Members of the Newsroom Initiative advisory council have Facebook, Google on their minds

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


A snapshot of what media executives have on their minds right now includes dramatic falls in traffic to news sites from Facebook, actual and expected falls in traffic from Google search, and the seemingly perpetual struggle between newspaper revenue and shifting to digital.

One of the most valuable conversations on the Newsroom Initiative each month is a check-in with the advisory council to hear what is on the minds of newsroom leaders who help me steer the INMA Newsroom Initiative to where the industry needs it to go.

Some of the issues that come up are: How fast can I move my organisation to focus on digital while keeping revenue and audience interest as long as it generates revenue, almost perpetually in our business? Others — like concerned about what newsrooms say is clear evidence Facebook is turning news down or off — are newer.

Members of the INMA Newsroom Initiative Advisory Council are concerned about the collapse in news traffic from Facebook.
Members of the INMA Newsroom Initiative Advisory Council are concerned about the collapse in news traffic from Facebook.

All of the issues, of course, sit within one or sometimes all of the pillars of the Newsroom Initiative: business models for journalism (knowing what business you are really in and how to contribute to it); creating high-value journalism (the trust questions about what news matters and audiences value); and impact and influence (the cultural questions).

Almost the point of the Newsroom Initiative is to check whether we are asking the right questions, creating the correct incentives for journalism teams, serving audiences, and tackling the most difficult challenges rather than leaving them to successors.

Here are some of the issues that were raised in the last call with the advisory council, with my views where I have them in italics:

  • Newsroom leaders say they still see their companies losing advertising revenue to the Big Tech platforms. Everyone knows this is not new but with a stronger focus on revenue as advertising markets appear to be weakening in many markets it is top of mind for many. See more in the INMA Advertising Initiative.

  • Publishers believe they are seeing less search traffic from Google and a near-complete collapse in traffic to news sites from Facebook. The Facebook fall is no surprise given its clear determination to downrate news in feeds and eliminate it entirely in markets like Canada, where what Meta sees as unworkable legislation would require it to pay for content regardless of who posted it. Interestingly, an analysis of 5,500 publishers this week by analyst Thomas Baekdal suggests social still accounted for 18.1% of visits to publisher sites in September, but that represented a significant fall for many. Read what my INMA colleague Greg Piechota of the Readers First Initiative has to say on this.

  • A sense that increasing use of AI in Google might be making SEO less effective. Risk that newsrooms take their eye off the ball in SEO with attention shifting to AI but it remains a critical driver of significant traffic and news readers. The Baekdal report also concurs that search is delivering less traffic but attributes that to consumer choice and tiredness with news. Search still accounts for 36.5% of visits so it is clearly way too early to stop working hard on your SEO programme. See the report we did on this for the Newsroom Initiative. It is still totally relevant: How Newsrooms Succeed  In Search.

  • A focus on first-party data seemed only now to be truly gathering pace. The European GDPR rules supposed to improve consumer ownership and privacy may have backfired — somewhat making it actually harder to maintain first-party relationships and causing consumers to engage less with news sites that request access to their data. See an April master class presentation from the INMA Advertising Initiative on first-party data.

  • Publishers report ongoing sharp falls in newspaper revenue, but just as importantly, ongoing cost pressure and the difficulty even maintaining press plants.

  • At the same time, revenue from newspapers remains critical in many cases. That all adds up to make a more bold move towards digital newsrooms and away from a focus on newspaper production more difficult we know it has to happen.

  • Strong agreement on the need for journalists to better understand the business models their work supports and how they can contribute to meeting user needs — including the obligation as practiced at Reuters and Bloomberg to visit readers and clients. When did you last meet the people who read your publication or advertise in it? How do you know you are meeting user needs if you’re not talking to them? 

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About Peter Bale

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