News isn’t just “content”
Media used to be defined by how it was delivered. Print was the OG, and it was a very different product from radio — and they were both different from TV. They had different technology, information, advertisers and even applicable law (bad joke: the FCC still prohibits cross-ownership between newspapers and broadcasters because of concerns about monopoly power over information!).
All of that has been wiped clean by the internet. Digital delivery systems are standardized and ubiquitous — and the separate streams of information have all converged into a great singular flood. Whether you write news articles, produce films or post cat videos filmed on your phone, it is all just “content” to feed the great digital platforms.
Because they don’t control distribution the way they used to, the life for content providers is tough. While the public loves great content and consumes it voraciously, almost all of the money goes to the folks who help you find content (Google and Facebook) rather than the people who make it.
Unfortunately, news gets put under the great umbrella of “content.” And although news content is venue-neutral, venues are content-neutral. It is considered just one more thing to capture attention. And to people mining for the public’s attention through things like “page views” and “click-throughs,” one piece of content is equal to any other. Its value is determined solely by the distorted metrics of digital advertising.
But all “content” isn’t equal. News, in particular, binds our society together and provides critical information that allows our democracy to function as it should. News has an immediate and direct effect on how we live and what kind of future we have as a people. There is a reason, for example, that no one is calling for Congressional investigations into fake cat videos.
The public has shown a continuing and growing interest in real news, but it is ridiculous to value online news by whether or not it gets more attention than a slam-dunk video. Real news is always more valuable, even if fewer people watch it.
We have to change the digital supply chain to allow news to better capture the value it provides. In particular, “content-neutral” digital platforms need to realize that there is no such thing as neutrality — and that news isn’t just “content.” It is so much more.