News publishers signing up to Facebooks Instant Articles are just appeasing the enemy
Many years ago, the political theorist Steven Lukes published a seminal book Power: A Radical View. In it, he argued that power essentially comes in three varieties: the ability to compel people to do what they dont want to do; the capability to stop them doing what they want to do; and the power to shape the way they think. This last is the kind of power exercised by our mass media. They can shape the public (and therefore the political) agenda by choosing the news that people read, hear or watch; and they can shape the ways in which that news is presented. Lukess third dimension of power is whats wielded in this country by outlets like Radio 4s Today programme, the Sun and the Daily Mail. And this power is real: its why all British governments in recent years have been so frightened of the Mail.
But as our media ecosystem has changed under the impact of the internet, new power brokers have appeared. For a long time, Google was the 800lb gorilla in this domain, because its dominance of search determined what people could find in the unimaginable wastelands of cyberspace. And search could be and was personalised, because Googles algorithms could figure out what each user was most likely to be interested in, and therefore what kinds of information would be most relevant for her or him. So, imperceptibly, but inexorably over time, we have come to live in what Eli Pariser christened a filter bubble.
Before the internet, our problem with information was its scarcity. Now our problem is unmanageable abundance. So now the scarce resources are attention and time, over which a vicious war has broken out between traditional media and the internet-based upstarts. Consumption (horrible word, but widely used) of old media is going down, while online media are grabbing more and more of peoples attention and time.