On Tuesday, Facebook announced that they will be investing $300 million over a period of 3 years to support local journalism including news programs, partnerships, and content. Facebook has been facing criticisms for spreading fake news and misinformation on its platform and its poor decisions on data and privacy controls. Possibly investing a large amount in a news-based initiative is a way to redeem their image.
“People want more local news, and local newsrooms are looking for more support,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president in charge of global news partnerships, said in a statement. “That’s why today we’re announcing an expanded effort around local news in the years ahead. We’re going to continue fighting fake news, misinformation, and low-quality news on Facebook,”, he added.
Facebook says that the project is an expansion of Facebook’s previously launched accelerator program for metro newspapers to help with their digital subscription business. The $300 million funding will support local journalists in news-gathering and building sustainable long-term business models.
Per a report by Axios, one-third of the money from the program has already been provided to local news non-profits and programs, and Facebook’s own local news initiatives. Almost $5 million grant will be given to Pulitzer Center to launch a fund that will support 12 local newsrooms with local in-depth, multimedia reporting projects and an additional $5 million matching gift. $2 million will be provided to Report for America to help place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across America over the next five years. Other recipients of the investments include Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, the Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium, the American Journalism Project and the Community News Project.
Last year, Google also started its own journalism initiative called the Google News Initiative (GNI), investing over $300 million to support the news industry’s biggest needs.
Netizens have mixed sentiment for this initiative.
Jim Friedlich, Executive Director and CEO of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, says Facebook and local news are “co-dependent” and calls the investments from Facebook “a sincere effort to help the local news business”.
Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, supported the initiative saying, “Facebook is making this investment to help support local media companies, open up new revenue streams that will support local journalism,”
However, criticisms were also in huge numbers.
Nikki Usher, a George Washington University professor of media studies, said the effort “is a bit of smoke and mirrors because it’s hard to tell what’s really local for Facebook”.
Facebook’s effort is “a lot of money in one sense but in another sense it’s not that much, the equivalent of revenues of one large newspaper”, said Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University.
A hacker news user said, “This play to ‘local news’ is simply a tool to advance their own agenda, they want to own local news and help you feel that FB is all warm and ‘local’ to your needs.” Another said, “As someone who has been running a local newspaper for the last four years in a town, my trust in Facebook is exactly zero.
They have practically monopolized news distribution, helped to destroy the business model of important social service and now they would like to make up for it by giving a fraction of the money back?”
Arsonist, fighting off prosecutors, plans to become a firefighter. https://t.co/ocoGrcE1ga
— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) January 15, 2019
Only time will tell, if news companies welcome these contributions by Facebook or it will still be difficult for the social media platform to resolve the relationships it has with publishers, and tech companies.