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“Shift to local”: Facebook commits $300 million to support local news publishers

Facebook announced it will spend $300 million over the next 3 years on news programs, partnerships, and content. The grant will be distributed among several organizations and initiatives focused on local news.

Among others, the company shared details of funding for Pulitzer Center, Report for America, the American Journalism Project, the Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium, as well as a partnership between the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute.

“This is just the beginning,” said Campbell Brown, VP of Facebook’s Global News Partnerships. “We are making what I would characterize as an important shift to focus on local news.”

We are going to continue our work with head publishers. We’re not backing away from that, but it is a shift to local and an emphasis on local that is new for us.

Interestingly, this is the same amount committed last year by the Google News Initiative to help news publishers, earmarked for the same period.

“There are two key areas where we hope to help,” says Campbell Brown, “supporting local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs in the immediate future; and helping local news organizations build sustainable business models.”

Facebook says this initiative is a direct result of their efforts to better understand what kind of news people want to see on the platform. They also collaborated with “partners in the news industry” to figure out how to better work with publishers to make a real impact.

We heard one consistent answer: people want more local news, and local newsrooms are looking for more support. That’s why today we’re announcing an expanded effort around local news in the years ahead.

Facebook’s relationship with publishers has been quite rocky, especially since the beginning of last year when Facebook’s algorithm changes dramatically affected how newsrooms get web traffic.

“Facebook and the local news industry both had tough 2018s — but on wildly different levels,” says Christine Schmidt of NiemanLab. “But despite the bad news on both sides, it’s still quite clear entering 2019 who has the 37 percent profit margin and who doesn’t. So now Facebook says it’s trying to make amends before it’s too late for local.”

The initiative is meant to show Facebook’s’ support for quality journalism, and especially local news, which it says is important to building community on its platform.

“News is a key part of Facebook’s mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” Campbell says. “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 organizations grow and thrive.”

Even before this announcement, Facebook was already increasing its focus on local news over the last couple of years, through efforts including the Facebook Journalism Project, its local news aggregator “Today In,” an initiative to help local news publishers use Facebook tools better, and also a membership and subscription accelerator.

While such efforts will go toward helping ease Facebook’s strained relationship with the news industry, it may still be a while before publishers can trust the platform again.

There are a lot of bad feelings about algorithm changes Facebook made last year. But local media still recognizes the need to work with platforms and be more collaborative.

Nancy Lane, President of the Local Media Association

Some wounds are healing though. Digiday reports Facebook’s accelerator program is getting positive feedback. Participating publishers say it delivers a great deal of specific, actionable information that can be used right away.

The grant announcement builds in particular off successes with the membership accelerator, Brown said.

“We have learned a lot over the last year,” she observed, “and we now want to double down on the areas where we see success.”