Media amnesia and the Facebook News Tab
It would be nice to know the exact story that brought Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, onto the stage of New York’s Paley Center with his new partner in journalism, Mark Zuckerberg. On Friday, the two men—one young, in a sweater and sneakers; the other older, in a tailored suit and shiny shoes—sat before a packed crowd of slightly over-excited Facebook employees and slightly underwhelmed journalists. It was Camp David for peace between the most truculent old media empire and one of its most noxious disruptors. Cue spotty applause.
Serious questions hung, unasked, in the air: Thomson used to be one of Facebook’s biggest critics—how much did it cost Zuckerberg to change his mind? How much more to get him to participate in a bells-and-whistles product launch? Is News Corp getting three million dollars a year, as advertised, per title, for its participation in the Facebook News Tab—or is it more? Had Zuckerberg been convinced, on a trip eighteen months ago to the gleaming News Corp headquarters, a Sixth Avenue mothership, that the deal was so egregious that even the home of Fox News needed saving? Could it be that, ahead of the 2020 election, both companies find themselves lashed together by the mutual goal of keeping the regulatory impulses of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders at bay?
A recent report from the Google Transparency Project highlighted how an opaque patronage system can capture a wide range of journalism resources at a relatively low cost. As with Google, the good Facebook can do for journalism would be more plausible if it were easier to parse the financials. Journalistic organizations accepting outside corporate money has to be seen for what it is: a potential conflict of interest.