Google, Facebook pledged millions for local news. Was it enough?

In the US alone, digital and print ad revenue for newspapers fell to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005. (File/AFP).
In the US alone, digital and print ad revenue for newspapers fell to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005. (File/AFP).
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Updated 10 June 2021

Google, Facebook pledged millions for local news. Was it enough?

In the US alone, digital and print ad revenue for newspapers fell to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005. (File/AFP).
  • Google and Facebook pledged $600 million to support news outlets globally.
  • Analysts indicate that this sum does not begin to compensate for the tens of billions of dollars publishers lost as tech companies dominated the market.

Facing regulatory and political pressure, Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google in recent years committed a combined $600 million to support news outlets globally — many of them local or regional enterprises foundering in a digital age.

Thousands of media outlets received financial and other support for everything from fact checking and reporting to training, according to the tech giants’ announcements. Some publishers express gratitude for contributions they say are essential as advertising revenue has plunged.

But several media analysts and news business executives told Reuters that the funding — set to last three years — does not nearly compensate for the tens of billions of dollars publishers lost as the tech companies gobbled up the digital advertising market. Google and Facebook accounted for 54 percent of US digital advertising revenue in 2020, according to eMarketer, a market research company.

Some critics dismissed the projects, including contributions of $300 million from each company, as a way to blunt complaints from publishers and generate good PR. Both tech companies face battles over compensation for news content worldwide, as well as antitrust lawsuits from regulators and publishers.

This “occasional benevolence” is “a drop in the bucket,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, publisher of Gannett’s USA Today and president of USA Today Network, which participates in a fact-checking program sponsored by Facebook. “News publishers are not looking for charity. We’re simply requesting a fair shot and a level playing field.”

Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said the money is vital to newsrooms in the short-term. “But they’re not given at a level which really has a lasting effect on the field, and it isn’t really changing anything.”

The tech giants told Reuters that they are genuinely committed to helping local and regional outlets, and both will continue to offer support after the $600 million initiatives expire in coming months.

The goal of the Facebook Journalism Project, as it is known, is to help publishers “effectively transition to and prosper in today’s digital world where they have to find a very specific audience in order to be successful,” said Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook.

READ THE LATEST ARAB NEWS RESEARCH & STUDIES UNIT REPORT “FUTURE OF MEDIA: MYTH OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION.”

Google is “oriented around making sure that there’s a healthy and vibrant ecosystem of quality journalism,” said Ben Monnie, the company’s director of global partnerships.

Reuters participates in initiatives funded by both Google and Facebook. Under the Facebook Journalism Project, for instance, Reuters received funding to develop a digital media training course for journalists. Neither Facebook nor Reuters would disclose the amount of money allocated.

Both Facebook and Google have made contributions to the news industry apart from the $600 million. For instance, the companies dedicated $1 billion each last year in grants and deals to pay a range of media worldwide for content. As part of that commitment, Google pays publishers such as Reuters to create and curate content for its News Showcase — snippets for its News and Discover apps.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which is largely funded by the corporate foundation of Thomson Reuters, announced in 2020 that it received about $19 million in grants from Google and $4 million from Facebook.

Both Facebook and Google say publishers benefit just from using their platforms, which deliver traffic that helps drive advertising revenue and subscriptions.

“We are a free service that is available to anyone to post content,” Brown said. Publishers’ participation “suggests they are getting value from the platform without us making these additional investments.”

WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?

Facebook, a social media goliath, and Google, by far the world’s most popular search engine, generated $607 billion in advertising revenue during the last three years, according to company filings. The companies are among the biggest corporate funders of the global news industry.

The two platforms have released limited information so far about how the $600 million in grants and services has been spent, often offering broad descriptions or examples without financial details.

Google has publicly identified buckets of spending worth about $198 million — including $81 million aimed at “elevating quality journalism” such as training on how to use Google products in reporting. The company, which said it expects to spend the full $300 million by year’s end, lists over 6,250 “news partners” in the project, ranging from the Associated Press and BuzzFeed News to the Cook Islands News in the South Pacific.

Facebook has said that its $300 million has been fully spent, more than half of it in support of local news. The company’s public announcements account for $80.3 million, a quarter of which went to a program that helps local newsrooms attract more digital subscribers. A company spokesperson, Adam Isserlis, said the project also includes proprietary deals with publishers, the details of which are confidential.

Several news executives said they are prodding the tech giants to pay more for content and to further prioritize original reporting. Facebook and Google say they have already changed their algorithms to do just that.

Meanwhile, some publishers see a lifeline. An executive at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, said a Google-funded training “lab” helped the paper determine the volume and price of digital subscribers that would cover expenses.

At Cityside, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, co-founder Lance Knobel said he used $1.56 million from Google to help launch and support an online local news website, Oaklandside.

