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A return to news: Facebook launches Today In, its local news digest, in over 400 cities

Facebook is taking another crack at local news, with its news aggregator ‘Today In’. Available within its flagship app, Today In connects people to local news and information about their community.

It’s interesting that while Facebook began this year by turning away from news in favor of content from friends and family, it’s ending the year on a very different note… by resurfacing local news, and talking of strengthening ties in local communities as part of its new mission statement to “bring the world closer together”.

400 cities and counting…

After limited testing, the aggregator feature is now available to Facebook users in over 400 cities in the US. For international users, Facebook has initiated testing in Australia before rolling it out across more countries.

In addition, Facebook is also testing Today In in communities located in news deserts, places that have low supply of local news and community information, by supplementing with relevant content from surrounding areas.

Over 50% of people told us they wanted to see more local news and community information on Facebook.

Anthea Watson Strong, Product Manager at Facebook

“Earlier this year, we started testing Today In after we did research in which over 50% of people told us they wanted to see more local news and community information on Facebook — more than any other type of content we asked about,” said Anthea Watson Strong, Product Manager for Local News and Community Information.

“The research showed that people wanted both what might be traditionally understood as local news — breaking news or information about past events like city council meetings, crime reports and weather updates — as well as community information that could help them make plans, like bus schedules, road closures and restaurant openings.”

The company says that content for the section is brought in from all over Facebook. The “In the News” section, for example, identifies local publishers using the same back-end technology that helps prioritize local news in News Feed.

Today In

Posted by Facebook on Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Furthermore, all content shown in the “Today In” section gets passed through Facebook’s integrity filters, which helps weed out content that is spammy, contains hate speech, or displays other misleading or inauthentic content.

“We have a number of misinformation filters in place to ensure that fake news and clickbait does not surface on Today In. We also provide people the ability to report suspicious content on Facebook and within Today In specifically,” a Facebook spokesperson informed.

People wanted a place where they could get all the most important information for their community.

Steve Wengrovitz, Head of News Research at Facebook

“A more predictable way to find local content”

“We know from our research that people want a more predictable way to find local content on Facebook. Recent ranking changes were making local news more prominent in News Feed, but people wanted a place where they could get all the most important information for their community — and they didn’t want to rely on the serendipity of News Feed to deliver it to them,” said Steve Wengrovitz, Head of News Research.

“By building both a dedicated space in the app as well as presenting the option to get a collection of local updates in News Feed itself, the team helped solve the twin problems of discoverability and predictability — that is, how to help people find local news, as well as get it on a regular basis.”

Facebook says that in initial testing, they’ve seen that people value Today In for helping them stay informed about what’s happening nearby, finding information that directly impacts their day, and discovering ways to support their local community through events or volunteer opportunities.

According to one user, Tina, from Peoria, Illinois:

“I use [Today in Peoria] every day. That’s the first thing I do in the morning. I work a lot of hours…my phone is always on me, and it’s how I find out about everything going on in town — news, current events, everything. It’s very handy. It’s my go-to for anything and everything.”

Local Alerts from Government and First Responder Pages

In addition to expanding the availability of Today In, Facebook is also running a test with over 100 local government and first responder Pages to help them communicate time-sensitive and need-to-know information to people on Facebook.

During Hurricane Florence, 17 first responder pages posted 73 local alerts, providing critical updates to people living in the path of the storm. The City of Charlotte Government is one of Facebook’s first partners to test local alerts:

During Hurricane Florence, we saw the power of the local alerts functionality seconds after applying the tag. Increased engagement, especially shares, with our critical messages played an invaluable role in helping keep our community safe. Being able to reach all of our followers and residents in the immediate area during a crisis or major event is a game changer.

Facebook says that local government Pages participating in the test can mark their posts as local alerts at their discretion. Pages can post up to 35 local alerts over a rolling 30-day period, and can mark a post as a local alert for up to six hours.

Note: The company cautions that local alerts on Facebook are not meant to replace emergency alert systems. This will also not affect the ranking of posts in News Feed. 

“People tell us it is important to receive timely, local updates in situations that directly affect them or that require them to take action, such as major road closures, blackouts or natural disasters,” says Watson Strong.

“The local alert label appears in News Feed and Today In, and we are also testing notifications, which participating Pages can target to people who live in the affected areas.”

Where is Today In available?

Today In aggregates local news and community information in a separate section within the Facebook app.

The company is expanding this new section for local news and community information more broadly soon. This interactive map can show you where Today In is available now.

People who live in a city where Today In is currently available can visit this section directly, and they can choose to turn on local updates to start seeing a collection of local news more regularly in their News Feed.

To see if the Today In feature is available in your city, head to the Facebook app and tap the menu (☰). If it’s in your city, you’ll see “Today In” listed as an option. From there, you can also opt into receiving regular updates in News Feed.

Download WNIP’s new Media Moments 2018 report, which dives deeper into this year’s developments in publishing, and looks at what opportunities 2019 could usher in. The report is free and can be downloaded here.