When Media Companies Insist They're Not Media Companies and Why It Matters for Communications Policy
39 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2016 Last revised: 15 Aug 2016
Date Written: March 18, 2016
A common position amongst online content providers/aggregators is their resistance to being characterized as media companies. Companies such as Google, Facebook, BuzzFeed, and Twitter have argued that it is inaccurate to think of them as media companies. Rather, they argue that they should be thought of as technology companies. The logic of this position, and its implications for communications policy, have yet to be thoroughly analyzed. However, such an analysis is increasingly necessary as the dynamics of news and information production, dissemination, and consumption continue to evolve. This paper will explore and critique the logic and motivations behind the position that these content providers/aggregators are technology companies rather than media companies, as well as the communications policy implications associated with accepting or rejecting this position.
In conducting this analysis, this paper first explores the importance of classification in communications policymaking. Drawing on examples from U.S. communications policy, this paper illustrates how and why disputes over the appropriate classification of communications technologies and services often have had profound policy implications. Examples to be discussed include the importance of the telecommunications service versus information service classification in network neutrality policymaking and the classification of multichannel video programming delivery (MVPD) services in relation to access to broadcast content.
Next, this paper explores the meaning of a media company and its important points of distinction from the meaning of a technology company. This paper explores this distinction within the context of arguments from online content providers/aggregators that they are more appropriately classified as technology companies rather than media companies. Drawing upon a data set of position papers, trade press stories, conference presentations, and public relations/promotional materials in which this argument is put forth by representatives of a variety of online content providers/aggregators, this section examines and critiques this position. In considering these arguments, this section puts forth a set of parameters as to what constitutes a media company and illustrates how online content providers/aggregators fit within these parameters.
The final section discusses why it is important that these online content providers/aggregators be understood as media companies by communications policymakers. As this section illustrates, the functionalities provided by many of these online service providers are increasingly overlapping and intersecting with those of traditional media companies, particularly in terms of the production, dissemination, and consumption of news and journalism; yet this has happened absent the normative governance frameworks that characterize other communications platforms that serve a significant journalistic function. The danger here is that the production, dissemination, and consumption of journalism will increasingly be dictated by institutions devoid of any governance structure oriented toward serving the public interest as it pertains to the role of journalism in a democracy. From this standpoint, should communications policymakers embrace the notion that these online content providers/aggregators are technology companies rather than media companies, the implications for how well the contemporary media ecosystem serves the information needs of citizens in a democracy could be profound.
Keywords: media policy, journalism, democracy, content aggregators, news
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