How are digital platforms like Facebook or Google influencing the state of news media, and journalism? Chicago Booth's Stigler Center just released a major report, on "Protecting journalism in the age of digital platforms", that I was a contributor to.
Key points: Journalism is an expensive and risky activity, which is essential for democracy. Traditional journalism was supported by advertising, and it bundled different types of stories to reach a broad readership.
The internet has given rise to several blogs and news websites, but such organizations lack the journalistic capacity to produce quality content, that can hold power to account. Internet disrupted the advertising model of newsmedia, and digital platform monopolies have concentrated much of the digital advertising revenue. Moreover, the bundled nature of traditional news - which gave readers a variety of information -has been replaced by atomized news, which now gets filtered and bundled by algorithmic filters that prioritize sensational content. Additionally, digital platforms are legally considered as carriers (Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act), which means they lack the accountability for the content they bundle through their algorithms (e.g. fake news), unlike traditional newsmedia which is legally accountable for every word it prints.
The above factors: advertising, atomization, and accountability crisis has created a crisis in journalism, especially local journalism (see Figure). The report proposes solutions to end this crisis by rethinking journalism, especially investigative journalism, as an essential public good sustained by public funding. Just as basic science is funded through public funding, the report proposes providing private media vouchers to citizens so that they can buy newspapers of their liking, and boost a diverse and dynamic newsmedia industry. Other suggestions include ways to reduce concentration in media, and increasing accountability and transparency of digital platforms.