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News media lessons of Facebook, Google can be applied to AI

By Sarah Schmidt


Brooklyn, New York, United States


How will ChatGPT and other AI developments affect the digital news business? 

This is the most urgent question many journalists and news publishers have now. There are no quick answers, David González, founder and editor of Spain’s, told INMA members at the recent Latin American News Media Summit. But there are lessons to be learned by looking back at how the news business has adjusted to the other major changes in the digital landscape.

Case in point: the decline in the importance of Facebook referrals as a source of traffic and revenue for news. González shared a graph from Slate, which showed the new site’s dramatic 87% drop in Facebook referrals from January 2017 to May 2018 — a period of time when Facebook shifted its newsfeed to favour individuals over businesses and institutions.

David González, founder and editor of Spain’s, detailed how Facebook referrals to news media content has decreased.
David González, founder and editor of Spain’s, detailed how Facebook referrals to news media content has decreased.

Many publishers had invested heavily in a business model that depended on Facebook’s algorithm for ad revenue only to be thrown for a loop. Google now generates seven times more traffic than Facebook, González pointed out, and now the same publishers have become dependent on users coming from Google, mostly Google Discover. 

Successful news publishers have shifted their business models accordingly. Instead of just trying to attract clicks and generate ad revenue, capturing users’ attention and loyalty with good content has become more important, and subscriptions are increasingly displacing ads as a source of funding. 

With Google SGE incorporated into Google Discover, as well as Microscoft’s incorporation of AI into Bing, navigation has become not only less vertical and more visual. The landscape is shifting even further as users are offered content that is even more personalised based on their preferences. Increasingly, their user experience seems more like a conversation in which they ask a question and Google provides an answer. 

González said the battle is now for attention: What captures the most of users’ attention and available time?

If news publishers want to stay viable, the best approach will be to focus on the way Discover has changed search and make a business plan that takes the best advantage of the new algorithm. There is also a lot of potential for publishers to use AI to help customise content and identify potential subscribers who are willing to pay for content.

It’s important to realise AI is not just hype. It is here to stay, especially considering how much ChatGPT has been able to achieve in a short time, González said.

News publishers also need to look for new outlets and consider more multiplatform approaches to driving revenue that will support journalism. 

Podcasts, for instance, used to be thought of as the domain of radio stations, but now other media outlets are learning how to monetise them. There is also a lot to learn in the way The New York Times has shifted its business model to use non-news content like recipes and games to capture subscriptions to help fund its news.

Moving forward, news publishers will probably do best using a combination of what’s worked in the past with smart adaptations, which González said means transforming from clickbait to news bait.

About Sarah Schmidt

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