Mar 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Facebook spending $100 million to help news outlets in coronavirus crisis

Photo Illustration by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook says it is spending $100 million to support news outlets around the world that have been impacted by the coronavirus, the company said Monday.

Why it matters: Whatever Facebook's motivation, this is a much-needed cash infusion at a critical time for the local news industry.

Yes, but: While $25 million will be given to local news organizations in the U.S. as grants, the other $75 million is being funneled to news organizations in need globally through Facebook marketing, or ad space Facebook is purchasing to market itself from those outlets.

  • The new grants will be made through Facebook's new COVID-19 Community Network grant program, which Facebook first debuted two weeks ago.
  • The Post and Courier in South Carolina, the Southeast Missourian, and El Paso Matters in Texas will be among some of the first recipients of the grants.

Between the lines: The investment builds on a previously-announced $300 million commitment from Facebook through its Facebook Journalism Project to invest in news efforts, especially local news.

  • It also builds on a recently-announced $2 million investment to support newsrooms and fact-checkers that aim to promote quality information about the coronavirus.

Be smart: It's in Facebook's best interest to invest in news, particularly at the local level.

  • Facebook's business model is contingent on people sharing news and updates about their communities, but the tech giant said last year that there isn't enough digital local news across the U.S. for its users to share.
  • Some policymakers and news trade groups have grown increasingly frustrated with Silicon Valley over the past few years for leveraging its dominance in ways that make it difficult for news publishers to turn a profit.

The big picture: Tech and media companies are throwing millions of dollars at journalism and small businesses initiatives during this time of crisis.

  • Google said Friday it's donating $800 million in cash and ads to fight the coronavirus.
  • Facebook said last week it's giving out $100 million in grants to help small businesses during the coronavirus.
  • Yelp said last week it will give $25 million to help local businesses survive the coronavirus slowdown, primarily via free ad space.
  • Netflix is creating a $100 million relief fund to help members of the creative community struggling from the crisis.
  • WarnerMedia says it's committing more than $100 million to support film and production crews being shut out by the virus.
  • Apple has pledged $15 million to medical and economic relief efforts towards the virus.
  • Twitter said Tuesday that it's donating $1 million to the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women's Media Foundation ($500,000 each) to support newsrooms while covering the novel coronavirus.

Our thought bubble: While tech giants like Google, Facebook and others are expected to lose billions of advertising dollars this year thanks to economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the losses aren't expected to cripple these companies.

  • Meanwhile, the coronavirus and a pending recession has pushed the local news industry into near collapse at a time when people need access to local news and information more than ever before.

The bottom line: "If people needed more proof that local journalism is a vital public service, they're getting it now," says Campbell Brown, Facebook's VP of global news partnerships, in a statement.

Go deeper:

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People entering the Washington Post building in D.C. in 2019. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

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Why it matters: By adding more local news outlets, The Post can start to build a local news ecosystem within its tech stack.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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Why it matters: Facebook staffers have pushed back against controversial management choices in the past, but they've never before made public their dissent en masse. The protest suggests that the company — already battered by privacy scandals and political tensions — could be beginning to lose at least some of its workforce's trust.

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Screenshot of an image some Facebook employees used as part of their virtual walkout on Monday.

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