Oct 25, 2019 - Technology

Zuckerberg's news pitch

Illustration of folded up newspapers against a Facebook-blue-colored background

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Facebook, which has long resisted both hiring journalists and paying publishers, will do both as part of a new News section being announced today. In an interview with Axios, CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that "the internet has been very disruptive to the news industry."

The big picture: News organizations have long complained that Facebook and Google benefit by appropriating their content. It's unclear, though, whether Facebook's new move will generate significant revenue for any but the largest publishers.

Speaking with Axios' Mike Allen, Zuckerberg outlined a few of the things that distinguish the new tab from past efforts.

  1. Facebook is hiring journalists."We’ve hired a diverse group who have different backgrounds and views and different nationalities. And this isn’t going to be just a set of employees at a tech company who are choosing the news. I mean, this is something that requires real skill, and that’s why we’re investing in people who have deep experience in this space."
  2. News will have a dedicated tab on Facebook. "Even if the majority of people don’t use any given tab, even if only 10 or 20 percent of people use them... that's very meaningful for a lot of people."
  3. Facebook will help direct traffic from the News tab to publishers so "they can build up their own subscription bases.  We’re not taking a cut of the revenue from any of that because we want to make sure that as much as possible goes towards funding journalism."
  4. Last year Facebook dialed back news on users' main feeds. That, Zuckerberg says, is because "Our community consistently tells us that they view Facebook primarily as a social place." Now the company is trying to build news a new home on its platform.
"In terms of giving people a voice, it’s not enough to just let people share their opinions....there needs to be good journalism in order for people having a voice to matter."
— Mark Zuckerberg

Who's in:

  • USA Today will be participating as a launch partner, its publisher said.
  • The Financial Times confirmed last week that Condé Nast, BuzzFeed and Dow Jones are in. It's also been reported that The Washington Post will participate.
  • The New York Times said Friday morning that it is participating as well.
  • Reports suggest that Facebook will launch with up to 200 news partners in total. Not all partners will be paid. 

By the numbers:

  • Larger news organizations like Bloomberg and Dow Jones will be paid seven-figures, per The FT. 
  • Smaller publishers, particularly digital-only publishers, will be paid in the hundreds of thousands, sources tell Axios. 
  • Vox Media reported Thursday that some news partners will be paid as much as $3 million per year. 
  • Sources tell Axios that Facebook plans to spend roughly $90 million in total funding news efforts on Facebook, which includes news shows on its video tab "Watch" as well as the new news tab. 

The big picture: This is a significant reversal from Facebook's policy just last year.

  • In May 2018, Zuckerberg said he wasn't "Wasn't sure if it made sense" to pay publishers for their content.
  • COO Sheryl Sandberg told Axios' Mike Allen in October 2017 that Facebook is a "tech" company because it hires "no journalists."
  • Pressure from regulators, activists and politicians on Facebook to take responsibility for the troves of misinformation on its platform has pushed the company to reconsider its long-standing policy. 

Yes, but: We've seen this before, and there are many skeptics about Facebook's intentions. 

  • Facebook has become notorious among publishers for paying them upfront to get products off the ground and then pulling back, as happened with Facebook projects like Instant Articles, Facebook Live and Facebook Watch.
  • "I'll believe it when I see it," said Bank of America SVP of Media Investment Lou Pascal's in an on-stage interview with Axios Thursday. "We will not be an early adopter of that, even thought I like the spirit of it," he said.

Editor's note: Axios is a News Tab launch partner.

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