“I honestly think their big interest is that they want a healthy news environment,” he said.

FRIEND AND FOE

Other publishers are dissatisfied or ambivalent, viewing the tech goliaths as both friend and foe.

The companies have a huge impact on outlets’ advertising revenues because their algorithms determine whether an article shows up prominently in a Google search or on Facebook’s news feed.

Google runs one of the largest online advertising exchanges for digital ads that are bought and sold automatically via software programs. Since Google competes as both the biggest buyer and seller on that exchange, it can steer business to itself, some publishers and other critics have alleged.

In the United States alone, digital and print ad revenue for newspapers fell to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005.

On June 7, under a settlement with France’s antitrust watchdog, Google agreed to share more data with ad buyers broadly — therefore reducing some of its competitive advantage over publishers.

Google and Facebook face other legal challenges. The Nation, a progressive US news website, and West Virginia-based newspaper company HD Media are among publishers to file antitrust lawsuits against one or both tech giants in recent months. US authorities have filed antitrust suits against both as well, and some states have accused Google of unlawfully dominating the process of placing ads online.

In responses to some of the suits, the companies dismissed claims that their business practices hurt publishers. Google said people use the company because they choose to, not because they’re forced to.

Frank Blethen sees things differently.

The Seattle Times publisher said his paper has participated in programs backed by Google and Facebook. But “if they hadn’t monopolized advertising and gamed search the way they have, newspapers would still be making money,” he said.


OSN marks UAE’s 50th National Day by revealing top-watched content

OSN top-watched content includes Grey's Anatomy, Succession, Yellowstone and Tufah Al-Haram. (Supplied)
OSN top-watched content includes Grey's Anatomy, Succession, Yellowstone and Tufah Al-Haram. (Supplied)
Updated 29 November 2021

OSN marks UAE’s 50th National Day by revealing top-watched content

OSN top-watched content includes Grey's Anatomy, Succession, Yellowstone and Tufah Al-Haram. (Supplied)
  • List includes Arabic, Turkish and award-winning Western movies and shows

DUBAI: In celebration of the UAE's 50th National Day on Dec. 2, OSN is revealing the top-watched content within the UAE on its streaming platform. 

It includes award-winning international movies and TV shows, as well as regional shows in Arabic and Turkish.

One of the shows on the list is the Emmy award-winning “Succession,” a dark comedy that revolves around the themes of power, politics, and family.

The list also includes Golden Globe winner “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is currently in its 18th season, and the modern-day series, “New Amsterdam”.

“Yellowstone,” written by US screenwriter, actor, and director Taylor Sheridan, and the spy-adventure movie “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” by Patrick Hughes, starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, and Salma Hayek, is also among OSN’s most-viewed content.

When it comes to regional content, the Turkish drama series “Al Tuffah Al Haram,” with its fourth and newest season, and the Arabic comedy-drama “Mesh Ana,” starring Tamer Hosny, are also featured on the list.

Some of the most popular shows and movies on the list, such as “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” “Yellowstone,” and “Al Tuffah Al Haram,” were launched on OSN Streaming as part of its “Always Fresh” campaign, which promised to drop new content on the platform every day through November and December.


Russia says Twitter mobile slowdown to remain until all banned content is removed, fines Google

 Russian authorities have taken steps recently to regulate technology giants more closely by imposing small fines for content violations. (File/AFP)
Russian authorities have taken steps recently to regulate technology giants more closely by imposing small fines for content violations. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 November 2021

Russia says Twitter mobile slowdown to remain until all banned content is removed, fines Google

 Russian authorities have taken steps recently to regulate technology giants more closely by imposing small fines for content violations. (File/AFP)
  • Russia will continue slowing down the speed of Twitter on mobile devices until all content deemed illegal is deleted
  • Russia also fined Google 3 million roubles on Monday for not deleting content that it deemed illegal

MOSCOW: Russia will continue slowing down the speed of Twitter on mobile devices until all content deemed illegal is deleted, state communications regulator Roskomnadzor told Reuters, as Moscow continues to make demands of Big Tech.
Russian authorities have taken steps recently to regulate technology giants more closely by imposing small fines for content violations, while also seeking to force foreign companies to have official representation in Russia and store Russians’ personal data on its territory.
Twitter has been subjected to a punitive slowdown in Russia since March for posts containing child pornography, drug abuse information or calls for minors to commit suicide, Roskomnadzor has said.
Twitter, which did not immediately comment on Monday, denies allowing its platform to be used to promote illegal behavior. It says it has a zero-tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation and prohibits the promotion of suicide or self-harm.
Videos and photos are noticeably slower to load on mobile devices, but Roskomnadzor eased speed restrictions on fixed networks in May.
Roskomnadzor said Twitter, which it has fined a total of 38.4 million roubles this year, has systematically ignored requests to remove banned material since 2014, but has taken down more than 90 percent of illegal posts.
“As of now, 761 undeleted posts remain,” Roskomnadzor said in response to Reuters questions. “The condition for lifting the access restriction on mobile devices is that Twitter completely removes banned materials detected by Roskomnadzor.”
The regulator has said it will seek fines on the annual turnover of Alphabet’s Google and Facebook in Russia for repeated legal violations, threats the two companies did not comment on at the time.
“We also reiterate that the social network Twitter has been repeatedly found guilty by a Russian court of committing administrative offenses,” Roskomnadzor said.

