Facebook and news companies are increasingly working together to host some news stories. Is this another example of news industry partnership and collaboration?
It is, although some commentators have wondered how much of an equal partnership it actually is. We've already discussed the Facebook "Instant Articles" program. But the shifting relationships between Facebook and news organizations are only a single example of what some scholars and commentators have called the "platformization of news."
What they mean is this: There is a difference between functioning as a platform and functioning as a publisher. Historically, publishers were businesses responsible for creating, commissioning, financing, and publishing media content. Platforms, on the other hand, present themselves as distinctively different from publishers—they host content of all shapes and sizes rather than publishing content they themselves have generated. Publishers include the New York Times, CBS Evening News, the BBC, and Time magazine. Platforms include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. We might analogize platforms as being kind of like cable television—a content host and a distribution network with a lot of power.
What does all this mean for the future of journalism and news? One of the most important developments in journalism over the next decade or so will surely be the increased dependence of news organizations on platforms for traffic as well as for driving media innovation in new directions. These platforms are powerful—more powerful, perhaps, than news organizations themselves, even as they begin to act more like publishers than they did originally in making (often opaque) editorial judgments about what content to host and how. In other words, platforms no longer simply host news content that their users think is important. They are playing an active role in the business of journalism itself. "Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are emerging as the ABC, CBS, and NBC of the 21st century—sites that attract vastly more traffic than most others," one commentator writes. Companies purely in the business of journalism will increasingly be at the mercy of these platforms—and in response, they may try to become platforms themselves.