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.”


Like Digital & Partners appoints new director of technology

Shukla has managed several technology teams for clients including Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, Majid Al Futtaim, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, and Mall of Emirates. (Supplied)
Shukla has managed several technology teams for clients including Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, Majid Al Futtaim, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, and Mall of Emirates. (Supplied)
Updated 05 August 2021

Like Digital & Partners appoints new director of technology

Shukla has managed several technology teams for clients including Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, Majid Al Futtaim, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, and Mall of Emirates. (Supplied)
  • Pradeep Shukla to lead all enterprise technology practices at the agency

DUBAI: Digital agency Like Digital & Partners has appointed Pradeep Shukla as director of technology.

Shukla will oversee all the agency’s “enterprise technology practices,” which include Sitecore and Shopify.

“We are very excited to have Pradeep onboard. We have noticed his work for a while now and understand the knowledge and expertise he brings. We look forward to the transformation and know-how he brings to the agency,” Karl Escritt, the agency’s co-founder, said in a press release.

Shukla has over 15 years of experience in the business at agencies including Wunderman Thomson, Hexagon and Mirum, and at organizations including TATA Consultancy Services and General Mills. Recognized twice with the Sitecore MVP award in the Technology and Ambassador category, Shukla has worked on various accounts across sectors including oil and gas, retail, telecom, tourism, and government.

He has also managed several technology teams for clients including Abu Dhabi Digital Authority, Majid Al Futtaim, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, and Mall of Emirates.

“Joining a new team is always a learning curve. I have learned so much in my previous positions and I am so excited to bring my expertise to these new projects at Like Digital & Partners,” Shukla said in the press release.


General Entertainment Authority, MBC Academy launch nationwide talent search

Creative Journey Around the Kingdom Awards Ceremony in Abha. (Twitter)
Creative Journey Around the Kingdom Awards Ceremony in Abha. (Twitter)
Updated 05 August 2021

General Entertainment Authority, MBC Academy launch nationwide talent search

Creative Journey Around the Kingdom Awards Ceremony in Abha. (Twitter)
  • The Saudi General Entertainment Authority launches its “Creative Journey Around the Kingdom” initiative in partnership with MBC Academy

LONDON: The Saudi General Entertainment Authority has launched its “Creative Journey Around the Kingdom” initiative in partnership with MBC Academy.

The aim is to discover talented individuals from across the Kingdom in order to boost the country’s media and entertainment industry, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

So far, from 1,687 applicants, 77 people have been chosen by MBC Academy and the General Entertainment Authority to take part in the scheme. Twenty of those participants hail from Tabuk, 18 each from Jazan and AlUla, and seven from Jeddah.

The search will continue in Taif from August 16 to 18, before moving on to Qassim, Al-Khobar, and finally Riyadh.


Facebook suspends accounts of group over ad transparency dispute

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. (File/AFP)
The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 August 2021

Facebook suspends accounts of group over ad transparency dispute

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. (File/AFP)
  • Facebook suspends the personal accounts of a group of researchers for publishing academic studies about the platform at “the expense of people’s privacy.” 

LONDON: Facebook suspended the personal accounts of a group of researchers on Tuesday for publishing academic studies about the platform at “the expense of people’s privacy.” 

The suspended accounts belong to members of the Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University (NYU) who criticized the platform’s political advertizing transparency tools, revealing a number of flaws.

“We repeatedly explained our privacy concerns to NYU, but their researchers ultimately chose not to address them and instead resumed scraping people’s data and ads from our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson told Arab News. 

“We have provided the researchers the opportunity to use our transparency tools in ways that don’t violate our terms and that are privacy-protective,” the spokesperson added. “We were left with no choice but to disable the researchers’ developer access, accounts and apps. We welcome academic study of our platform — just not at the expense of people’s privacy.”

The tool in question is a browser extension called Ad Observer, which can be downloaded voluntarily by Facebook users. 

The users give the extension access to their personal Facebook pages in order to collect anonymized data about the adverts they see. That information then goes into a public database, where journalists and researchers can observe how and where politicians are focusing their spending.

Facebook has previously warned the researchers several times that Ad Observer was a breach of users’ privacy and issued them with a warning before the tool was even launched. 

