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Don’t get too close to Google and Facebook warns ABC News boss

Gaven Morris, the ABC’s director of news, analysis and investigations, has welcomed the wave of media company restructures while warning of the dangers of getting too close to digital platforms like Google and Facebook.

Speaking at a panel hosted by the UTS Centre for Media Transition in Sydney, Morris also called on Google to increase its advertising share for media ventures as a simple way of resolving the problem of monetising journalism.

Google could do more to help journalism by increasing ad revenue going to publishers said the ABC’s Morris

Morris also warned about media organisations over-relying on digital giants, pointing out: “I think what we’ve got to be afraid of is in the end handing over to these platforms your entire stake in what audiences are going to do in the future.

“There’s nothing wrong with collaborating with any distribution channel or platform if it means you’re going to serve certain audiences, but the point where that crosses over into handing keys to your content and, once you have, they can change the rules on you, that’s what we have to have to be very careful about.”

“Google, however could do more to help journalism by increasing ad revenue going to publishers”, Morris added. “I think we over complicate this stuff. I’ve had conversations with Google where I’ve said to them, you could today make a judgement call to turn up the revenue on Google ads for local journalism, original journalism.

“They say ‘why should we be the arbiter of what’s quality journalism?’ I say because your algorithm is the arbiter of just about everything else.

“The viability of commercial media is just as crucial to the success of public interest journalism as publicly funded media.

“If all we end up with is public funded media then the ecosystem has failed.”

Morris also said the ABC’s restructure under then managing director Michelle Guthrie last year was necessary in a changing media environment. Last week, Nine announced its own revamped management structure after the Fairfax acquisition was completed.

“You look over whatever span you want into the distance and some point linear AM radio is not going to be as important to audiences as it was in the past. At some point linear terrestrial television isn’t going to be the dominant way people get their video programs when the behaviour of the audiences change.

“The structures will have to change. One of the things Michelle Guthrie did really well was to question whether the ABC needed to be structured by platform divisions. So we don’t have a radio and television division anymore.

“Now, not all of that was going to be a success but the thinking that the structures of the way you organise a content making company should be around what’s valuable to the audience, not what the platform is called is fundamentally valid.”

Morris’ comments about the future of terrestrial broadcasting echo those made by former ABC chair Justin Milne in announcing Guthrie’s dismissal.

“Netflix isn’t a television station but it is the place where more people watch TV than anywhere else. So those sort of shifts are going to change and organisations are going to evolve with that.”

Morris also flagged an increasing use of data in the ABC’s news and entertainment operations, saying: “I find it quaint when I go to an editorial meeting in the morning and around the table you have a dozen intelligent people all going ‘these are the stories we should do today because my gut instinct tells me that’s what people want’ and in one or two cases I say in these conversations we should check that.

“We need to bring the two things together. You don’t want journalists to lose their gut instinct and you don’t want creative content makers not to have brilliant ideas.

“We saw what happened a few years ago when everyone thought the future of media was clickbait. Didn’t that work out well? It didn’t work out commercially, it didn’t work out for brands, it didn’t work out for audiences.”

Facebook and Google have been approached for comment.

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