Embattled Media Now Aiming at Each Other

Fake news becomes leverage point in internal fights

Why This Matters

Attacks on the media have repercussions beyond the president’s Twitter account.

Related: Internet Providers Hold Fire on Net Neutrality

The current toxic climate for news in Washington has fueled some internecine battles, setting newspaper publishers against digital platforms and local broadcasters against cable news outlets.

The National Association of Broadcasters has launched a new ad campaign that goes after cable operators in an effort to promote local TV news to Capitol Hill as the real deal.

A survey last week, for instance, found that eight out of 10 Republicans view the news media as having a negative impact on society. With perception very much reality, the NAB wants to cull local TV from that herd.

That’s why the NAB has begun running new “Just the Facts” spots in its latest “We Are Broadcasters” campaign, which is meant to make the point that broadcasters are the most trusted news source, and are local, and it does so explicitly. The “big difference between broadcast and cable news,” one spot says, is that it is local, and that local broadcast news has “no agenda” and “no bias, like on cable shout shows and social media; just facts.”

Not surprisingly, the spots have begun to appear regularly in D.C. The NAB is urging Washington stations to air them more heavily while Congress is in session, and for stations in legislators’ home markets to heavy up during recess periods, so the volume will likely increase nationwide during the August break.

Digital Duopoly?

Elsewhere, a group representing newspaper publishers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, have called on Congress to give them a carve-out from antitrust laws to allow them to negotiate as a group with the dominant online news content platforms, Facebook and Google.

Those publishers are also playing the fake news card. The News Media Alliance has argued legislation is necessary for the long-term survival of journalism in the face of a “digital duopoly” it claimed is sucking up most online ad revenue and whose distribution platforms, it added, are what gave rise to fake news.

“Because of this digital duopoly, publishers are forced to surrender their content and play by their rules on how news and information is displayed, prioritized and monetized. These rules have commoditized the news and given rise to fake news, which often cannot be differentiated from real news,” the alliance said.

Alliance members want to be able to get together to talk to those dominant edge providers about new business models to secure “the long-term viability” of news in America.

“To ensure that such journalism has a future, the news organizations that fund it must be able to collectively negotiate with the digital platforms that effectively control distribution and audience access in the digital age,” said David Chavern, president of the alliance, speaking of what the group calls the “digital duopoly” of Google and Facebook.

Those two platforms claim the lion’s share of digital ad revenue, the alliance points out. It says its 2,000 or so members need to be able to combine their negotiating power against “a de facto duopoly that is vacuuming up all but an ever-decreasing segment of advertising revenue.”

“The good news is that the digital advertising industry is growing strongly, with revenues up sharply in 2016,” Fortune magazine said back in January in labeling the pair a digital duopoly. “The bad news? Virtually all of that growth is going to exactly two companies: Google and Facebook.”

With President Donald Trump continuing to hammer news outlets as fake and biased — “Fake News will never cover me accurately, but who cares,” read one recent tweet — there will continue to be fodder for more insidious division inside the media business.