Alan Murray isn’t the first expert to claim that journalism is more difficult than ever in the digital age. But, as the chief content officer at Time Inc., the president of Fortune magazine and a life-long journalist, he has witnessed the shift from print to digital journalism at closer quarters than most.
Murray spoke on Thursday at the Yale School of Management about digital media’s consequences for effective journalism. Timothy Collins SOM ’82, the senior Becton fellow and Yale SOM Board of Advisors chair, moderated the talk.
Before opening the floor to questions from the roughly 30 audience members, Collins pressed Murray to share his thoughts on Facebook and news dissemination in the wake of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing.
“It’s a huge problem for the whole business of journalism. More than 50 percent of Americans are getting their news off of Facebook,” Murray said, citing a Pew Research study conducted while he was president of the center. “It’s not a neutral platform. The news you get depends on what the algorithm delivers you. The algorithm has become the front-page editor.”
Until recently, he added, Mark Zuckerberg’s view has been “not my problem, I don’t have any responsibility for it” — a view that Murray says must change.
He discussed pitfalls of the ad-based revenue model, which many media platforms use to generate profit. In recent years, he explained, Facebook and Google have received 80 to 90 percent of ad revenue, causing media platforms’ profits to stagnate.
Murray said this model makes journalism difficult in the digital age.
“Better Homes and Gardens or Southern Living can do all right in digital … but news expires,” he said. “News is difficult to collect and is hard to do well. A publication like Time is, in an ad-supported world, in serious trouble.”
Murray acknowledged, however, that digital subscriptions have helped boost digital journalism.
Biased and fake news has become increasingly pervasive in media culture, Murray said. To fix the issue, he suggested readers consume information more selectively and be more cognizant that some media outlets do not adhere to standard journalistic practice.
David Rand and Gordon Pennycook, two Yale researchers who study fake news and its dissemination on Facebook, said the social media site has made some successful strides in preventing the proliferation of fake news.
Pennycook defined fake news as implausible stories written with the intent for them to go viral. He said many who share fake news stories do not think critically about their content.
“It’s not that people are thinking too much — people are thinking too little,” he said.
According to Rand, Facebook has recently made efforts to combat fake news, such as administering surveys to users in order to gauge their trust in news outlets. Based on the survey results, Facebook “up-ranks” trustworthy platforms and “down-ranks” untrustworthy ones. Rand’s recent research with Pennycook suggests that this approach is effective.
Prompted by an audience question about encouraging media literacy in children, Murray spoke about journalists like Alan Miller, the CEO of the News Literacy Project and a former Los Angeles Times reporter, who aim to instill critical reading skills in children. Time for Kids, a subset of Time Inc. that reaches several million children, has also exposed young students to credible journalism. Although beneficial in promoting media literacy, those efforts are not enough,” Murray said.
“I think it is going to take more than [Time for Kids],” he said. “Media literacy is going to become a fundamental part of being a decent citizen, and we’re going to have to find some way to work it into the education curriculum.”
Thursday’s event was organized by the Becton Fellowship Program, which brings renowned leaders to Yale to visit classrooms, give lectures and speak with students and faculty.
The fellowship was established in 1980 by Becton, Dickinson & Company in honor of Henry P. Becton ’37, former chairman of the company.
Marisa Peryer | firstname.lastname@example.org