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Digital platforms and the press
Meese J., INTELLECT, Chicago, IL, 2023. 186 pp. Type: Book (9781789388343)
Date Reviewed: May 2 2024

In Digital platforms and the press, James Meese lays out his central argument: the news media industry is becoming increasingly dependent on digital platforms like Google, Meta (Facebook), and others. This dependency manifests in several key areas like content distribution, online advertising, payments for news content, and training/patronage initiatives.

Meese frames this issue through the lens of platform power and the platform business model, which has allowed a few dominant tech giants to emerge by taking advantage of network effects and strategic acquisitions. He contends that this market dominance has produced power imbalances and economic asymmetries that are fostering a state of “platform dependence” across many sectors, including journalism.

In the news media context, platform dependence is evident in the declining direct traffic to news websites as audiences discover content through platform channels instead. This forces newsrooms to optimize for the opaque algorithmic systems that control content distribution and visibility. Advertising revenue has also become dependent on the Google-dominated online ad ecosystem. Platforms are now paying some news outlets for their content, raising concerns about editorial autonomy and independence being compromised.

The author argues that this mounting dependence threatens journalism’s ability to serve key democratic functions like informing citizens, fostering a diverse media sphere, and maintaining independence from powerful institutions. He identifies three main areas of risk:

(1) An informed citizenry: the platforms’ prioritization of profit motives over curation, lack of public accountability, and ability to control news distribution pose challenges.
(2) Media diversity: algorithmic personalization could reduce exposure diversity, while platforms have market-shaping power to privilege some outlets over others.
(3) Media independence: direct payments, patronage, and data/metric requirements could subtly influence newsroom behavior and undermine operational autonomy.

Meese presents a nuanced platform dependence model that accounts for varying degrees of dependence across distribution, advertising, payments, and training. He argues that well-resourced outlets can resist some forms of dependence better than smaller players.

Overall, the book serves as a granular examination of the intensifying legal and commercial engagements between platforms and news media through a critical institutional lens. While not reductive, Meese aims to map the challenges platform power poses to normative democratic principles surrounding the press.

The author’s multi-year analysis draws from interviews, industry fieldwork, policy studies, and data across Australia and internationally. His scope is primarily Anglophone nations and Europe given the North American origins of most tech giants.

To conclude, after reading the book, you should reexamine your views. Are they entirely yours or were they unconsciously shaped by digital platforms?

Reviewer:  R. S. Chang Review #: CR147756
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