And so, the uncomfortable dance between Facebook and news outlets continues...
As part of a new initiative to help local news organizations, Facebook had pledged $300 million in investment for new training and assistance tools for local news providers.
As explained by Facebook:
"There are two key areas where we hope to help: supporting local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs in the immediate future; and helping local news organizations build sustainable business models, through both our product and partnership work. Over time, we think this work can have the added benefit of fostering civic engagement, which research suggests is directly correlated with people’s reading of local news."
The funding will be split between various new projects, including:
- A $5 million Pulitzer Center endowment to provide local newsrooms with reporting grants to foster coverage on topics which affect local communities
- A $2 million investment in the 'Report for America' initiative, which will place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across America over the next five years
- A $1 million investment into the Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium to help more than 2,000 member newsrooms better understand, develop and implement revenue streams through branded content, both on and off Facebook
- A $6 million community news project which will partner with some of the biggest regional publishers in the United Kingdom
The funding announcement marks the biggest investment Facebook has made in the news industry, and builds upon its Facebook Journalism Project, which has been in operation for the last two years.
But is an assistance package from Facebook - largely focused on Facebook developments - really going to be of benefit for news publishers?
Facebook has been both a boon and a curse for news organizations. As the largest social media platform in the world, Facebook can offer huge reach, and provide waves of referral traffic, enabling publishers to build their business on the back of Facebook's structure. But then, Facebook can change its mind in an instant, and publishers who've built too much reliance on The Social Network can see their audience dry up, and their revenues plummet. Because Facebook has decided to optimize for a different type of engagement - one swift tweak of the News Feed algorithm and whole businesses can be ruined.
The smart strategy, of course, is to limit your reliance on Facebook traffic, but that, in many cases, is easier said than done - if Facebook is filtering hundreds of thousands of people through to your website for months, even years at a time, boosting your revenue potential, it makes sense for publishers to seek to capitalize upon that. They start to optimize for Facebook, re-structuring their feeds around the Facebook flavor of the month (video at the moment), and soon enough they've got an entire department built on Facebook. Then the algorithm shifts - video is no longer the priority. Then what?
This is the delicate imbalance that Facebook has created within the media sector, where the platform holds all the cards, and publishers are left with difficult choices about their future direction. Publishers have grown more skeptical on this front, the general approach to Facebook is changing, but you can see how new programs like this add to the complexity of their decision making. Sure, Facebook is providing new ways to help, new opportunities for local news publishers, but only till it isn't. Only till Facebook decides it doesn't care about news publishers anymore.
Facebook has pretty much come straight out and said this - in an interview last year, Facebook's Head of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown said that:
"If anyone feels that [Facebook] isn't the right platform for them, then they should not be on Facebook."
People don't come to Facebook for news, Campbell also noted, underlining the platform's focus on friends and family first, which was central to its major News Feed algorithm update last year. And as Facebook continues to seek new ways to boost on-platform engagement, there's every indication that it could look to re-focus on this element again.
Is that good for local news publishers? Will that help along the same lines as Facebook is promoting with this new initiative?
Only time will tell.