In an impassioned essay to Guardian readers, the chief editor for the publication has called out the reliance of algorithms by Facebook and Google as cause for the rise of fake news, and new pitfalls for modern journalism.
Part history lesson, part challenge to publishers of all stripes, Viner discussed all the challenges that her publication has faced in the past, using its efforts to maintain its independence as a way to address and solve the current-day problems for The Guardian, Observer, and other periodicals.
At first optimistic of how the new era of digital publishing would impact readers — opening up opportunities for journalists to tell and broadcast stories in ways they couldn't before — Viner found "the utopian mood of the early 2000s did not anticipate all that technology would enable." Google and Facebook, she pointed out, have "swallowed" digital advertising and, as a result, collapsed the current business model
Because transparent news stories are thrown into the same Facebook news feed as clickbait, publishers find themselves forced to reckon with an industry that's no longer sustainable as-is. "Publishers that are funded by algorithmic ads are locked in a race to the bottom in pursuit of any audience they can find, desperately binge-publishing without checking facts, pushing out the most shrill and most extreme stories to boost clicks," says Viner. "But even this huge scale can no longer secure enough revenue."
This transition from writing stories to producing content has forced a spring of mistrust from all over, forcing publishers like hers to react. The Guardian now makes more revenue via subscriptions than from advertising, and it remains to be seen how Facebook and Google force other publications to rethink how they retain their income, and more importantly, their journalistic merit.