Research paper: Is digital transformation killing journalism?

Print media's shrinking ad revenues and the growing power of a handful of digital giants pose problems for business, governments and economies. (AN Photo)
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Print media's shrinking ad revenues and the growing power of a handful of digital giants pose problems for business, governments and economies. (AN Photo)
Research paper: Is digital transformation killing journalism?
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Updated 10 June 2021

Research paper: Is digital transformation killing journalism?

Print media's shrinking ad revenues and the growing power of a handful of digital giants pose problems for business, governments and economies. (AN Photo)
  • Between 2016 and 2024, digital’s share of ad spending in the GCC is predicted to increase by 20 percent
  • Growth of digital and social media has had a devastating effect on the print media industry

DUBAI: For many, reading a newspaper or perusing a magazine over breakfast, catching up on the latest from around the world to follow the markets, the sport and the travel, is still the perfect way to start the weekend. But the world of print journalism, of broadsheets and tabloids, of exclusives and splashes, has been changing rapidly, with important implications not just for how we obtain information, but how we understand the world.

In 2020, a whopping 79 percent of young people in the Arab world received their news from social media compared with just 25 percent in 2015, according to the 2020 Arab Youth Survey.

By 2022, 65 percent of the world’s gross domestic product is set to be digitized, with direct digital transformation investments totaling $6.8 trillion between 2020 and 2023, according to the International Data Corporation.

It is no surprise then that digital transformation — the shift from hard copy of newspapers and magazines to devices in the media landscape — has been the buzzword of many meetings, conferences and business lunches. But what does it really mean and, more importantly, what does it mean for the print media industry?

In its latest report “Future of Media: Myth of Digital Transformation,” the Arab News Research & Studies Unit examines digital transformation in the context of the growth of big tech companies and the consequent impact on the publishing industry, and demonstrates why governments and regulatory bodies need to take notice and action.

Although the growth of digital and social media has revolutionized business largely for the better, it has had a devastating effect on the print media industry.

Globally and in the region, print media’s ad revenues have been steadily declining since 2008.

Between 2016 and 2024, digital’s share of ad spending in the Gulf Cooperation Council is predicted to increase by 20 percent, while that of print will drop by 13 percent, according to Choueiri Group’s estimates.

“Over the years, there has been a growing focus on performance — that is, generating sales by targeting consumers at the bottom of the funnel,” said Alexandre Hawari, CEO of publishing and events company Mediaquest and Akama Holding, referring to declining ad revenues.

As advertisers shift their budgets to digital channels, they find fewer outlets for their spending. Digital is dominated by just a few of the tech giants. In the Middle East and North Africa region, Facebook and Google command a massive 80 percent of digital ad spend, according to Choueiri Group estimates.

Today, just four companies — YouTube, Google, Facebook and Snap — represent 35 percent of the total global media ad spend, according to data from eMarketer. In contrast, traditional media’s share of spending globally has dropped from 81 percent in 2011 to 44 percent in 2021.

This concentration, and hence power, in the hands of a few companies is dangerous for both businesses and economies. The near monopolization of the digital ad industry means that government bodies are finding it difficult to regulate the tech giants. This has big implications for authenticity and accuracy.

A 2018 study by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology scholars found that fake news spreads far more quickly on Twitter than true stories. According to their research, false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories.

A propensity towards the scandalous, the outrageous and the scurrilous makes the rise of fake news and hateful and violent content on these platforms a matter of grave concern.




The growth of digital and social media has had a devastating effect on the print media industry across the globe. (AFP/File Photo)

As people constantly check the news on mobile devices, it becomes easy for fake news to become a top story as more people read and share it, while also shortening the life span of important stories.

Increasingly, journalists do not have the luxury of taking time to research and develop a story. When Bill Clinton was accused of having inappropriate relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, BBC journalist and author Gavin Esler spent a year investigating the truth. But when “the principal news source in the world is constantly telling lies,” said Esler, referring to former US president Donald Trump, it is very difficult for anybody, particularly journalists, to catch up.

