What is journalism in the age of social media?
Journalism’s crisis today is not limited to its challenges within the territory where a media company, as a platform for the professionals, operates.
Media entities in countries other than a few advanced ones are not in a position to take advantage of the ubiquity of content whenever uploaded online.
A virtual organization which does not produce news content at all is making more money by selling them when the dedicated media organizations around the world are struggling to survive due mainly to revenue fall.
Google reportedly earned $4.7 billion from news-related advertisements in 2018 when the digital ad revenue of the news industry in the US as a whole stood at $5.1bn.
Media outlets elsewhere have no idea how much Google derived from their news business digitally when its global advertising revenue for the year was $136.22bn.
Google’s income from the American market indicates share in global ad revenue from news, especially when up to 40% of its search results are news content, according to the News Media Alliance, a trade body of around 2,000 US and Canadian newspapers.
Google’s actual earning is believed to be higher, as digital marketing experts in Asia say the media organizations have no scope to know exactly the percentage the company is “kindly” sharing with them from earning through Google AdSense.
This, I think, has been possible for the dependency of the media organizations on Google and their collective surrender to its hegemony. The same is the story of the shark nature of Facebook, which too is understandably earning increasingly higher amounts through promotion of the news content.
The tech companies of the West have successfully made profiling of their clients, who are innocent and naïve men and women, living not merely in America, but who are under the scanner of these companies and surveillance of their state machinery as revealed already. These giants are doing business with “people” without their knowledge of how they are being used or misused.
The other countries, except China, are not trying to offer formidable alternatives to Google and Facebook. These non-state actors are giving proxy for what Western imperialist powers once did to the colonized Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Now, when the online media has been the order of the day, newspapers, television channels, and digital portals have been largely dependent on platforms like these two and YouTube for reaching their audience and reaping digital revenue. The paradox is, others are making content while the platform companies are doing business with them.
America’s smaller media organizations have lost to changes to the media landscape and to these big fishes but the US Congress may at one point come up with certain regulations to tame the “terminators.”Earlier this year, Google was fined 1.5bn euros by the EU for abusing its monopoly in online advertising, following similar measures over the past two years.
The dominance of the big players has affected the Third World media in a bigger way. Not only are their revenues strained, but their liberty and reach are also constrained by the technological manipulation the companies make through their secret policies.
Google and Facebook are just hijacking the numbers the smaller players pull in to the World Wide Web in each country, whereas the latter is deprived of possible benefits from serving their clients.
Media houses in Asia (also in the West) are emphasizing the development of unique content, creating a base of organic visitors, and proper branding of themselves to survive and thrive on the net as the new reality. However, the need for their liberation from the giants is yet to be felt strongly.
When Facebook and Google define the people’s needs, choices, tastes, and culture, reaching the news selectively to them, it’s hardly possible to form independent opinions and make decisions accordingly.
Privacy is no longer an issue for all those who have joined and accepted the trend set by the tech giants that have, to a great extent decimated, the media in their home country as well.
As print ad revenue has dried up with the decline in popularity of hard copies, entrepreneurs in the developing nations are facing difficulties in finding a successful business model to run the media outlets. Formal television channels are also losing out.
Instead, dotcom ventures have been launched in their thousands, crazily imitating each other and depending completely on Western knowledge and technology, and its physical occupation.
The use of social media has threatened the conventional method of journalism, still helping the cause of the said Western players for becoming further influential in terms of outreach and revenue earning.
Despite being offered varieties of information from both the mainstream media and social media, the people as readers and viewers have been more bewildered than they were ever before. It’s a transitional situation when unseen players of the digital world dictate the term.
One may equate the situation in the underdeveloped world with the post-World War II scenario when Afro-Asian leaders led the liberation struggle of their nations and initiated the Non-Aligned Movement to assert their independence.
Leaders and bureaucracies of many of those nations eventually replicated the model of the states which once ruled them and failed their own people.
Modern-day slaves of technology have no doubt that AI will entirely reshape lives and societies in the coming days. But thinking people see no reason to undermine human beings’ distinct knowledge, unimaginable imagination, and unending potential that can be reflected in the independent media.
The media in the so-called emerging markets therefore need to dissociate themselves with the failures of the old media of the Western style, and curtail the influence of the platforms to secure their own existence and fairly compete with each other. You can’t survive unless you uphold the truth of your society and serve the people.
Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist and winner of UN MDG Award, Developing Asia Journalism Award (DAJA) and WFP Award. He can be contacted at [email protected]