Russia has also fined Alphabet Inc.'s Google 3 million roubles on Monday for not deleting content that it deemed illegal, part of a wider dispute between Russia and the US tech giant.
Russia in October threatened to fine Google a percentage of its annual Russian turnover for repeatedly failing to delete banned content on its search engine and YouTube, in Moscow's strongest move yet to rein in foreign tech firms.
Google, which last month said it had paid more than 32 million roubles in fines, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Britain open to law to combat rise in online scams, says financial minister

The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud. (File/AFP)
The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 November 2021

Britain open to law to combat rise in online scams, says financial minister

The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud. (File/AFP)
  • Britain is open to legislating a law to stop an explosion in scam adverts online, says financial services minister

LONDON: Britain is open to legislating to stop an explosion in scam adverts online being a significant source of fraud, financial services minister John Glen has told lawmakers.
Victims’ groups and campaigners have called for fraudulent adverts to be incorporated in the government’s planned Online Safety Bill, which currently only covers user-generated content.
“We are very sympathetic to that,” Glen told the Treasury Select Committee. “This is a massive problem. This is a significant opportunity in the absence of a better solution.”
A British record of 754 million pounds ($1 billion) was stolen in the first six months of this year, up 30 percent from the same period in 2020, according to data from banking industry body UK Finance, and up more than 60 percent from 2017, when it began compiling the figures.
Several government departments are involved in trying to stop online scams, raising concerns among committee members that solutions are too slow to emerge.
“You’re being very good at describing how difficult it all is, but what are you actually going to be doing about it?” said lawmaker Angela Eagle.
Glen said the finance ministry was liaising with the digital, culture, media and sport ministry (DCMS) — which is also looking at the problem of online scams — to try and find the best solution.
The Treasury committee has previously told representatives from Facebook, Google, Amazon and eBay they needed to do more to combat fraud.
Cybersecurity experts and banks have said Britain has become a global target for fraud attacks due to relatively light policing of fraud-related crime, a super-fast payments infrastructure and use of the world’s most widely used language English.
“This is an absolute priority. I am not satisfied where we are on this,” Glen said, adding that prevention needs to be a big part of the response.
“The challenge is how can we make effective intervention that is really going to bear down on this,” Glen said.


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey steps down and hands reins to technology chief Agrawal

Dorsey will remain on the board until his term expires at the 2022 annual shareholder meeting. (AFP)
Dorsey will remain on the board until his term expires at the 2022 annual shareholder meeting. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2021

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey steps down and hands reins to technology chief Agrawal

Dorsey will remain on the board until his term expires at the 2022 annual shareholder meeting. (AFP)
  • Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, steps down and hands over his role to CTO Parag Agrawal
  • Dorsey said he chose to step down due to the strength of Agrawal’s leadership and his confidence in the “ambition and potential” of Twitter’s employees

