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July 7, 2016updated 12 Jul 2016 9:29am

Guardian editor Katharine Viner: ‘Overwhelmingly powerful’ Facebook a ‘real concern for the news industry’

By Dominic Ponsford

Guardian editor Katharine Viner has warned that social media giants like Facebook have become “overwhelmingly powerful” and “a real concern for the news industry”.

Speaking at an advertising industry lunch in London she also said she is not “theologically opposed to paywalls”, but would like to try other alternatives first.

Guardian News and Media is currently seeking to curb annual operating losses which have escalated from £30.4m to 2014/2015 to £53.6m for the year to the end of March 2016.

The increase in losses is thought to be at least partly due to the fact that internet giants like Google and Facebook now dominate the advertising market and have taken huge amounts of revenue away from publishers.

GNM is looking to cut £54m from its annual operating costs and is currently reviewing its business model. The company has said that charging for some online content is one of the options under consideration.

Survey data from the Reuters Institute Digital News report, published last month, found that social media has overtaken print as a source of news in the UK and that Facebook is by far the most popular social network.

facebook reuters_1

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Facebook has become the major source of traffic for many news websites, overtaking Google search in terms of importance.

In comments reported by Digiday, Viner said: “Social media companies have become overwhelmingly powerful in determining what we read and whether publishers make any money.

“The idea of challenging the wide-open worldwide web has been replaced by platforms and publishers who maximize the amount of time you spend with them and find clever ways to stop you leaving. That may be great news for advertisers and the platforms themselves, but it’s a real concern for the news industry.”
She also reportedly said: “For journalism, it is a fight dictated by an ever-changing, unknown, mysterious news feed algorithm.”

Tweaks to the way Facebook presents content to its members can have huge implications for the traffic of news websites. Publishers are expecting to see a drop in online audience after Facebook this month said it would prioritise posts from peoples’ friends over those created by publishers.

Viner said Google and Facebook have driven audience growth to news websites but that: “Innovative journalism needs a new business model.”

Guardian News and Media is currently promoting a membership scheme, which invites readers to support its journalism by paying £5 a month.

The day of the Brexit referendum result, 24 June, was said to be The Guardian’s biggest ever day for website traffic with 17m global unique users visiting the site.

A post Brexit-appeal by Viner for readers to help fund The Guardian’s journalism by becoming members was said to have been “hugely successful”.

UPDATE: Viner has expanded on her thoughts about Facebook in a ‘long-read’ feature for The Guardian: ‘How technology disrupted the truth‘.

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