Facebook investing $300 million to bolster local news

/ AP

Zuckerberg to host public tech talks

Facebook says it's investing $300 million over the next three years in local news programs, partnerships and other initiatives. The money will go toward reporting grants for local newsrooms, expanding Facebook's program to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in nonprofits aimed at supporting local news.

The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and diminishing print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers' share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.

Campbell Brown, Facebook's head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company "can't uninvent the internet," but said it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.

"The industry is going through a massive transition that has been underway for a long time," she said. "None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like, but we want to be part of helping find a solution."

Sheryl Sandberg: "We absolutely did not pay anyone to create fake news"

Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally deemphasizing news stories and videos in people's feeds on the social network in favor of posts from their friends.

At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost the local news stories that users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry. It launched a feature called "Today In" that shows people local news and information, including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements. Facebook expanded the feature to hundreds of cities around the U.S. and a few in Australia.

The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and elections-meddling. The company said users have been asking to see more local content that's relevant to them, including news stories and community information such as road closings during a snowstorm.

"Facebook can't be the only answer"

The $300 million investment includes a $5 million grant to the nonprofit Pulitzer Center to launch "Bringing Stories Home," a fund that will provide local U.S. newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues. There's also a $2 million investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.

The idea behind the investments, Brown said, is to look "holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can't be the only answer, the only solution — we don't want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook."

Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving $1 million together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she's optimistic the investment will help.

Said Wills: "I think they're recognizing that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them."

First published on January 15, 2019

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