LONDON: Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey is stepping down from his role and Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal will now lead the company, the social networking site announced on Monday.
The appointment of Agrawal, a 10-year veteran of Twitter, marks an endorsement of a strategy the company previously laid out to double its annual revenue by 2023 and also indicates an increasing focus on Twitter’s long-term ambition to rebuild how social media companies operate.
Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter in 2006, is leaving after overseeing the launch of new ways to create content through newsletters or audio conversations while simultaneously serving as CEO of his payments processing company Square Inc.
He also navigated the tumultuous years of US President Donald Trump’s administration before banning the Republican from the platform after the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The CEO change is effective immediately and Dorsey will remain on the board until his term expires at the 2022 annual shareholder meeting, the company said.
In an email to employees on Monday, Dorsey said he chose to step down due to the strength of Agrawal’s leadership, the naming of Salesforce Chief Operating Officer Bret Taylor as the new chairman of the board and his confidence in the “ambition and potential” of Twitter’s employees.
“I’m really sad ... yet really happy,” he wrote. “There aren’t many companies that get to this level,” adding that his move to step down “was my decision and I own it.”
“We recently updated our strategy to hit ambitious goals, and I believe that strategy to be bold and right,” Agrawal said in an email to employees. “But our critical challenge is how we work to execute against it and deliver results.”
Shares of Twitter surged 9 percent in early trading following the news, which was first reported by CNBC, before paring those gains in the afternoon. Shares of Square were flat in afternoon trading.
Over the past year, Twitter has fought to end years-long criticism that it has been slow to introduce new features for its 211 million daily users and was losing ground to social media rivals like Instagram and TikTok.
Under Dorsey’s leadership, Twitter acquired email newsletter service Revue and launched Spaces, a feature that lets users host or listen to live audio conversations.
The company also rolled out advertising improvements to help brands find Twitter users likely to be interested in their product, a key component of the company’s goal to double annual revenue by 2023.
However, shares of Twitter have slumped in recent months, adding pressure on Dorsey to end his unusual arrangement of being CEO of two companies.
In early 2020, Dorsey faced calls from Elliott Management Corp. to step down, after the hedge fund argued that he was paying too little attention to Twitter while also running Square Inc.
Dorsey fended off the pressure by giving Elliott and its ally, buyout firm Silver Lake Partners, seats on Twitter’s board.
Dorsey will now focus on leading Square and other pursuits such as philanthropy, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The company’s board has been preparing for Dorsey’s departure since last year, the source said.


Spotify celebrates 1 year of women-focused program SAWTIK

Spotify launched SAWTIK, an initiative to elevate and champion the voices of emerging unsigned female artists in the Middle East and North Africa region. (Supplied)
Spotify launched SAWTIK, an initiative to elevate and champion the voices of emerging unsigned female artists in the Middle East and North Africa region. (Supplied)
Updated 29 November 2021

Spotify celebrates 1 year of women-focused program SAWTIK

Spotify launched SAWTIK, an initiative to elevate and champion the voices of emerging unsigned female artists in the Middle East and North Africa region. (Supplied)
  • More than 170 emerging female artists playlisted under initiative

DUBAI: Last year, Spotify launched SAWTIK, an initiative to elevate and champion the voices of emerging unsigned female artists in the Middle East and North Africa region.

It came after esearch uncovered growing underrepresentation of women in the music industry.

A year later, Spotify is celebrating the program’s anniversary, reflecting on its impact and announcing its next steps.

SAWTIK playlists were heard by listeners in more than 70 markets, with the US, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria ranking among the top markets for streaming playlists from the program. To date, the platform’s music team has added more than 170 emerging female artists to SAWTIK’s official playlist.

Artists on the playlist represent the diversity of female talent in the region, including voices from the Arab diaspora. For example, Egyptian-Moroccan rapper Perrie is raising her voice and collaborating with famous rappers across the scene while being recognized by producers. Her recent collaboration with Abyusif on “Mamlaka” is charting on Spotify’s Top 50 Egypt.

SAWTIK’s godmother and Arab superstar Latifa is also working with Tunisian SAWTIK artist Sirine Miled on a new song.

Djouher from Algeria recently made the cover of Spotify’s global playlist, Ballads International, a collection of the world’s best emotional songs. She has established a strong international fan base, attracting listeners in the US, India and Indonesia.

Emirati singer-songwriter Almas has seen a 7500 percent increase in her song streams since joining SAWTIK. She is also one of the voices of the official Dubai Expo 2020 song “This is our Time.”

Almas said: “SAWTIK is a great platform. I appreciate the idea of bringing together female talents who share the same passion and challenges. I’ve enjoyed connecting with other SAWTIK artists; it really gave us a sense of community.”

Rania Hamadeh, vice president of marketing and promotions for Universal Music Group MENA, said: “It was inspiring for us to discover such great voices and talents like the rising Emirati artist Almas who was assigned by Universal Music MENA to take part in the official anthem of Dubai Expo 2020, representing the female voice of the young artistic generation of the UAE.”

To further support emerging female artists in the region, SAWTIK artists will be given a global platform through the EQUAL program launched earlier this year. EQUAL is Spotify’s global commitment dedicated to fostering equity for women in music and celebrating their contributions. The program will highlight female artists around the world through partnerships, activations and new content experiences, and will offer support both on and off the platform.

Under this program, SAWTIK artists will be included in the EQUAL hub, a dedicated space on the platform to highlight women creators.

Every month, the hub features a rotating Artist of the Month takeover, alongside a refreshed track list. SAWTIK artists will have the opportunity to have their music added to the flagship EQUAL Global playlist, among other benefits.

Spotify also has other plans to further amplify the voices of women artists in the region. “As we welcome SAWTIK to our EQUAL program, expect bigger and bolder plans for our emerging female artists next year,” said Lynn Fattouh, Spotify’s consumer marketing manager for the MENA region.