Guardian: ‘Our relationship with Facebook is difficult’

David Pemsel, CEO of Guardian Media Group, is concerned about Facebook but bullish on the ability of philanthropic contributions to fund publishing. Below is Digiday’s conversation, which has been edited and condensed.

What’s next for publishers’ relationship with Facebook and Google?
We have a close relationship with Google from [CEO] Sundar [Pichai] down. They recognize the role of quality news within their ecosystem. So we’ve collaborated a lot around video, VR funding, data analytics and engineering resources. It’s a valuable strategic relationship.

What about Facebook?
Facebook is a different picture. Our relationship with them is difficult because we’ve not found the strategic meeting point on which to collaborate. Eighteen months ago, they changed their algorithm, which showed their business model was derived on virality, not on the distribution of quality. We argue that quality, for societal reasons, as well as to derive ad revenue, should be part of their ecosystem. It’s not.

We came out of Instant Articles because we didn’t want to provide our journalism in return for nothing. When you have algorithms that are fueling fake news and virality with no definition around what’s good or bad, how can the Guardian play a role within that ecosystem? The idea of what the Guardian does being starved of oxygen in those environments is not only damaging to our business model but damaging to everyone.

Should Google and Facebook be regulated?
You can’t sound anti-platform or anti-digital or anti-Google or Facebook because it’s the future. News organizations have had this narrative of “it’s unfair, look what they’re doing.” But regulation needs to be used appropriately to ensure there is fairness.

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