Jan 15, 2019 - Technology

Facebook is committing hundreds of millions to local news

Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook says it's granting a total of $300 million to news programs, partnerships and content over the next three years, a similar amount to a commitment from the Google News Initiative last year.

Why it matters: The relationship between the news industry and Facebook has been rocky since news organizations blame tech firms for taking away ad revenue and Facebook algorithm changes dramatically affect how newsrooms get web traffic.

The efforts are meant to show Facebook's' support for quality journalism, and particularly local news, which it says is important to building community on its platform.

Details: Facebook says the project is meant to support local journalists and newsrooms with their news-gathering needs in the immediate future and help them build sustainable long-term business models, on and off its platform.

  • Roughly one-third of the money from the effort has already been allocated to local news non-profits and programs, as well as Facebook's own local news initiatives.
  • Facebook says it's investing heavily in local news, in particular, because having spent more time with local news publishers via its accelerator programs over the past year, the company believes it will have the biggest impact in those areas.
"I strongly believe that because smaller publishers don't have the same resources as larger ones, this is really where we can have the most impact."
— Facebook head of news partnerships Campbell Brown

The big picture: Google last year announced a similar commitment of $300 million towards news initiatives over three years. Other tech companies and moguls have also been pouring resources into local news efforts for years. While many have made great progress, local news as a whole continues to struggle sans a sustainable business model.

Between the lines: Local news publishers have traditionally had a more welcoming relationship with technology companies than some of their bigger, national counterparts.

  • 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," as well as Facebook.
  • Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, says Facebook has been a "good partner in building new tools and technology that support the creation and distribution of content to reach and engage new audiences."

Yes, but: While the news industry welcomes these contributions, it will be difficult to reverse the tense relationships tech companies, and in particular, Facebook have had with some local and national publishers.

"There's a lot of critics out there in the local media space, and there are a lot of bad feelings about algorithm changes Facebook made made last year. But local media still recognizes the need to work with platforms and be more collaborative."
— Nancy Cawley Lane, President of the Local Media Association

Here's where the money is going:

  • Pulitzer Center: $5 million grant to launch a fund that will support 12 local newsrooms with local in-depth, multimedia reporting projects and an additional $5 million matching gift.
  • Report for America: $2 million to help place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across America over the next five years.
  • Knight-Lenfest Institute Local News Transformation Fund: $1 million towards a news innovation and technology hub that will use digital technology to transform and enable new types of storytelling, newsgathering and news distribution.
  • Local Media Association (LMA) & Local Media Consortium (LMC): $1 million across the two organizations to bolster branded partnerships.
  • American Journalism Project: $1 million to grow and sustain local civic news organizations through venture philanthropy.
  • Community News Project: $6 million (with other news organizations) to recruit "community journalists" and place them in local newsrooms over a two-year period.
  • An expansion of its news Accelerator pilot: $20 million addition to the pilot program to expand it out of the U.S. (where it launched in 2018) into global markets, including Europe.
  • Hosting a two-day “Accelerate: Local News” summit: In partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Online News Association, Facebook will host the summit in early 2019 to address challenges in local news.

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