Could media spat Down Under shape the future of news?

Pictured: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg.

Facebook has been involved in a wrangle with Australian lawmakers that could decide the future of the news industry. Pictured: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

What is it about our Antipodean friends and a media dust up?

Perhaps the most well known media boss on the planet is Australian: Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Murdoch grew his empire from a small newspaper in Adelaide to span the globe.

Along the way he, and another divisive Australian media mogul, practically built the professional sports landscape as we know it.

First, in the late 1970's Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket broke away from the cricketing establishment and developed the sport as a television prospect.


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Then, 15 years later, Murdoch's millions financed the English Premier League.

Now, media bosses are making headlines down under again.

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Australian lawmakers attempted to pass a law aimed at making Google and Facebook pay to have news content on their platforms. Under the proposed law, if the two parties could not settle on a price, the Australian government would set it for them. 

This caused Facebook to temporarily remove all news pages, as they say that they already help news organisations by directing traffic to their websites.

Since then, the Australian lawmakers have toned down their law slightly and the social media company reinstated access to news pages.

This may seem like a fairly arcane and far away squabble, but it could have a huge impact on the way that you and I read our news and what we see on our timelines.

Currently, — and bear with me on this one — the internet works a bit like a forest.

People looking for stuff on the internet are the sun, and the first thing they come across are Twitter, Facebook and Google.

These big three — and other search engines and social networks — are like trees, shading things below them from the sun.

And the things below that canopy are news publishers and other, smaller, websites.

The things below the canopy can sometimes struggle when the big platforms shift and they get less light (or traffic) than they were expecting.

Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, now Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, admitted that this had caused a problem for newspapers and publishers.

He wrote: "The assertions — repeated widely in recent days — that Facebook steals or takes original journalism for its own benefit always were and remain false. 

"We neither take nor ask for the content for which we were being asked to pay a potentially exorbitant price. In fact, news links are a small part of the experience most users have on Facebook.

"Of course, the internet has been disruptive for the news industry. Anyone with a connection can start a website or write a blog post; not everyone can start a newspaper.

"When ads started moving from print to digital, the economics of news changed, and the industry was forced to adapt. Some have made this transition to the online world successfully, while others have struggled to adapt."

The crux of the issue is that news no longer makes as much money as it once did. Newspapers have always made money from selling papers and selling advertising space inside papers.

Now, Facebook and Google sell the advertising space, and people look to the internet rather than a paper for their news.

Some papers have got round this by charging subscriptions to their websites - and more will certainly follow - and others have to struggle on to keep things going as they are.

For their part, the social media giants have invested in the news industry — including the very newspaper you are reading.

Facebook pay for some reporters, while Google has invested in training and technology to help journalists tell better stories and reach bigger audiences.

But still the equation does not balance out and many regional newspapers are struggling to make ends meet, despite becoming more valued as trusted sources in an increasing Wild West online environment. 

Whatever the solution is, this is just the beginning of it.

When Packer formed his breakaway and Murdoch kickstarted the Premier League, people did not know they were witnessing the start of the behemoth that is professional sport on TV now.

In the same way, we do not know what we're witnessing the start of now.

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