Commentary

Journo Charitable Gifts From Facebook, Google Should Not Be Celebrated

Facebook last week announced plans to spend $300 million over three years to support journalism, a year after Google pledged a like amount for the same cause.

While the tech giants’ efforts are well intended, no one in the publishing industry should be celebrating. If anything, such charity is an ominous sign that publishers face another reckoning and even more diminished presence among ad-supported media.

The tech companies are grasping for a fig leaf as they face increased resentment from news organizations whose operations have been decimated amid plunging ad revenue. The handouts to support journalism even outweigh what the companies spend each year on lobbying lawmakers and federal agencies.

Facebook and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, are pushing back against any laws or rules that limit their ability to serve their customers — advertisers, not consumers — with detailed personal data about millions of people.

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The publishing industry also faces a more existential question: How much journalism do people really need?

Millions of Americans are wistfully uninformed about national events. Studies showing how surprisingly little Americans know about their government lead to all kinds of hand-wringing among the chattering class and coastal elites.

Do millions of people need to know countless updates about the president’s every utterance or misspelled tweet? Every day, they get up and go about their lives without needing to make a decision that is better informed because they read an article or watched a newscast. Facebook provides updates from friends and family, and that’s all they need.

Outside of consumer journalism, trade publications have ample opportunity to thrive by reaching key decision-makers who collectively control trillions of dollars in collective spending worldwide.

The broader field of journalism, including broadcasters and internet publications, looks quite bloated with plenty of duplication efforts. It’s remarkable that the industry can dedicate dozens of reporters to access-journalism projects like covering the White House’s daily press briefing.

It’s not clear how one media outlet adds any more value to covering the proceedings than any other. Surfing through news websites and TV channels, I can find the same story being told the same way.

Wouldn’t their efforts be better spent on other matters relevant to the public?

I was thinking about this issue while reading “The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark” by reporter Dean Starkman. It’s a scathing indictment of the business press that mostly ignored the growing subprime crisis that led to the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression.

The documentary “The Devil We Know” now on Netflix also demonstrates the need for an independent press, especially when big, well-financed companies render government agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, useless. Unfortunately, the movie will leave audiences cheering for class-action attorneys.

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