While Facebook's Bulletin newsletter platform hasn't seemingly been a big hit as yet, we're starting to see the first seeds of how it could become a much bigger consideration, and where the platform is angling the tool as a key connection option for creators and journalists.
Today, Facebook has announced that it will add 25 new local journalists to its stable of Bulletin writers, as it moves into a key space of potential growth for the tool.
As explained by Facebook:
"In April we announced a $5 million commitment to support independent local journalists interested in starting or continuing their work on Facebook Bulletin. Today, we are pleased to share the 25 writers selected from the application process with our partners the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ)."
The funding comes from Facebook's broader pool to assist local publications, which includes a $100 grant program that it announced to 'support the news industry' in March last year. Facebook has also announced a new $1 million to support local journalism in Argentina today.
The Bulletin expansion, however, is significant in that it provides a new outlet for local journalism, which has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Indeed, according to Poynter, more than 85 local newsrooms across the US have shuttered in the last year, with the lockdowns exacerbating an already tough market for local news.
"Since 2004, about 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States. The pace of closures, up till now, has been about 100 a year."
With local stores shut down, that shrinks the relative interest in local promotions, which then cuts off the key ad dollars that funded these publications, much of which had already shifted to online outlets. Now, the pandemic has crushed them completely, leaving many regions with no local news presence at all, which is a major blow for civic and community engagement.
But through Bulletin, Facebook may be able to provide a lifeline, and when you also consider Facebook's massive reach, it could well be that Facebook and Bulletin may become the key local news sources in many areas.
Which, given recent experiences with news distribution on Facebook, could also be a concern - but the fact is that the audience is already there, people are already logging on to Facebook every day to check the latest happenings with their family and friends. Why not provide them with local news content as well?
Likely the best indicator of potential success on this front is the popularity of Facebook groups. 1.8 billion people engage in Facebook groups every month, while more than 38% of Facebook group members also look to connect with people in their local area through the tool.
That points to major opportunity, which could make Facebook an even bigger consideration, in more ways, for local community outreach, connection, advertising and more.
Which is why, at least right now, you can't judge the success or failure of Facebook's Bulletin project. At launch, Facebook shared a range of high-profile authors who'd signed on to the option, including Malcolm Gladwell and Tan France. But now, it's increasingly shifting the spotlight to smaller, local journalists.
This presents a major opportunity, benefiting creators by providing another alternative, while also, primarily, benefiting Facebook, with more engagement, more return users and more ad potential through increasingly active local audiences.
Of course, building on Facebook's platforms always comes with a level of risk. Back in February, Facebook cut off all Australian news publishers, big and small, entirely from its platform as part of a dispute over revenue share with the major players. That impacted smaller publications far more than the big outlets at the center of the debate, and served as a reminder of what can happen - that building an audience on Facebook means that Facebook then owns that reach.
There are additional provisos around this built into the design of Bulletin, but it remains a key consideration. And if Facebook can get this new push right, and become a key outlet for local news, that will be something to keep in mind, in counter to the growth potential.
But it does look like another way for Facebook to become even more influential, and a bigger part of people's daily lives. Soon, if you want local news, Facebook will be where it's at, which could help entwine people even further into The Social Network.