The Telegraph, Facebook and the changing media landscape
The Barclay brothers bought the Telegraph in 2004 and accumulated a readership audience of almost 1 million people. At the same time, a Harvard undergraduate, Mark Zuckerberg had recently changed the name of his startup to Facebook, reports The Guardian.
Now, fast-forward 15 years, we see how the media landscape has changed for both these companies. For example, sales of the Daily Telegraph had fallen to 363,183 by the end of last year while pretax profits slumped from £14m to less than £1m.
Also, just last week, it emerged that the billionaire twins have put the Telegraph media group up for sale as part of a review of their business empire. Offers are expected to be in the region of one third of the price the Barclays paid.
As this news emerged, Facebook was refusing to follow the lead of Twitter, its social media rival, by banning political advertising in the run up to elections on both sides of the Atlantic.
When looking at the Telegraph, the operating profits have fallen and the priorities of both the brothers have changed leading to selling the newsroom. However, none of this financial engineering detracts from the fact that the Telegraph is essentially the last remaining paper of note up for sale in the UK.
This position as the last big British newspaper brand to be bought was underlined when Steve Bannon was reported to be bringing together a consortium to buy the Telegraph, which he described as “one of the great untapped properties”.
Despite its dying readers, falling revenues and sometimes ethically dubious content, the Telegraph could still be seen as a trophy of sorts. Still, we cannot say much as much of the public-facing conversations the twins have with the outside world tend to be via lawyers.
But at least the reclusive Barclays do not offer lengthy gushing videos on the virtues of press freedom, unlike Sheryl Sandberg, who explained Facebook’s refusal to ban political ads, regardless of whether they are true or not, because “we believe in free expression, we believe in political speech, and ads can be an important part of that”.
“At times of social tension there has often been an urge to pull back on free expression,” she said.
Facebook’s decision to carry on running political ads would be foolhardy for any company worried about the weight of public opinion. But what if the opinion of the handful of politicians who want to continue paying for promotion is worth it, not for the money, but for the power they wield when discussing legislation.
The Telegraph may have become the Daily Boris, and the television broadcasters may tie themselves in knots over the next six weeks trying to organize political debates but, on Facebook, political parties can send messages straight to each voter’s newsfeed, without anyone shouting about bias or asking them tricky questions.