A free press and healthy journalism is fundamental for the survival of a healthy democracy and digital technology tends to undermine the health of the free press, Microsoft President Brad Smith said on Friday, March 12.
Smith, who was testifying before the US House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, discussed the intersection between technology and journalism and its impact on the role of the press in a democracy like the United States.
He spoke about the influence print and broadcast media had on public before the invention of search engines, social media, and political websites. The print and broadcast outlets provided the public with a baseline that shaped their understanding and the public sphere.
Free and independent press had served as a watch dog in the US, monitoring and challenging the issues and institutions that impact every facet of American politics and society. While national news grabbed the entire attention, it was the thousands of local news outlets that provide the foundation for local democracy. American democracy flourished or withered at the local level, he added.
However, since the start of the 21st century, the internet has gutted the already ailing local news business by devouring advertising revenue and luring away paid subscribers. Since 2000, newspaper circulation and advertisement revenue have faced a downward spiral 2000 as ad revenue for newspapers has shrunk 70%, by $34 billion and newspaper circulation dropped by half, with 27 million fewer daily newspapers in circulation in 2018 than were published when the century started. Similarly, over the last decade, the number of newspaper reporters in the US has also halved, dropping from 71,000 in 2010 to 35,000 currently.
Ever since the introduction of technology, digital advertising has taken over the traditional forms of advertising like television, radio, and print. Speaking about Google, Smith said that the search engine giant had effectively transformed itself into the ‘front page’ for news, owning the reader relationship and relegating news content on their properties to a commodity input.
Suggestion a cure for the same, Smith said that journalism must continue to evolve just like any other business. News is a part of the technology ecosystem, and all who participate in this ecosystem have both an opportunity and responsibility to help journalism flourish, he said, reiterating that tech companies needed to do more.