for the media industry and practically, for audiences accustomed to trusting your platform for information,” their letter, seen by The Media Leader, reads.

A spokesperson for Meta declined to comment.

In a previous statement announcing the policy changes, Meta said its deprecation of news on the platform was part of an “ongoing effort to better align our investments to our products and services people value the most,” and that, since the News tab makes up less than 3% of what people around the world see in their Facebook feed, “news discovery is a small part of the Facebook experience for the vast majority of people.”

“We know that people don’t come to Facebook for news and political content – they come to connect with people and discover new opportunities, passions and interests,” the company’s statement reads.

‘Publishers have been actively trying to reduce their exposure to traffic sources from social platforms’

Such an argument was rebuked by Meredith and Mullen in their letter.

“Even if Meta’s own interest in news has waned, the fact remains that platforms such as Facebook continue to be key discovery routes for news for millions of people and indeed voters, as Ofcom’s News Consumption in the UK 2022/23 report showed earlier this year,” wrote the pair in the letter, which was also sent to culture secretary Lucy Frazer and technology minister Michelle Donelan.

“At the same time, Meta separately choosing to deprioritise authoritative sources of news within [the] newsfeed has further harmed publishers’ ability to attract and monetise traffic,” it continues. “With Ofcom reporting Facebook as the third most prevalent source of news for UK consumers, this decision is both financially damaging and deeply concerning for democracy and society. If genuine editorially controlled news is not available on the platforms where users are looking for it, society suffers.”

Reach, the UK’s largest news publisher, has attributed its financial decline this year to Facebook’s changes. In its half-year earnings, the Daily Mirror publisher announced its revenue dropped 6.1% year-on-year. Its total properties, which also include the Daily Express and Daily Star, saw a 16% decline in page views. The company said at the time that without Facebook’s change to deprioritise news, it would have only expected its page views to decline by 2%.

Publishers’ dependency on social media companies for audience reach was described as “unhealthy” by tech and martech investor Alex DeGroote in May following the closing down of BuzzFeed News and the bankruptcy of Vice Media. “The digital-native publishers have vulnerable and often unprofitable business models, where the recent momentum has been very negative,” he said.

That is in part why publishers have taken steps to adjust their strategy in recent months to focus on brand building and attracting regular, loyal readers to their homepages.

“I think this was always something that was going to happen,” reflected Ozone CEO Damon Reeve in the latest episode of The Media Leader Podcast. “As a result, publishers have been actively trying to reduce their exposure to traffic sources from social platforms.

“I think publishers have done a good job, from what we’ve seen over the last year-and-a-half-to-two-years of trying to reduce that exposure [by] investing more in direct traffic sources and trying to build up their subscriber base, their registered users, and investing in building their own brand amongst readers.”

‘I don’t sense much leverage’

The letter further scolded Meta for terminating funding of its Community News Project (CNP). Launched in 2018, Meta had pledged £4.5m to help fund 80 new UK community journalists through the programme. Now that Meta has abruptly ended support, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), which helped manage the Project, is now “fighting to save [it]” through seeking alternative sources of funding. Current community news reporters have been unaffected by the change.

“When Meta launched the CNP in 2018, you rightly said the scheme recognised the importance of local news, acknowledging ‘the important role Facebook plays in how people get their news,’ and that Meta wanted to ‘do more to support local publishers.’ The collaboration between Meta, NCTJ, and local publishers has provided a welcome and essential boost for frontline reporting, recognising the immense value of trusted, authoritative sources of local news to Facebook audiences,” reads Meredith and Mullen’s letter.

“If Meta truly believes, as it stated only 18 months ago, that ‘local newspapers are the lifeblood of communities’ then it is crucial that the company acts to support, rather than undermine, the sustainability of journalism in the UK by continuing these valuable and successful initiatives.”

Meredith and Mullen end their letter imploring Meta to meet with the NMA to “discuss the matter in greater detail,” including how Meta can help support news publishers going forward. However, DeGroote tells The Media Leader that he thinks it unlikely Meta will capitulate.

“I don’t sense much leverage on the part of the publishers, unfortunately. It’s a bit of an asymmetric relationship; the publishers need Facebook (and Google), but Facebook and Google say they don’t need the publishers.”

Why publishers are brand building, with Ozone CEO Damon Reeve

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