Today, March 22 2022, RUSSH is putting a halt on news production and publishing. We are joining the #WaitingOnZuck news freeze and fighting for the future of Australian news media.
Nearly one year ago the Australian Federal Government and Department of Treasury (courtesy of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP) introduced the News Media Bargaining Code.
It was well intentioned.
This Code sought to reduce the power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Meta (formerly known as Facebook Inc.) and Google.
This world-leading Code represented a significant step in the right direction. But now the issue is access. The digital platforms have made a number of commercial-in-confidence agreements (rather, ‘secret deals’) that have unfortunately had the opposite effect of the Code.
Now, the situation has only been further exacerbated.
For the small to medium media businesses left without commercial deals, the competitive disadvantage has only become bigger, at a time where independent journalism has never been more important.
Why we need independent journalism
As each moment passes, we see the chasm that divides society grow wider and wider still.
We each live in our own echo chamber. A matrix of social algorithms that serves little more than confirmation bias and outrage bait. The trail of "do your own research" is like a path of bread crumbs, that leads to a tumble dryer of misinformation and biased half-truths.
The undervaluation of cultural industries has led to the decimation of journalism as we used to know it. As more and more publications fold, the pincers of monopolising monoliths tighten their grasp, resurrecting once-beloved titles as husks of their former selves. The result is homogenisation of reporting: the same viewpoints told over and over, set against a late-stage-capitalist landscape.
We need to break the cycle.
We need more stories. Different stories. Storytelling from new voices with a fresh perspective. Ideas from those who have been historically denied a platform on which to stand. Daring thoughts that show another side, even if you don't agree with them.
Independent voices are the backbone of communities. They ignite change, celebrate diversity, and bring us the news we need – not just the news we agree with.
Without independent voices, we all lose.
Unfortunately, independents – like ourselves – won't be able to bring you these voices if we continue to be cut out of the deals where our big competitors have not.
Our audiences have taken this issue seriously and been behind us all the way – and we can't thank you enough. But the Australian public can only take this David and Goliath battle so far.
We know that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP told Mark Zuckerberg that we won’t be backing down, because the sustainability of independent news matters to Australians, all of us. The spirit of the Media Code is still alive.
In the year since the Code was launched, Meta has had more than enough time to demonstrate that it believes in paying for the quality independent journalism that its business model continues to benefit from enormously.
But nothing has changed.
How Meta benefits from independent journalism
Meta's Facebook benefits significantly from the news shared on its platform.
When Facebook began inviting news and media onto its platform, it knew what it was doing. News and content is a draw card. When publications joined the Facebook bandwagon, and started sharing their content on the platform, dwell times increased, shares exploded and the Facebook user base grew and grew.
As a result, in 2016, 44% of Americans said they got their news from Facebook. For better or for worse.
Certainly, there was a honeymoon period for the publications too. Facebook used to be an excellent place to reach readers. And many brands, including ours, invested heavily in growing our Facebook audience. But then came algorithm shift, after algorithm shift, each designed to continually de-prioritise brands without big budgets and to reduce the reach of organic content. Now publications like ours are lucky to reach even just one percent of the audience we spent years building.
All the while, Facebook via Meta Inc. happily holds onto the users that were inspired to join the platform in order interact with our brand, and others like ours – Broadsheet Media, Concrete Playground, City Hub, Star Observer and so many others.
This is why the News Media Bargaining Code was created: Facebook owes a debt to publishers, and not simply to the big players.
How you can help
Right now, small and medium publishers, along with their 4 million-plus readers are #WaitingOnZuck to come to the table and make real deals. We want agreements with small and medium publishers that are transparent, fair and help pay for the journalism that his businesses are built upon.
Today, we're letting the world know that small and medium publishers are still #WaitingonZuck to pay up for the journalism that he has been benefiting from for free. RUSSH is participating by ceasing its production of news and feature content for the next 24 hours. We will still be publishing our partnered content, with respect to the collaborative brands that keep the lifeblood of RUSSH flowing and the lights on in our office. But, there will be a freeze on all the other stories you normally hear from us on the daily.
If you would like to show your support, join the #WaitingOnZuck news freeze on March 22. Replace your profile and socials updates with #WaitingOnZUCK. Use the hashtag, or reach our to Zuckerberg directly on his social profiles: @MarkZuckerberg (Facebook), @zuck (Instagram), @finkd (Zuck, Twitter),
You can also email Josh Frydenberg MP to demand that digital platforms are designated. You'll find a customisable email draft below. This is an initiative powered by concerned news media businesses everywhere.
You may have noticed that there’s no news today. That’s because we are all waiting on Mark Zuckerberg.
Publishers from right across Australia have frozen their news feeds for the day because we are #WaitingonZuck to pay up for the journalism that his businesses have been benefiting from for free.
Thanks for trying to disrupt the massive power imbalance between digital platforms and news media businesses. The Code was a great start, but Zuck has failed to come to the table, only making secret deals that exacerbate the massive competitive disadvantage, badly impacting the ‘little guys’ of this vital industry - our small and medium publishers.
These are the publishers who deliver me not only news and information, but they form part of the backbone of my community by sharing the stories that help us to feel seen, heard and represented in Australia.
We’re glad that 12 months on, we have an opportunity to improve the impact of the Code together. Which is why I’m calling on you to advocate for the future of small and medium publishers by designating digital platforms under the Code.
Reach Josh Frydenberg here: @JoshFrydenberg (Twitter), @JoshFrydenbergMP (Facebook), @josh.frydenberg.mp (Instagram), [email protected]
A special thank you to Broadsheet Media and DecadeofAction.com.au for uniting us together in this fight.