Facebook also played a critical part in Trump’s victory in 2016. Brad Parscale, who led Trump’s digital campaign, said that 80 percent of the campaign budget was spent on Facebook. In an interview with WIRED magazine, he said: “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing. Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising.”

In 2018, the UN said that Facebook played a major role in hate and violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. According to an investigative report by The New York Times, members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and targeted the minority group.

Nor is Twitter exempt from controversy. In early January, Twitter banned Trump following the Capitol Hill riots for tweets that were alleged to have incited violence by far-right protesters.




Supporters of former US President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 — Facebook on June 4, 2021 banned Trump for two years, saying he deserved the maximum punishment for violating its rules over the protesters’ deadly attack on the Capitol that followed. (AFP/Getty Images/File Photos)

Other leaders of dubious repute who continue to tweet and incite hatred on the platform, including exiled Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi; terrorist-designated Qais Al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib al-Haq in Iraq, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Then there is the question of funding. As audiences shift to digital platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter for daily news, these companies profit from quality journalism while journalists and news media companies run up losses.

The second biggest source of traffic for Facebook and Google in every single country is news, said Juan Senor, president of Innovation Media Consulting Group.

It seems only desirable for big tech companies to not only invest in journalism, but also remunerate publishers fairly — something that regulators around the world are trying to enforce.

The idea of not paying in some form is “fundamentally meretricious and a flawed argument,” said Esler. Not compensating journalists and publishers is like taking milk from farmers and not paying them, he said. “Why should there not be some reasonable recompense from these massive organizations for something they make a profit out of?”

Sarah Messer, managing director at Nielsen Media in the Middle East, said that when social media platforms were growing, traditional publishers were slow “to understand how to mix their digital offerings with their traditional offerings.”

They were uncomfortable in the digital space, she added, leaving the gate open for digital publishers and big tech companies to move in.

Despite publishers digitizing their content, the relationship between big tech companies and news media has always been “dysfunctional,” said Senor of Innovation Media.




As big tech rewards people who get more clicks, experts say publishers of credible content are confronted with daunting challenges going forward. (Shutterstock)

The relationship is based on the premise that if you build an audience and drive a lot of traffic, you will generate a lot of ad revenue. But that is only true for the big tech companies, not for publishers, he added.

“They have always had the upper hand,” he said.

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas said that today almost every newspaper now publishes its articles online and has a considerable social media presence.

The problem, in his opinion, is that the industry is not fair to credible publishers.

“We need to level the playing field so the same tools are available for publishing houses,” he said.

“The problem with the model here is that Google, Facebook and the big tech companies reward people who get more clicks.

“And in all of this, the biggest loser is the truth. There needs to be a way to be able to reward publications or media outlets that are producing this credible information, as opposed to punishing them, which is what’s currently happening.”


Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook and tech giants to target attacker manifestos, far-right militias in database

The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook, Microsoft and other tech giants are stepping up efforts to crack down on white supremacist and far right content
  • Over the next few months, the database will add attacker manifestos that are often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence

