The Indicator from Planet Money - Facebook And The News: It's Complicated

Many media outlets think they need to be on Facebook to reach people. So why did New Zealand's biggest news publisher decide to go it alone?

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Hey mon car here and today I'm joined by Shannon Bond NPR Tech. Correspondent Shannon. Hey, hey card, if you have brought us the story about the relationship between Facebook and the News industry any pretty fair to say right now that the relationship between Facebook and the News industry is not so great these days. You've been following this showdown in Australia. What's going on the last month? There were a couple days where nobody using Facebook and Australia could post or even see any news articles the company basically cut off news entirely and this is because of the time I'll show you. I was getting ready to pass this new law that would force big online platform like Facebook to pay Publisher's for that news content Facebook did not like this law just won't run any news links on our platform and was basically playing chicken with the Australian government right pretty much and

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The Australian government blanks it made some changes the law and Facebook said okay, we can live with this the Publishers get some money and then Facebook basically turns the news back on over other countries are looking at similar laws including here in the US and I don't understand why this is happening. Remember the news business is in real financial trouble in part because so many advertising dollars that used to go to newspapers now go to Facebook and Google and at the same time news Publishers think they need to be on Facebook to reach people right? That's where people are and in fact about a third of Americans say they regularly get their news on Facebook according to puke. That's a lot of you do Facebook. Steam is Publishers meet us more than we need them. And so for me this all raises this question, is it possible for the music business to break up with face?

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Okay, and I understand you talk to somebody in New Zealand who is doing exactly that they're trying to break up with Facebook and we will bring you that story after the break.

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I got to wait.

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Okay, Shannon Bond NPR Tech correspondent. We're back. Take us to New Zealand tell you about Sinead voucher. She is a CEO of a company called stuff and stuff is the biggest news publisher in New Zealand. And the first thing that should they told me about is actually how in May of last year she became the owner of stuff. She bought the company from the Australian plumber at that previously owned it for $1 or $1. She walked into the discount dollar store and bought a whole news organization one dollar dollar, which of the nominal they like I knew that they were in the context of what was happening would potentially just decide to have Windows up. So it was just a punk.

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And when she says the context of what was happening we have to remember this was in the early months of the pandemic early in the year of dried up, you know, it wasn't a good time for any business at all. And for stuff. There are these real worries that with the way things were going, you know, it could just be entirely shutdown getting for her $1. She owns the biggest News website in New Zealand, which is also called stuff and round 50 newspapers with hundreds of reporters all over the country. And this purchase is a big moment for Sinead provision. Is that stuff to take real control over what kind of news what kind of story is its going to produce Vapor? Sometimes as me I must be so stressful, especially in the little boy that's being the pricing because there was a freedom and being able to make your own decisions to be made in a making those decisions that meant focusing on

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She wanted a newspaper is the website to really put their relationship with their Readers first above all that direct relationship with the people who are reading the papers in the news quite get there. It's actually really important understand this thing that happened before Sinead bought stuff back in 2019. When there was this horrific mass shooting at mosques in Christchurch and that shooting was live-streamed on Facebook. It was just incredibly traumatic moment for New Zealand and it needs stuff really reconsider. Its relationship with Facebook the company back in 2019. It's actually stop advertising on Facebook. So it wasn't paying to promote stories. So now fast-forward its July 2020. It's under new ownership and stuff besides. It's just going to stop posting on Facebook all together the newspapers the stuff paid the Instagram accounts for its magazines. Remember Facebook also owns Instagram. They all hit pause. What the heck was that really compatible with that focus on trust

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Yeah, we still felt uneasy with a lot of stuff decisions Facebook has made or a lot of the things that turned a blind eye to this is happening in the middle of this big around the world including here in the US about things like hate speech and misinformation being found on Facebook as a given what you said about how much people rely on Facebook for their news. It seems like stuff is cutting off. What I imagine is a big source of traffic for them when the financial picture for the news business has already pretty difficult a lot of clicks on these articles the Sinead says before they pulled from Facebook stuff was getting about 22 or maybe 23% of its traffic from social media and that is mainly from Facebook. We were expecting that it would bring a significant drop in a traffic accident happen for a variety of reasons. What happens actually is traffic from social media did

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But overall traffic went up and I'll look some of that is because this was just a huge musier and then it says, you know, yes, maybe even more people would be reading stuff if it was still on Facebook, but the bottom line was readers adjusted and today it said there were other positive effects to sew stuff has this membership model where readers can donate and people get a lot of money after the word got out that stuff was quitting Facebook experiment was originally supposed to last just a month. It's now been 8 months and Counting one thing in particular at Sinead said she's worried about so well, lots of people are coming to stops websites. There are people in New Zealand, of course, you still rely largely on Facebook for news and just like here in the US there is a lot of bad information on Facebook and New Zealand like things that are just not true and we wonder about the risk of withdrawing journalism from face.

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And what that leaves behind for people to post to take care of things like stories at Outlets like stuff what's out there to counter all these posts on Facebook claiming that you know vaccines are going to let Bill Gates control your DNA or whatever and that's an old family while stuff does not have plans to resume posting on Facebook anytime soon. She's not ruling it out permanently. Yeah. And so this is also the experience of just one publisher in a country that's lovely important significant many ways, but a small country so not trying to offend any of our kiwi friends 5 million people write other media companies around the world made to she says she thinks her experience shows that really Publishers just don't need to be in this codependent relationship with Facebook.

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There's other options. I mean, I know you're not everyone is in the same situation than us. But taking that dick and deciding to just give it a guard and made us think the last is that without these platforms. We would just collapse that was in a baseless Facebook how people used to set a relationship status on Facebook to It's Complicated. It is the relationship that Publishers should be worried about is the one with their reader not with Facebook. Thanks so much for joining me.

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Put disclosure Facebook is among NPR's Financial supporters. This episode of the indicator was produced by Brittany Cronin. In fact check Buy Samsung who's edited by Jolie Myers and the indicator is a production of NPR.
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