Rupert Murdoch Is The Media’s Unlikely Hero In The War Against Facebook And Google – BuzzFeed News
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Now that anti–Facebook and Google talk is in vogue, News Corp is happy to take a victory lap.
“The digital duopoly clearly benefited from commodifying content and rewarding sites, fake or flawed, that gamed search engines and peddled witless clickbait at the expense of provenance and professional journalism,” Thomson told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “That commercial and social damage has been a serious concern for many, many years, and yet other publishers have been supine in the face of this assault on principle and profit.”
Sources close to Thomson, long a loyal Murdoch ally in both London and New York, say the battle against Google is ultimately his baby, more so than Murdoch, who since the Roger Ailes scandal has taken on the top role at Fox News. But it’s a narrative happily championed by the close-knit circle of executives at News Corp and 21st Century Fox, sister companies that split in 2013. James Murdoch, Rupert’s son and chief executive of 21st Century Fox, recently lambasted Facebook for its problem with the “damn Russians.” “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said in an interview with The Information.
The Murdochs have a reason to play up any negative news about Facebook or Google. News Corp, like all media companies, is engaged in a losing fight with the “duopoly” for a finite amount of digital advertising money. News Corp also collides with Google through its investment in AppNexus, a rival to Google’s DoubleClick. And then there’s News Corp’s planned digital ad network, announced the day of the first Times story and still in development.
“If you think the timing of the Times investigation and the launch of News Corp’s new digital ad strategy was purely a coincidence, well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you,” said one senior advertising executive.
The tough talk and tough reporting seems to have gotten News Corp somewhere in its negotiations with Google and Facebook. News Corp had long opposed Google’s “first click free” policy, which pushed news outlets to offer free access to articles in search results. Earlier this year, the Journal yanked free stories from search, which reduced its Google search traffic by 38% and its Google News traffic by 89%. Google announced the end of the policy this week.
“Felicitously, the tide has clearly turned over the past year and we genuinely welcome Google’s recent initiatives, though we will need to check against delivery,” Thomson told BuzzFeed News.
Facebook is also adding subscriptions to its Instant Articles program, a policy News Corp pushed for. Traffic wise, some News Corp properties have suffered for their devotion to subscriptions. The Journal has lagged seriously in monthly traffic to its newspaper competitors like the Washington Post and New York Times, which have opted for softer paywalls and more expansive relationships with the platforms (and have broken seemingly endless news about the Trump White House).
Now, one open question is whether Murdoch, who is said to speak with President Donald Trump regularly, will use his deep ties in Washington to apply more pressure on the platforms as they face heat on Capitol Hill. Some sources close to Murdoch note that, from a personal perspective, he tends to want government to keep its hands off business. But he’s also self-interested, and News Corp was among a handful of companies and industry groups that signed a letter in support of the EU’s fine on Google.
News Corp is also among a group of newspaper companies seeking an antitrust exemption from Congress in order to win the right negotiate collectively with the tech platforms. The lobbying effort, led by trade group News Media Alliance, is something of a long shot — but News Corp has said it wants to “focus the public and Congress on the anticompetitive behavior of the digital duopoly, especially as it adversely affects the news and information businesses.”
“I do think News Corp was ahead of the curve in terms of seeing the difficulty of engaging with the Google and Facebook model,” said David Chavern, the chief executive of the News Media Alliance. “You had business anxiety before the election. Then you had the election that really brought it home to the public and to politicians that this news thing is not on a good path right now and that’s dangerous.”
“You’re seeing a growing voice of concern that this is a matter of both economical power and control that Google and Facebook have over the news industry and the societal consequences,” said Jason Kint, CEO of publisher trade group Digital Content Next.
Indeed, in recent months, some news executives have sought to leverage the rising public awareness, like when UK parliament launched an inquiry to look at the spread of “fake news” earlier this year.
“We had a fake news roundtable and it very quickly became a row between old media who were there and the social media companies who were also there and it wasn’t anything to do with fake news,” according to a senior government source who attended the initial discussion. “It was all to do with, ‘You’re stealing our business model and you take our content and you distribute it in a way that we have no control over.’”