Facebook says it is investing $300m to nurture local news

15 Jan 2019

Facebook logo. Image: pshab/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In an age of increasing online misinformation, Facebook has announced a major investment in local news initiatives.

The last few years have been tumultuous for many social networks and the media industry, as struggles to flag ‘fake news’ and planted stories shook the faith of many people when it came to the legitimacy of what they consumed online.

Central to this shift has been Facebook, which has been heavily reprimanded by governments and media organisations alike for its role in altering perceptions and affecting newsrooms worldwide.

Facebook trying to bolster local news

Since the election of US president Donald Trump in 2016 and the subsequent revelations about international interference via social media, the company has been rolling out a series of initiatives to counteract the damage that has been inflicted on media organisations. Today (15 January), Facebook announced a $300m three-year investment plan geared specifically towards local news organisations.

Vice-president of global news partnerships at Facebook, Campbell Brown, said that following analysis of users, researchers found that people wanted to see more local news, and that newsrooms were in urgent need of support.

Two areas of investment

According to Brown, the investment will fall into two key categories: supporting the creation of sustainable business models, and supporting newsrooms and journalists in the news-gathering process.

Unlike earlier investments by the company in journalism, this project is not linked to Facebook-related products. Brown added: “We’re going to continue fighting fake news, misinformation and low-quality news on Facebook. But we also have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to help local news organisations grow and thrive.”

The first roll-out of investments in the US will help protect local reporting resources, explore the use of technology to improve news-gathering and recruit trainee ‘community journalists’.

Organisations that will receive funding include the Pulitzer Center ($5m), Report for America ($2m) and the Community News Project ($6m), which is partnering with UK publishers on the community journalism traineeship undertaking.

Facebook also announced an investment of more than $20m to expand the Facebook Accelerator programme, which helps small publishers optimise their membership and subscription models.

Pulitzer Center founder and executive director, Jon Sawyer, said: “We are grateful for Facebook’s commitment to helping us meet the challenges of today’s journalism, especially in smaller cities where the survival of news outlets depends on new models of reporting and community engagement.

“We also applaud Facebook’s commitment to the editorial independence that is absolutely essential to our success.”

Last year, Google launched the Google News Initiative as an expansion of its existing media industry supports. Similar to Facebook’s efforts, the plan involves the creation of tools to help smaller publishers attract an audience, including Subscribe with Google as well as a US project to help boost media literacy levels in young people.

In November 2018, Facebook donated $4.5m to fund 80 local news jobs in the UK.

Facebook logo. Image: pshab/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects