The (un)conscious uncoupling of platforms and news publishers is happening quickly

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


In my forthcoming book, From Paper to Platform, I continue to argue that doing news business with platforms is risky.

This is especially true at a time when platforms themselves are in flux and their strategies shift rapidly and without a warning. These risks relate to the platforms’ roles as a publisher, partner, and patron of news and journalism; payers of news; and promoters of news and information.

The risks related to platforms are now materialising as platforms pull out of the news one after another. At the same time, news companies are leaving platforms (which is not surprising), and I believe building resilience beyond platforms is the right thing to do. At this moment, uncoupling is happening at warp speed.

Dr. Merja Myllylahti's upcoming book.
Dr. Merja Myllylahti's upcoming book.

In New Zealand, independent news publisher Stuff recently decided to leave X because of the amount of mis- and disinformation spreading on the platform. More importantly, the publisher has put trust at the core of its news business, and hence the conflict with X has arisen.

Another New Zealand publisher, BusinessDesk (owned by NZME), is organising a “wake to Twitter” in an event called Bury the Bird. Publisher Matt Martel says the publisher is “proud to support events that encourage quality debate and sharing opinions.” Kyle Pope, departing editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, urges publishers to cut ties with X as it is “no longer a contributor to an informed public.”

In the academic journal Digital Journalism, researchers argue news companies are leaving platforms because they are losing the autonomy of their operations, and because platform-dependence has proven financially disappointing. On the other hand, leaving platforms does not necessarily lead to a loss of traffic, and Pope suggests news publishers should finally give up chasing traffic via platforms.

Stuff and other news media companies are leaving X because of misinformation.
Stuff and other news media companies are leaving X because of misinformation.

When Stuff left Facebook and Instagram in 2019, it was prepared to lose roughly 20% of its audience. But in the words of Stuff publisher Sinead Boucher, “nothing happened.” She said that Stuff “remained the same, and kept growing.” Similarly, NPR reported that six months after leaving X, the effects of leaving the platform “have been negligible.”

A drop in referral traffic from social media platforms and search engines affects many publishers negatively. The New York Times observes that even Google, which has built partnerships with news organisations during the past decade, “has become less dependable, making publishers more wary of their reliance on the search giant.”

On the other hand, the company observes that platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram generate insignificant traffic numbers to media outlets. It cites The Atlantic executive director Adrienne LaFrance, who has observed a loss of traffic from social media in the past year and a half. Hence, the publisher has built relations with audiences through other means, including branded newsletters, and its subscriptions have increased.

She said that, “in a way, this decline of the social Web — it’s extraordinarily liberating.”

I agree that as the age of the social Web is behind us, publishers need to find other ways to connect with audiences. There is no harm in leaving the platforms. Why would you stay there if the referral traffic is negligible, financial rewards are almost non-existent, and you are in peril of platforms’ whims?

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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