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By Thomas Baekdal - July 2020

How publishers should organize working remotely, and what about Facebook and Google?

This is an archived version of a Baekdal/Basic newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as news and trends about the media industry. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.

Happy summer everyone! We have now reached that time of year again where things usually tend to be a bit slow for the media, and especially now that we are also dealing with COVID-19.

I am planning to take a two week vacation (which means it will be three weeks before the next Plus article). But before we get to that, I have a new Plus article for you today + answers for some questions I have been asked by my readers.

How publishers could organize working from home after COVID-19

All the way back in March, when people in many countries suddenly had to work from home, I said that the way media people were talking about working from home didn't have anything in common with how most people do it all the time.

As the New York Times' put it:

You are not working from home. You are laboring in confinement, under duress.

But how do companies work remotely for real?

For instance, if you are a publisher and you decided to make remote working an integrated part of your business, how would you organize something like that?

In my latest Plus article, I talk about this very thing based on what I have learned over the past 15 years. I talk about how to structure the work, how to manage the workflow, how to communicate, and how to create the workspace.

I hope this will help you as a publisher do more with remote work, even after COVID-19 is over.

Take a look at: How publishers could organize working from home after COVID-19

Secondly, over the past couple of weeks, I have been asked by several of my readers to provide my quick analysis of both the Facebook adpocalypse and how Google has started paying publishers for news ... so let's quickly talk about that.

The big Facebook adpocalypse, but does that mean anything?

As you probably know, Facebook is currently experiencing a

backlash from a few select brands and publishers due to its stance on allowing hate speech and other bad content to proliferate on their platform.

So far, Facebook has done very little about this, although they did block some political ads and they took down several pages run by right-wing hate groups in the US. Sheryl Sandberg has also announced that they will keep listening and make changes.

She said:

We are making changes - not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do.

None of us, of course, believe this.

But Sheryl's post is also the perfect example of how Facebook has turned into a traditional corporation. She basically says nothing, and only points out that they have published a "two-year review of our policies and practices" made by an outside partner (who don't agree that Facebook's focus is making progress).

What I'm not seeing is any kind of systemic change.

Take political advertising, as an example. Facebook has designed that system so that politicians are encouraged to do micro-targeting in a way that is completely impossible to understand (even with their ad transparency center), and where the politicians will create 30-50 variations of the same ad to see which version creates the right effect.

This is bad for our democracy, and it would be so easy for Facebook to just change that.

Don't get me wrong. This type of advertising is incredibly useful for private companies. If you are a small bicycle shop, being able to micro-target your audience is exactly what you need. But it shouldn't work that way for politicians.

So, I don't give a hoot that Facebook has taken down a few bad political ads. The systemic problem that created them still remains.

But this leads us to advertisers. Over the past few weeks, we have seen how several brands have stopped advertising on Facebook (temporarily), but I'm not too excited about that either.

The first problem is that, because of COVID-19, ad spending on social channels is already down. So when brands say they are not spending on Facebook because of COVID-19, it's mostly just a convenient excuse for something they would have done anyway.

Secondly, I'm not seeing any commitment from any of these brands to shift their ad spending to other channels. Remember, brands advertise to sell more products, so just advertising less is not a solution. But since they have not shifted that spending somewhere else, nothing about this indicates any real change.

BTW: We saw the same thing on YouTube, but here, we did actually see a big difference. Obviously, many will say that YouTube still hasn't done enough, but YouTube made some rather big changes after their adpocalypse (just as any YouTube creator), changes that I'm not seeing on Facebook.

The bigger issue, however, is that Facebook is still the best channel for many companies.

I have talked about this before. Many smaller companies totally rely on Facebook for a substantial part of their revenue, and if they were to shift that spending to local newspapers, they would not be able to even remotely get the same effect.

This is the sad reality of this. For many companies, Facebook works.

This is even true for many publishers.

Just this morning (as I was writing this), I got an email from the Danish newspaper Zetland, who announced that they too had cut their advertising on Facebook. They wrote (translated):

We made the, for us, rather wild decision to turn off our Facebook ads in July. We have long wanted to be more independent of advertising on Facebook, but it has been what worked best for us so far. [...] It's not a small decision for us. About a third of our new members come from social media, where the ads play a pretty big role.