LONDON: A counterterrorism organization formed by some of the biggest US tech companies including Facebook and Microsoft is significantly expanding the types of extremist content shared between firms in a key database, aiming to crack down on material from white supremacists and far-right militias, the group told Reuters.
Until now, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism’s (GIFCT) database has focused on videos and images from terrorist groups on a United Nations list and so has largely consisted of content from Islamist extremist organizations such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Over the next few months, the group will add attacker manifestos — often shared by sympathizers after white supremacist violence — and other publications and links flagged by UN initiative Tech Against Terrorism. It will use lists from intelligence-sharing group Five Eyes, adding URLs and PDFs from more groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and neo-Nazis.
The firms, which include Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube, share “hashes,” unique numerical representations of original pieces of content that have been removed from their services. Other platforms use these to identify the same content on their own sites in order to review or remove it.
While the project reduces the amount of extremist content on mainstream platforms, groups can still post violent images and rhetoric on many other sites and parts of the Internet.
The tech group wants to combat a wider range of threats, said GIFCT’s Executive Director Nicholas Rasmussen in an interview with Reuters.
“Anyone looking at the terrorism or extremism landscape has to appreciate that there are other parts... that are demanding attention right now,” Rasmussen said, citing the threats of far-right or racially motivated violent extremism.
The tech platforms have long been criticized for failing to police violent extremist content, though they also face concerns over censorship. The issue of domestic extremism, including white supremacy and militia groups, took on renewed urgency https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-administration-unveils-plan-tackle-domestic-terrorism-2021-06-15 following the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
Fourteen companies can access the GIFCT database, including Reddit, Snapchat-owner Snap, Facebook-owned Instagram, Verizon Media, Microsoft’s LinkedIn and file-sharing service Dropbox.
GIFCT, which is now an independent organization, was created in 2017 under pressure from US and European governments after a series of deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. Its database mostly contains digital fingerprints of videos and images related to groups on the UN Security Council’s consolidated sanctions list and a few specific live-streamed attacks, such as the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
GIFCT has faced criticism and concerns from some human and digital rights groups over centralized or over-broad censorship.
“Over-achievement in this takes you in the direction of violating someone’s rights on the Internet to engage in free expression,” said Rasmussen.
Emma Llanso, director of Free Expression at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in a statement: “This expansion of the GIFCT hash database only intensifies the need for GIFCT to improve the transparency and accountability of these content-blocking resources.”
“As the database expands, the risks of mistaken takedown only increase,” she added.
The group wants to continue to broaden its database to include hashes of audio files or certain symbols and grow its membership. It recently added home-rental giant Airbnb and email marketing company Mailchimp as members.


Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

Facebook sets up new team to work on the ‘metaverse’

Facebook has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality such as its Oculus VR headsets, AR glasses and wristband technologies. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook establishes new team to work on metaverse, a digital world where people can move between different devices and virtual environments

LONDON: Facebook is creating a product team to work on the “metaverse,” a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Monday.
The team will be part of the company’s virtual reality organization, the group’s executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post.
“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied Internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge in an interview last week.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.
It has also bought a bevy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. It has about 10,000 employees working on virtual reality, The Information reported in March.
Zuckerberg has said he thinks it makes sense to invest deeply to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform.
“I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile Internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” he said on his Monday Facebook post.
He told The Verge: “If we do this well, I think over the next five years or so ... we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”


McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
Updated 27 July 2021

McDonald’s creates new unit to focus on global digital app

McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants. (File/Reuters)
  • McDonald's creates new unit that brings together digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments
  • Loyalty programs bring in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals

NEW YORK: McDonald’s Corp. is bringing its digital, data analytics, marketing, restaurant development and operations segments into one unit as it focuses on driving growth through its global app and new MyMcDonald’s Rewards program, the company said on Monday.
The company rolled out MyMcDonald’s Rewards on July 8 as fast-food chains have raced to launch loyalty programs to spur sales, reach younger consumers and give customers more ways to order.
To lead the new unit, McDonald’s promoted Manu Steijaert to a new global chief customer officer position, effective Aug. 1 and reporting to Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski. Steijaert previously ran international operated markets including European countries, Russia and Australia.
Nearly half of all restaurant customers use at least one loyalty program, particularly when ordering fast-food, according to a consumer survey from loyalty program provider Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS.com.
The programs rake in valuable data about customers’ food orders and habits, which restaurants use to push specialized deals in the hope of getting people to eat there more often and spend more money on extra items.
McDonald’s has more than 40 million active app users in its biggest six markets and now offers delivery in more than 30,000 restaurants, Kempczinski said in an internal message seen by Reuters. The company created the team “to remove some internal barriers and silos that ultimately lead to a fragmented customer experience,” Kempczinski said in the memo.
The company reports second-quarter earnings results on Wednesday.


EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 July 2021

EU gives Google 2 months to improve hotel, flight search results

The final prices for Google Hotel and Google Flight should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance. (File/AFP)
  • EU provides Google with two months to improve the way the platform shows internet search results in relation to hotels and flights
  • Google has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices

BRUSSELS: Alphabet unit Google has two months to improve the way it presents Internet search results for flights and hotels and explain how it ranks these or face possible sanctions, the European Commission and EU consumer authorities said on Monday.
The world’s most popular Internet search engine has long faced scrutiny from antitrust enforcers and consumer groups around the world over its business practices, which in some cases have landed it with hefty fines.
The latest grievance centers on the prices on its services Google Flights and Google Hotels.
The final prices for these should include fees or taxes that can be calculated in advance, while reference prices used to calculate promoted discounts should be clearly identifiable, the EU executive and national consumer watchdogs, led by the Dutch agency and the Belgian Directorate General for Economic Inspection, said in a joint statement.
“EU consumers cannot be misled when using search engines to plan their holidays. We need to empower consumers to make their choices based on transparent and unbiased information,” EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.
The agencies also told Google to revise the standard terms of its Google Store because some cases showed that traders have more rights than consumers.
If Google’s proposals are not sufficient, the agencies will discuss the issue further with the company and may impose sanctions.
Google said in a statement: “We welcome this dialogue and are working closely with consumer protection agencies and the European Commission to see how we can make improvements that will be good for our users and provide even more transparency.”


Tunisian journalist union calls for protection of journalists after Ennahda threats

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
Updated 26 July 2021

Tunisian journalist union calls for protection of journalists after Ennahda threats

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” (Facebook)
  • The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists demanded that Tunisian authorities provide protection for journalists in the country
  • Tensions in the North African country rose on Sunday after President Kais Saied suspended Parliament, fired PM Mechichi and dissolved the government

LONDON: The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) demanded that Tunisian authorities provide protection for journalists in the country on Monday, after reporter Mohamed Yousfi announced he had received threats from members of the Muslim Brotherhood-associated Ennahda party.

Yousfi reportedly received threats from Ennahda supporters over claims he made during an appearance on Al-Mayadeen television channel earlier this week that members of the movement blackmailed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and prevented his resignation. 

 

 

Tensions in the North African country rose on Sunday after President Kais Saied suspended Parliament, fired Mechichi and dissolved the government. 

Parliament’s speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda party, called the president’s move a coup and an “assault on democracy.”

Yousfi announced via his personal Facebook page on Saturday that he had been confined to his house over the weekend “because of serious … and dangerous threats.” 

In the post he said he held the president, prime minister, head of the military and the acting minister of the interior responsible for his safety. 

In a statement published on its Facebook page, the SNJT said that Yousfi had received “death threats regarding his media statements in which he portrayed the general situation of the country, including the political, health and social crisis,” which had “caused a systematic campaign of incitement, insult and assault against him by electronic accounts and militias working on behalf and for the benefit of political parties supporting the government.”

Saudi Arabia and Egypt have designated the Ennahda party as a terrorist organization.

The SNJT also condemned campaigns of incitement and violence aimed at silencing and intimidating other journalists in Tunisia. 

It highlighted in a monthly report that attacks against journalists and photographers in June had increased, with the 18 attacks reported up from 13 incidents in May. 

According to Reporters Without Borders, Tunisia ranks 73rd in the world on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Saied’s move to dissolve Parliament comes in response to nationwide protests over the past few days, prompted by Tunisia’s economic, political and health crises. 

Over the weekend, hundreds of Tunisians rallied in Tunis and other cities demanding the government step down after a surge in cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

The protests turned violent when police used pepper spray against demonstrators, who threw stones and shouted slogans demanding Mechichi’s resignation.