A researcher in NYU, Laura Edelson, tweeted on Tuesday that Facebook had suspended her account alongside other members of the group. 

 “This evening, Facebook suspended my Facebook account and the accounts of several people associated with Cybersecurity for Democracy, our team at NYU. This has the effect of cutting off our access to Facebook’s Ad Library data, as well as CrowdTangle,” she said.

“Outside analysis of Facebook content from essential organizations like the Ad Observatory are increasingly exposing Facebook as a breeding ground for extremism and right wing trash,” a spokesperson for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an activist group established to counter the company’s own Oversight Board, stated.

“Now like the authoritarian governments they court, Facebook is cracking down on its critics.”


UK media urge govt to give Afghan colleagues refuge

UK media urge govt to give Afghan colleagues refuge
Updated 05 August 2021

UK media urge govt to give Afghan colleagues refuge

UK media urge govt to give Afghan colleagues refuge
  • A number of Afghan journalists and media workers have been killed or wounded in attacks over recent months

LONDON: Britain’s leading newspapers and broadcasters on Thursday urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give sanctuary to media workers in Afghanistan under threat from the resurgent Taliban.

In an open letter, every major newspaper plus broadcasters Sky News and ITN said media workers risk “persecution, physical harm, incarceration, torture or death.”

The “peril is acute and intensifying” as the Islamist insurgents take control of vast swathes of the countryside and key border towns, they added.

“President Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan without conditions is a risk to western security, but more urgently still to Afghanistan’s people, the letter said.

“None are more exposed than Afghan civilians who have served western military forces during their 20-year mission to thwart terrorism and Islamist extremism in the country, and in particular those who have helped western media organizations to report it,” it continued.

“We and other media organizations implore and plead with Boris Johnson and (Foreign Secretary) Dominic Raab to put in place a special visa program for journalists and other media workers who are at risk in their home country. Honour and duty require it.”

The letter was organized by the Times and The Guardian, who fear the return of the Taliban following the NATO pull-out spells danger for those who helped western entities during the two-decade war, or who reported critically on the group.

They pointed to the murder of Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, a reporter with Radio Free Europe, who was killed in November last year by an explosive device attached to his car.

“Time is running out. Should Afghan journalists be left to the Taliban’s mercies, the costs to Britain’s reputation will be immense,” they wrote.

A number of Afghan journalists and media workers have been killed or wounded in attacks over recent months.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer backed the campaign, saying “the UK must not abandon them.”


STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio

STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio
Updated 04 August 2021

STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio

STARZPLAY partners with YouNeedCharacter to expand kids’ content portfolio
  • Partnership adds ‘CricketPang’ animation series endorsed by Ajinkya Rahane, vice captain of Indian cricket team

DUBAI: STARZPLAY has expanded its portfolio of kids’ content on the streaming platform with the addition of “CricketPang,” an animated TV series based on cricket and endorsed by the talented Ajinkya Rahane, vice captain of the Indian cricket team.

“We are thrilled to stream ‘CricketPang’ for our youngest viewers who can now enjoy a fun animation show while also honing their creative skills. We look forward to our partnership with YouNeedCharacter and are confident that this all-new edition will be loved by our MENA subscribers,” said Nadim Dada, vice president of content acquisition at STARZPLAY.

The series is produced by global character creation and animation production company YouNeedCharacter, which recently signed Indian cricketer Ajinkya Rahane as the brand ambassador for the show. With Rahane onboard, the company aims to launch activities to support cricket by securing scholarships for promising young cricketers.

“‘CricketPang’ offers a simple and interesting way for kids to learn while being entertained, and we hope that animation fans in the region enjoy the series as much as we enjoyed creating it,” said Minsu Song, CEO of YouNeedCharacter.

Each episode of “CricketPang” has been designed to contain stories of friendship, conflict resolutions, cooperation and creativity in ways that children can understand and learn from. The fun and light-hearted stories aim to help children with problem-solving, cooperation and communication skills.

“We have been working continuously to increase awareness for ‘CricketPang’,” Song said, adding that the partnership with STARZPLAY would further strengthen the brand.

The first season of the series is currently streaming on STARZPLAY.