Because I had been watching the Capitol 4th, my TV was tuned to PBS when I turned it on the other night. I caught the promo for the Charlie Rose Show airing later that evening, talking about Facebook and the impact of the recently announced change in the algorithm that essentially prioritizes your friends and family content first and brand and news content second. Because I can’t stay up that late (it airs at midnight here), I recorded it and watched it later.
According to a Pew research study, 44 percent of adults are regularly reading news content on Facebook. According to Hermann, who covers the business of media for the Times, that amounts to 100 million people in the U.S. that use Facebook as their single source of news. According to Sreenivasan, Facebook has become the virtual paper boy, sharing the news far and wide.
Facebook’s new algorithm that will prioritize friends and family over the news, doesn’t mean we won’t see the news, says Professor Rosen. What it does mean is we will see the news our friends and family think we should see. What is lost in this scenario is the traditional role of gatekeeper that media has always played in our society. The journalists offering content that they believe we should know but may not otherwise have learned about. If our friends are funneling that information, we may never see it.
What if users want is to be surprised? To know what we don’t know yet? The professor says Facebook can’t do that, but the media still can.
Bell, who according to the Vox website, likes to write and likes to read and likes to think about how the Internet can make both of those activities all the better, acknowledges that the consumer is hungry for information. Facebook is just one place to get it. Traditional media outlets need to understand there are many access points to the news. The consumer is there and so should the media.
Bell says publishers should be looking at Facebook for what it is - a company committed to building a product that provides what their consumers want. Publishers should see that as an example and should start creating a service that they can excel at and have a competitive advantage.
“We are the storytellers – we create and inform. Facebook is a distributor, not an originator of the stories. These platforms are all aggregators that share stories but are not creating them. That’s what traditional media is good at,” according to Bell. Be aware of Facebook, but publishers should be the best at what they do.
Facebook continues to offer ways for traditional publishers to work with its platform. The launch of Facebook Live for instance is having an impact on the way journalists can use the platform.
Herrman says, “this is an amazing time to reach people with new ways. But the questions still remain -- what’s the best way to reach them? What does a story look like on each different platform? If we figure it out, it solves for the delivery issue, but not how media companies will make money.” And he believes that figuring out how to make money is critical to the success of any of these platforms, traditional or otherwise.
Each media site, as we know, has its own monetizing/advertising model, but I think we can all agree that there needs to be quality content on those various platforms. Bell thinks this is a great evolution for journalists – a welcome tilt back towards quality of the content.
And closing statements from each panelist:
Herrman – “We may be nostalgic for the time when media was really the gatekeeper, but times have changed.“
Bell – “Publishers are inundating people with information but we’re not providing clarity any more. This shift is not because of the internet but because of the 24-hour news cycle. Facebook knows that this is happening and that’s why these new algorithms keep coming online. This is what challenges me more than whether we’re still gatekeepers.”
Professor Rosen – “We can have an informed citizenry, a public that can be engaged with the news. Do we want to be informed? The information is there, you have to actively go find it.”