So I ask you this. Where should Zetland advertise instead? I don't have an answer to this. Facebook is clearly a good advertising platform for them, and I don't think any traditional channel would be able to deliver the same ad performance for the same cost.

This is the challenge we all face. We may not like some of the things on Facebook, and we may call on them to do better, but I'm not seeing any shift in the market as a whole.

What is up with Google paying for news?

Next up is Google who announced that they will pay for news. This is something that several of my readers have asked me to comment on, but again, I'm not seeing a fundamental shift.

There are several things to note about Google paying publishers.

The first thing is that we really don't know what it is about yet. The only ones who do know are the few publishers Google has partnered with. But we do know a bit from the press release.

They wrote:

Today, we are announcing a licensing program to pay publishers for high-quality content for a new news experience launching later this year. This program will help participating publishers monetize their content through an enhanced storytelling experience that lets people go deeper into more complex stories, stay informed and be exposed to a world of different issues and interests.

Okay, so it's a new news experience, which to me makes it sound like the Google version of a news destination, similar to what we see from all the other tech companies.

Apple has Apple News, Facebook has Facebook News, Microsoft has their version, and now Google wants to do this.

The way they talk about this makes it sound like this is a distribution deal, meaning that it's a news experience where people will be able to consume the full story within Google's own app (again, like all the other tech companies).

If that is true, then this is not really a shift in focus at all, but merely a continuation of the trend of separate news apps that we have seen before.

Is this interesting for publishers? Well, I don't know.

The problem I have is that I don't believe that the future of publishing will exist on someone else's platform. We have been down this road so many times before, and it doesn't really work.

Most recent is the example of Apple News where the New York Times announced that they are pulling out.

As they wrote:

The Times is one of the first media organizations to pull out of Apple News. The Times, which has made adding new subscribers a key business goal, said Apple had given it little in the way of direct relationships with readers and little control over the business. It said it hoped to instead drive readers directly to its own website and mobile app so that it could fund quality journalism.
Core to a healthy model between The Times and the platforms is a direct path for sending those readers back into our environments, where we control the presentation of our report, the relationships with our readers and the nature of our business rules," Meredith Kopit Levien, chief operating officer, wrote in a memo to employees. "Our relationship with Apple News does not fit within these parameters.

Obviously, the New York Times is a massive publisher who has scale to go on their own. But, from a trend perspective, I don't see this as being any different for any other publisher. The future of publishing isn't to be a random story somewhere else. It's to be a place that people turn to directly, and our monetization strategy should be centered around that.

And we kind of see the same in Google's press release. They included a quote from Stefan Ottlitz, managing director of Spiegel Group, who said:

We are always keen to explore innovative ways to attract readers to our high-quality content. This interesting new partnership with Google will allow us to curate an experience that will bring our award-winning editorial voice into play, broaden our outreach and provide trusted news in a compelling way across Google products.

To me this sounds like they are saying they are doing it 'as marketing'. I'm not seeing any indication that the publishers involved see this as their future destination.

What is slightly more interesting is that they also wrote this:

Where available, Google will also offer to pay for free access for users to read paywalled articles on a publisher's site. This will let paywalled publishers grow their audiences and open an opportunity for people to read content they might not ordinarily see.

Notice that they are saying that this is "on a publisher's site". So... that's interesting. But again, we have so little information that it's practically impossible to analyze.

As a media analyst, I have added this to my list of "things to watch", and I will watch this closely as we get nearer to a launch date. But it's not something I would currently categorize as a trend, I don't think this will really change anything in terms of monetization, nor do I see this as defining the future of media.

I think it's interesting that Google is doing something. But, fundamentally, our future is to define and own our own markets.

Finally, a quick note. Earlier this year, the European Broadcast Union asked me to write more about my experiment (from last year) about news avoidance and news fatigue.

This report is now out, and you can download it from their site. You do have to register, but you can download it for free.

This is an archived version of a Baekdal/Basic newsletter (it's free). It is sent out about once per week and features the latest articles as well as news and trends about the media industry. If you want to get the next one, don't hesitate to add your email to the list.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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