ICYMI: "The press is in economic jeopardy, and black Americans should especially worry"
Spokesperson for the Save Journalism Project, Nick Charles, has a new op-ed in the NY Daily News discussing the impact of Google and Facebook’s decimation of the news industry’s business model and specifically the decline of black media. What were traditionally spaces for communities of color to spread news and ideas are being forced to shutter their newsrooms because of big tech’s stranglehold on the industry, resulting in a lack of representation and a rapid decline of coverage for these communities.
As Charles explains, “revenue from digital advertising, which used to go to news publishers, is more often than not in big tech’s pockets, leading to an unchecked balance of power and gaping holes in local news coverage nationwide… Informing African-American communities should be put before Facebook and Google’s profits. People of color have worked and died so American democracy includes everyone. But there is no democracy, no freedom, without the fourth estate.”
Charles’ op-ed is below and available online.
Some remember well the world where events, issues, policies and histories impacting black people were rarely acknowledged or reported by the mainstream press. In New York City, if it happened above 96th St., it wasn’t news. That began to change after the urban riots of the late 1960s and the Kerner Commission, which prompted mainstream media to begin hiring African-American reporters. African-American media, which had always filled the breach, did hemorrhage talent, but continued invaluable community coverage.
With the emergence of the internet, as legacy media, newspapers, magazines, radio and television news were joined by newer platforms and social media, there was always space to cover disasters like Hurricane Katrina as well as enduring environmental, racial and social injustices. But now that space is shrinking rapidly. McClatchy filing for bankruptcy is just the latest and most ominous example.
An unfettered and thriving press is paramount, especially to otherwise forgotten communities. But what happens when outlets are forced to shutter because big tech chokes off advertising oxygen that is essential to the media’s survival?
Newspapers that adapted and survived the last digital revolution did so through advertising. But today’s digital ad market is dominated by Google and Facebook. Revenue from digital advertising, which used to go to news publishers, is more often than not in big tech’s pockets, leading to an unchecked balance of power and gaping holes in local news coverage nationwide.
Google recently announced it was doing away with third-party cookies by 2022, further jeopardizing the fate of the voices and publishers of communities of color. The move will hit smaller news outlets hard by substantially reducing the value of advertising on their websites. Most don’t have the kind of first-party information nor the kind of scale that will now be required to be valuable to digital advertisers.
Newsrooms across the country are experiencing layoffs at an alarming rate. In 2019, the media shed over 7,800 jobs. The number of black journalists and reporters in newsrooms has also been impacted, with the number of black journalists working at daily newspapers dropping by 40% since 1997. Countless colleagues have left the profession, taking with them their passion, expertise and the trust they amassed over years with community leaders, politicians and activists.
Unable to keep up with a business model steamrolled by the likes of Facebook and Google, the industry is reaching the point of no return. Big tech’s dominance over the digital ad market and unrivaled capacity to scale and monetize its platforms is having drastic effects on journalism as a whole — with especially profound impact on communities of color.
Black legacy outlets, home to some of the most committed journalists and activists in our country’s history, have been the bulwark of accountability for many when racial tensions kept even the government from its role in protecting its citizens. The Chicago Defender itself was one of the sparks in The Great Migration.
Alongside downsizing and retracting their print editions, examples like the Amsterdam News showed a 21% drop in circulation from 2014-2015; The Chicago Defender’s circulation fell by 18% in 2015. Not only are black communities losing their news outlets, black perspectives across the news industry are losing the spaces to voice their opinions.
Founded in 1943 and for decades a space for black communities to share the most pressing news and ideas of the time, Alabama’s longest-running black newspaper, the Mobile Beacon, reported it was planning to close its doors after 2019. It is one of many black legacy media icons in jeopardy.
Frederick Douglass once said: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Informing African-American communities should be put before Facebook and Google’s profits. People of color have worked and died so American democracy includes everyone. But there is no democracy, no freedom, without the fourth estate.
Charles, a freelance writer, works with Save Journalism Project.