Australia

Facebook, Google and news. Why Americans should pay attention to Australia. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Hey, did you hear the news out of Australia?

This is a bit of a bad pun, because the news out of Australia is actually about the lack of news in Australia. A few things happened yesterday:

  • First, News Corp announced it’s worked out a deal with Google, where the tech giant will pay for content from sites like The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, The Times and The Sun in the U.K., and in Australia: The Australian, news.com.au, Sky News, and others.

  • Second, more bluntly, Facebook announced it won’t allow Australian news organizations to post to Facebook, or allow Australians to post news articles.

  • And third—I don’t know whether this is intentional or a glitch—but Facebook’s ban also stopped government websites, satirical brands, and even the Australian national weather service from being able to post.

As Axios explains, it’s all the result of an imminent Australian law requiring tech platforms to reimburse news publishers for content. Google decided to play ball under the new rules; Facebook decided to play hardball.

Now, there’s probably an easy temptation here in the United States to think of all this as somebody else’s problem.

Do you remember that famous New Yorker cover with the “View of the World From 9th Avenue?” It’ll be 45 years old next month, but it’s as apt as ever.

But right now, I think we need to pay close attention. One of the great fault lines today is between legitimate news sources and tech companies.

It affects everybody, and yet here we have one of the world’s biggest platforms—tell me, how many times have you asked someone where they heard some story, and they say, ‘oh, it was on Facebook’—simply deciding that it won’t allow an entire country of 25 million people to share news on it.

This does not mean that I think governments should step in like they’re doing in Australia and force financial deals. I’m not going to be able to reach a full conclusion on that in this article; it’s just too big an issue for a 700-word quick take.

But, there’s a reason why so many big companies—McDonald’s, KFC, Coca-Cola, Citibank, AOL—test market products in Australia before bringing them to the U.S.A. And right now, that seems a little metaphoric: Coming soon, possibly, to a country a little closer to you.1

And as long as I’m stretching metaphors, how’s this one?

By the time most readers get a chance to read this newsletter on Thursday in the USA or Canada—it will already be tomorrow in Australia. So far, I don’t think they’ve banned simply sharing the date or the time. (But give it a minute.)

7 other things

  • Rush Limbaugh died at age 70, after battling lung cancer. (USA Today)

  • Federal prosecutors charged three North Korean hackers with conspiring to steal more than $1.3 billion over six years, by “targeting high-profile movie studios and cryptocurrency traders with sophisticated technology.” (AP)

  • NASA has a big moment today: Attempting to land the Perseverance rover on Mars. It’s a very tricky, complicated effort. You can watch it live online—or else some television networks are likely to cover it as well. (Wired)

  • In light of the Australian news: A hedge fund got complete ownership of Tribune Publishing, which publishes The Chicago Tribune and The Daily News along with seven other major metropolitan dailies. Alden Global Capital has a reputation for drastically cutting costs at the newspapers it controls. (NYT, $)

  • Texas is still in big trouble. “More than 3 million Texans [are] still without power. Some have gone four days without electricity after a rare winter storm slammed the state and created bitterly cold and borderline-unlivable conditions.” NPR, which has member stations all around the country, put together a compendium of ways to keep warm with no heat or power. (Yahoo News, NPR)

  • A new study says 71% of Americans who have pets say they couldn’t have made it through the pandemic without them. (Fox News)

  • Most popular article on The Wall Street Journal’s website? It’s about a Manhattan couple who traded an 1,100-square-foot apartment for a 450-square-foot RV and have been traveling the country since October. They say they doubt they’d return to NYC. “But who knows? Because if you told me a year ago we’d be living in an RV, I’d tell you you were crazy.” (WSJ, $)


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1

Apologies to the 1 percent or so of my readers who are actually in Australia.