Research Paper: Is Digital Transformation Killing Journalism?

DUBAI: For many, reading a newspaper or perusing a magazine over breakfast, keeping up to date with the latest news from around the world to keep up with markets, sports and travel, remains the perfect way to start the weekend. But the world of print journalism, broadsheets and tabloids, exclusives and splashes, has changed rapidly, with significant implications not just for how we get news, but also for how we understand the world.

In 2020, 79% of young people in the Arab world received their news on social networks, compared to only 25% in 2015, according to the 2020 Arab Youth Survey.

By 2022, 65% of global gross domestic product is expected to be digitized, with direct investments in digital transformation totaling $6.8 trillion between 2020 and 2023, according to the International Data Corporation.

It’s no surprise, then, that digital transformation – the shift from hard copy newspapers and magazines to devices in the media landscape – has been the buzzword of many meetings, conferences and luncheons. But what does it really mean and, more importantly, what does it mean for the print media industry?

In its latest report “Future of Media: Myth of Digital Transformation”, the Arab News Research & Studies Unit examines digital transformation in the context of the growth of big tech companies and the resulting impact on the media industry. edition, and demonstrates why governments and regulators need to take notice and act.

Although the growth of digital and social media has largely revolutionized business for the better, it has had a devastating effect on the print media industry.

Globally and in the region, print advertising revenue has been steadily declining since 2008.

Between 2016 and 2024, the digital share of Gulf Cooperation Council advertising spending is expected to increase by 20%, while that of print will fall by 13%, according to estimates by the Choueiri Group.

“Over the years, the focus has been increasingly on performance, i.e. on generating sales by targeting consumers at the bottom of the funnel,” said Alexandre Hawari, CEO from publishing and events company Mediaquest and Akama Holding, referring to declining advertising revenue. .

As advertisers shift their budgets to digital channels, they find fewer outlets for their spend. Digital is only dominated by a few of the tech giants. In the Middle East and North Africa region, Facebook and Google control 80% of digital ad spend, according to estimates by Choueiri Group.

Today, just four companies – YouTube, Google, Facebook and Snap – account for 35% of total global media ad spend, according to data from eMarketer. By contrast, the share of traditional media spending worldwide has fallen from 81% in 2011 to 44% in 2021.

This concentration, and therefore power, in the hands of a few corporations is dangerous for both businesses and economies. The near-monopolization of the digital advertising industry means government agencies struggle to regulate tech giants. This has big implications for authenticity and accuracy.

A 2018 study by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that fake news spreads much faster on Twitter than true stories. According to their research, fake news is 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories.

A propensity for the outrageous, outrageous and libelous makes the rise of fake news and hateful and violent content on these platforms a matter of grave concern.

The growth of digital and social media has had a devastating effect on the print media industry across the world. (AFP/file photo)

As people constantly check news on mobile devices, it becomes easy for fake news to become a top story as more people read and share it, while shortening the lifespan of stories. important.

Increasingly, journalists don’t have the luxury of taking the time to research and develop a story. When Bill Clinton was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, BBC journalist and author Gavin Esler spent a year investigating the truth. But when “the world’s leading news source is constantly telling lies,” Esler said, referring to former US President Donald Trump, it’s very difficult for anyone, especially journalists, to catch up.

Facebook also played a vital role in Trump’s victory in 2016. Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s digital campaign, said 80% of the campaign budget was spent on Facebook. In an interview with WIRED magazine, he said, “Facebook and Twitter are the reason we won this thing. Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising.

In 2018, the UN said Facebook played a major role in the hatred and violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. According to a New York Times investigative report, members of the Burmese military were the main agents in a systematic Facebook campaign that spanned half a decade and targeted the minority group.

Twitter is also not free from controversy. In early January, Twitter banned Trump following the Capitol Hill riots for tweets that allegedly incited violence by far-right protesters.

Supporters of former US President Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021 – Facebook on June 4, 2021 banned Trump for two years, saying he deserved the maximum sentence for breaking its rules during the deadly attack by protesters on the Capitol that followed. (AFP/Getty Images/File Photos)

Other leaders of dubious reputation who continue to tweet and incite hatred on the platform include exiled Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi; Qais Al-Khazali, designated terrorist, leader of Asa’ib al-Haq in Iraq, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Then there is the question of funding. As the public turns to digital platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter for daily news, these companies profit from quality journalism while journalists and news media companies suffer losses.

The second biggest source of traffic for Facebook and Google in each country is news, said Juan Senor, president of Innovation Media Consulting Group.

It only seems desirable for big tech companies not only to invest in journalism, but also to compensate publishers fairly – something regulators around the world are trying to enforce.

The idea of ​​not paying in some form is “fundamentally delusional and a flawed argument,” Esler said. Not compensating journalists and editors is like taking milk from farmers and not paying them, he said. “Why shouldn’t there be a reasonable reward from these massive organizations for something they profit from?”

Sarah Messer, managing director of Nielsen Media in the Middle East, said that when social media platforms grew, traditional publishers were slow to “understand how to blend their digital offerings with their traditional offerings”.

They were uncomfortable in the digital space, she added, leaving the door open for digital publishers and big tech companies.

Although publishers are digitizing their content, the relationship between big tech companies and news media has always been “dysfunctional”, said Senor of Innovation Media.

As big tech rewards people for getting more clicks, experts say publishers of credible content face daunting challenges in the future. (Shutterstock)

The relationship is based on the principle that if you build an audience and get a lot of traffic, you’ll get a lot of ad revenue. But that’s only true for big tech companies, not publishers, he added.

“They always had the upper hand,” he said.

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas said that today almost all newspapers publish their stories online and have a considerable social media presence.

The problem, he says, is that the industry isn’t fair to credible publishers.

“We need to level the playing field so that the same tools are available to publishers,” he said.

“The problem with the model here is that Google, Facebook, and big tech companies reward people for getting more clicks.

“And in all of this, the biggest loser is the truth. There has to be a way to be able to reward the publications or the media that produce this credible information, instead of punishing them, as is the case now.

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