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“Much-needed cash infusion at a critical time for the local news industry”: Facebook commits $100M to support publishers

Facebook has announced a $100M investment to support the news industry which has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Its VP of Global News Partnerships, Campbell Brown, writes, “At a time when journalism is needed more than ever, ad revenues are declining due to the economic impact of the virus. Local journalists are being hit especially hard, even as people turn to them for critical information to keep their friends, families and communities safe.”

Publishers are expected to be hit hard by the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The advertising revenue that many publishers rely on is being squeezed, as companies slash marketing budgets amidst financial uncertainty.

Jon Porter, International News Writer at The Verge

The announcement came on a day when the Gannett newspaper chain told employees at more than 100 newspapers that they would have to take unpaid leave. BuzzFeed announced last week that staff would be taking pay reductions on a sliding scale company wide.

“Fuel opportunities for local media”

Brown elaborated that Facebook would distribute $25M in emergency grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project. The remaining $75M would be used for additional marketing spend to move money over to news organizations around the world. 

The company plans to focus on the publishers that need them the most in the hardest hit countries in the world.

This money will not only help keep journalists reporting right now amidst the crisis, the funding will also fuel opportunities for local media to accelerate business transformation toward a more sustainable digital footing. 

Nancy Lane, CEO of Local Media Association

Brown shares that the first recipients of the grants include The Post and Courier, South Carolina, the Southeast Missourian, and El Paso Matters in Texas.

The Post and Courier, South Carolina, took down its paywall for coronavirus stories. It will use the grant to cover travel costs and remote work capabilities to extend coverage to rural, news desert portions of the state.

The Southeast Missourian, has been publishing email newsletters highlighting coronavirus coverage. The grant will help it strengthen remote work technology. Additionally, it will be used for reaching elderly readers should print distribution be disrupted.

El Paso Matters, a local online news organization launched earlier this year will be hiring freelance reporters and translators to expand coverage of coronavirus in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

“Unprecedented increase in the consumption of news articles”

The current grant follows Facebook’s recent $2M investment to support newsrooms and fact-checkers. And adds to the series of efforts Facebook has made in recent times to help the publishing industry, including the $300M it committed to support local news last year.

“It’s in Facebook’s best interest to invest in news, particularly at the local level,” writes Fischer. 

“Facebook’s business model is contingent on people sharing news and updates about their communities,” she adds. “But the tech giant said last year that there isn’t enough digital local news across the US for its users to share.”

The company is now observing an “unprecedented increase in the consumption of news articles on Facebook” over the past several weeks. This is because people across the world are increasingly staying indoors and consuming information related to the pandemic. 

According to an internal report obtained by The New York Times, more than half of the articles being consumed (till 19th March) on Facebook in the US, were related to coronavirus. And that many people were clicking on links from publishers that the company considers high-quality.

These include The Washington Post which got 119% more clicks on its Facebook links during a two-week period in March, compared to the same period in February. The Atlantic saw quadrupling of traffic over the same period. The Times’ Facebook traffic jumped by 180%, while traffic to NBC News increased by 160%.

“The report shows that Facebook is closely monitoring people’s news habits during a critical period and actively trying to steer them toward authoritative sources in what amounts to a global, real-time experiment in news distribution,” comment The Times’ Kevin Roose and Gabriel J.X. Dance. Other Facebook features like messaging and video calls have also seen “record levels” increase in usage.

Facebook’s revival as a dominant news hub is a striking shift. Sharing of news stories on the social network had declined for years, partly because the company tried to emphasize feel-good personal posts over polarizing national news.

Kevin Roose and Gabriel J.X. Dance, The New York Times

“Step in the right direction”

Fischer emphasizes though, “Whatever Facebook’s motivation, this is a much-needed cash infusion at a critical time for the local news industry.”

“Whether you love Facebook or hate it, this is a generous donation to an industry that was already struggling to stay afloat,” writes Dana Neuts, Senior Staff Writer at Subscription Insider. 

The emergency grants, offered by Facebook and its journalism and media partners, will help smaller news organizations with immediate needs while the marketing spend will help news organizations fill financial gaps with advertising dollars. 

Dana Neuts, Senior Staff Writer at Subscription Insider

Facebook is not alone in this, other tech companies have also announced grants that will help publishers. Google CEO, Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post last week that the company was donating $800M in cash and ads to fight coronavirus. 

Of this, the company has allocated $340M in Google ad credits for small to medium-sized businesses whose accounts have been active over the past year. That would include publishers.

Pichai also said that the company will be creating a $200M investment fund that will support NGOs and financial institutions around the world to help provide small businesses with access to capital.

Amazon has created a $5M Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund to offer cash grants to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7M in annual revenue in the Seattle area, reported WWD.

And Twitter announced that it would be donating $1M equally between two organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women’s Media Foundation, to support those reporting on COVID-19.

Referring to Facebook’s grant, Neuts comments, “This is a much-needed hand up to the industry. It won’t be enough to save all news outlets or fix all of their struggles, but it is a step in the right direction.”

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