Facebook to invest funds to support journalism, hard-hit media houses

Nothing is going to make that much difference unless Facebook and Google pay for the content they are displaying

Washington, January 15

Facebook announced today that it would invest $300 million over three years to support journalism, with an emphasis on promoting hard-hit local news organisations.

The move, on the heels of a similar initiative by Google last year, comes with online platforms dominating the internet advertising ecosystem, making it harder for legacy news organisations to make a transition to digital.

“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 blog post.

“That’s why today, we’re announcing an expanded effort around local news in the years ahead.”In the US, social media has overtaken print newspapers as a news source for Americans, according to a survey released last year by the Pew Research Centre.

The survey report found that 20 per cent of US adults often get news via social media, compared with 16 per cent from newspapers.

The move by Facebook follows the Google News Initiative unveiled last year by the US internet search giant.

Ken Paulson, a former USA Today chief editor who heads the Free Speech Centre at Middle Tennessee State University, said the Facebook initiative was “a great move.”

“Local news media have suffered significant collateral damage from the enmity directed at national news organisations, and yet they’re the most critical to a functioning democracy,” Paulson said. “Every investment helps.”

But 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.”

Usher said the effort may end up aiding large regional newspapers and local TV stations but may not impact the under-75,000 circulation publications which make up a large part of the news ecosystem.

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.

“It’s certainly better than doing nothing, and I hope it will be of some help,” Kennedy said.

“But nothing is going to make that much difference unless Facebook and Google pay for the content they are displaying.”The Facebook initiative includes a $5 million endowment to the Pulitzer Centre to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” which will foster coverage on topics that affect local communities -- funding at least 12 local in-depth, multimedia reporting projects each year.

Facebook also said it was giving $6 million to the British-based Community News Project, which partners with regional news organizations and the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

The huge social network said it was expanding its Accelerator pilot, which launched in the United States in 2018 to help local newsrooms with subscription and membership models.