Popular lifestyle websites Broadsheet Media, The Urban List and Concrete Playground, claim they could be forced to consolidate after Facebook shut down requests for funding to support their journalism.
The trio came together to negotiate payment by Facebook for the use of their content but the social media company rejected the requests. They said Facebook did not give a reason for that decision but it was speculated the tech company did not consider the independent media companies news outlets.
Facebook has paid a number of large and small news outlets for use of their content. But it has shut down other requests. Credit:AP
The group said it was advised by Facebook to focus on securing support from a public interest journalism fund, underwritten by the tech giant, which is being launched with The Walkley Foundation. The group’s discussions with Google are ongoing.
Broadsheet founder Nick Shelton argued the three outlets do fall within the definition of news. “What we do is serious news and journalism. We don’t write about the courts and the police every day but we write about business, we write about culture, we write about really essential segments of Australian society. We do that with high-quality journalism, not only the 110 people that we employ directly but the hundreds of freelancers, writers, journalists, editors, designers and illustrators,” he said.
The group argued that having no deal with Facebook put them at a disadvantage to rivals who had successfully negotiated payments from the tech company under the news media bargaining laws. Urban List founder Susannah George said it would lead to an uneven playing field and reduce media diversity. “However well intentioned the code has basically handed the loudest voices a really well funded megaphone,” she said. “If there’s a transactional relationship between Facebook and some media partners, then there should be a really transparent and transactional relationship between Facebook and all media, and anything less than that is anti-competitive.”
The federal government’s news media bargaining code was legislated in February and was designed to force Google and Facebook into commercial talks with large and small news media companies for the use of articles in the search engine and newsfeed. Under the laws, the tech giants can be slapped with financial penalties for failing to comply. However, because of concessions made by the federal government these laws do not currently apply to Facebook and Google. This means that there is no official definition of a “news” outlet.
“[Google and Facebook] have to choose who they believe is a news publisher or creating value for them,” Concrete Playground founder Rich Fogarty said. “There’s no transparency on what that criteria is and it’s impossible for us to know where we stand.”
Facebook Australia’s head of news partnerships Andrew Hunter said the tech giant was investing in a range of ways to help local publishers. “We’re focused on concluding commercial deals with a range of Australian publishers. Our goal is to bring additional news posts by publishers onto the platform and make Facebook News a valuable experience to Australians when it launches,” he said. “We’re also planning to launch an initiative to support regional, rural and digital Australian newsrooms and public-interest journalism in the coming weeks.”
Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently intervened in some negotiations between Facebook and small outlets, such as Junkee after they were unable to reach agreement with Facebook. Senator Bragg said he found both tech giants difficult to deal with.
Urban List and Broadsheet boasted online audiences of more than 1 million last month, while Concrete Playground had an average of 740,000 readers, according to the figures from Nielsen’s Digital Content Ratings. All three media companies have a strong presence on Facebook and Instagram. Concrete Playground has 513,000 Facebook followers and 119,000 on Instagram. Urban List has 1.3 million Facebook followers and approximately 840,000 on Instagram. Broadsheet has 530,000 Facebook followers and 630,000 on Instagram.
The group highlighted how there could be a range of unintended consequences that might occur as a result of these laws. “For example, Nine could spin up a competitor to us and they’d be funded by Facebook,” Mr Shelton said. “That’s the most obvious extreme example of the anti-competitive environment.”
Mr Fogarty said that at worst it is pushing the local outlets towards consolidation. “If it just gets too hard to compete being small, then you’re forced to look at your options and how you can compete at scale.”
Ms George said there would be a knock-on effect for many small businesses, who are covered by these three websites. “When you look at the focus of our content, there are hundreds of thousands of small businesses, tourism and arts organisations who are being directly disadvantaged by this decision, because those are the businesses that are the focus of our content.”
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