Digital News Environment

Why is it important? 

UK newspapers – in digital and print - are by far the largest investors in journalism and every day they can be counted on to provide the subject matter of the country’s democratic conversation. However, in the digital age, funding quality journalism is an uphill struggle. This is partly because of the lower value of digital advertising compared to print, but also because of the diversion of advertising spend from publishers towards online platforms and Google and Facebook in particular

Current Threats

The digital news environment vastly rewards the distribution of content over its creation. In 2016, 94 per cent of the growth in the UK digital advertising market went to search engines and social media, primarily Google and Facebook.* These platforms distribute and monetise news content that publishers have produced and invested in. As ad revenues drain away from content providers towards online platforms, it becomes harder for publishers  to meet the substantial costs that professional news production entails.

Search engines and social media, primarily Google and Facebook, distribute and monetise news content that publishers have produced and invested in.

The NMA has made a number of recommendations, including that the Government ask Ofcom and/or the CMA to examine the impacts of Google, Facebook and other platforms on the media landscape and to evaluate the importance of media content to their business models.

The dominance of Google in the search advertising market and Facebook in social media gives these companies immense power over which stories are read by whom. Sudden changes in algorithms can result in drastic declines in traffic to publishers’ sites that inflict further damage on the finances of independent news production. The algorithms of online platforms have also been observed to propel the viral spread of ‘fake news’ based on pirated and/or fabricated content, compounding the squeeze on real, professionally produced news online.

The danger is that these trends will hollow out the media landscape: Quality, professionally produced news becomes unsustainable and all that remains are fake news pedlars that can be run on a shoe-string and government-backed outlets, such as Russia Today, for whom money is no object.

What is NMA doing about it?

The News Media Association is presenting these concerns to Ministers, parliamentarians and regulators.  In our submission to the Cairncross review into the future of sustainable journalism, the NMA called for a fair and equitable content licence fee agreement would ensure that news media publishers are appropriately rewarded for the use of their content by the tech giants. 

It is one of 42 measures and initiatives proposed by the news media industry to protect independent journalism. The NMA also joined Ofcom and UK broadcasters in calling for independent regulatory oversight of the tech platforms, and for the launch of a competition inquiry into the dominance of the tech giants.  

The NMA  also commissioned research by Deloitte that highlighted the £5.3bn contribution of newspapers to the UK economy and their peerless role as investors in original news.

*Figures on 2016 ad market growth are from the IAB, as reported by Press Gazette