Following on from the $1 million in grants that it's already announced for local news organizations that are covering COVID-19, Facebook has this week pledged another $100 million in funding for local news organizations, many of whom are now struggling to maintain their margins amid the expanding COVID-19 shutdowns.
As detailed by Facebook:
"Today we’re announcing an additional $100 million investment to support the news industry - $25 million in emergency grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project, and $75 million in additional marketing spend to move money over to news organizations around the world."
The funding split will see some money directly flowing through to selected publications and organizations, while the majority will go towards marketing costs, helping businesses re-align their revenue models around online sources, and even directly funding SMBs to help them keep advertising, and spending money with local publications.
"Through the COVID-19 Community Network grant program, direct funding is helping journalists cover important stories when we all need them most. We're building on this work and will direct a portion of these funds to publishers most in need in the hardest hit countries."
It's the latest in Facebook's various funding efforts to help lessen the impacts of COVID-19. The company has already allocated over $100 million across a range of streams an initiatives in order to help those on the front lines, while it also announced $300 million in funding for local news providers back in January as part of a separate project. And given the role that journalism and news publications play in fueling engagement on its platforms, it's good to see Facebook providing assistance, and seeking to help publishers, many of whom are already facing closure after the initial month of response efforts.
And right now, news and information is more important than ever. Indeed, with people stuck at home, and turning to web for updates, most news organizations are seeing significant increases in traffic, with the number of minutes spent by readers on news sites increasing by 46% on the same period last year.
That's good news for local news organizations - yet at the same time, when people need information the most, these publications are also losing revenue, because many of the businesses that they rely on to fuel their operations, through ads, have been closed, shut down amid the extended impacts of the COVID-19 response.
The restricted revenue flow will lead to more closures of local newsrooms and publications. Despite this being a time where the value of journalism is highlighted more than ever, the fact is that many publications will be shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As BuzzFeed News reported last week, the impact of the coronavirus on the news media "could be worse than the 2008 financial crisis, which saw newspapers experience a 19% decline in revenue".
It makes sense - many publications are reliant on promoting events, trade shows, sports, along with local businesses, things that are just not running at the present moment. But again, it's a cruel irony that when we need news content the most, it's facing its biggest battle.
Given this, it's good to see Facebook looking to provide support where it can, and allocating funding to both direct relief and online marketing, which may help some local newsrooms offset ad declines by connecting with advertisers through alternate means.
It's a tough time for everybody, of course, there's uncertainty all around, but it's good to see Facebook recognizing the importance of local journalism, and looking to provide assistance to the organizations which play a significant role in fueling discussion and engagement on its platforms.