Who Will Save Journalism?

Debate over funding does not exempt journalism from reinventing itself

What happened to people who rented DVDs at video rental stores? They didn't stop watching movies. They just started watching them through other services.
I suspect that, like movies, the news will not stop being consumed. The question is how.

It is no secret that professional journalism faces challenges brought by new technologies. At the root of the industry's crisis is the environment created by major digital platforms. Newspapers and magazines have lost their monopoly on distributing news, advertisements, and the reader's attention to more effective technologies.

The old newspaper financing model, based on advertising, has evaporated. In the new business model, subscriptions gained centrality. However, except for a few publications, such as the American The New York Times, they are insufficient to pay the bills.

Who else would be willing to pay for news? Well, Google.
In June, the platform announced that it would start paying professional journalism. More specifically, $ 1 billion over three years to license news produced by newspapers and magazines from around the world.
At the beginning of the month, the experience became valid in Brazil and Germany. The first publications to close the agreement were the newspaper Estado de Minas and A Gazeta, from Espírito Santo, among more than 20 publications, including Folha, the UOL portal, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, the magazines Veja and Piauí, in addition to Band, Jovem Pan, and other regional vehicles.

The idea of Google News Showcase, or Highlights, in Portuguese, is to give newspapers and magazines the task of choosing and presenting news content in a kind of tasting menu (assembled in a mobile application).

It would be a move to honor once again the editors' discernment instead of the algorithms that govern the distribution of content. Under this design, Google pays for a handful of news to stay free of the paywall.

It is like a giant streaming platform paying small Blockbusters to repackage their films in more attractive formats.

In announcing the proposal, Google said it heard, loud and clear, that more needed to be done to support publishers worldwide. What will it be? It is not so simple.
Some say that, with initiatives like this, digital platforms are on one hand giving —quality information, for example— something they take away with the other by not emphatically restraining disinformation and hate speech.

They would also be advancing the regulator, seeking to arbitrate a disproportionate power of these platforms to attract resources that previously helped maintain professional journalism.

On Thursday (8), the French court ruled that Google should negotiate with media companies to use the content they produce. The goal is to find a permanent and sustainable formula (therefore, different from Google's proposal, which talks about a temporary contract for specific content) to remunerate editors and news agencies.

In Brazil, industry entities pressure Congress to include in the law to combat fake news, a device that obliges platforms to pay for journalistic content.
It remains to be seen whether the proposal solves the problem of newspapers or that of large technology companies.
In 2019, revenue from Alphabet, Google's parent company, exceeded $ 161 billion. So, in exchange for a small fraction of its revenue, Google would circumvent the regulator and still gain a powerful platform supporting democracy and defending the freedom of expression.

But this is not a story of villains and good guys. For the newspapers and magazines involved, the agreements with the company (individual and confidential) would be among the most advantageous content licenses ever made. Also, content visibility can be a good deal, especially for regional newspapers, attracting more subscribers.
There are unanswered questions. Will newspapers stop covering digital platforms as they should? Could Google actually be creating a competitor? Can access to news from various vehicles act as a disincentive to subscribers?

This whole discussion does not exempt journalism from responsibilities. There is no savior of the motherland. It is necessary to reinvent itself, invest in technology, remain relevant, and connect with an audience that also changes.

Ultimately, media outlets' financial health is also essential because they are expected to provide a service in the name of the public interest. Going back to the comparison to the films, the challenge here is not only to make sure that the news continues to be delivered in another format but also to ensure that it does not stop being delivered.

Flavia Lima
Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon