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Social media giant Facebook announced on Tuesday, Jan. 15, that they will be investing $300 million over the next three years into new enterprises, with particular focus on local news.
The announcement comes at a difficult time for Facebook, which has come under much scrutiny and criticism as being a platform for misinformation and hate speech. On April 10, 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before a Senate committee hearing over breaches of user data privacy and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The money will be spent on reporting grants for local news, news literacy programs and third-party fact checking. $5 million of the investment will be given as a grant to the Pulitzer Center to launch “Brining Stories Home”, a fund aimed to give U.S. newsrooms reporting grants to support local news coverage.
Another investment of $2 million to Report for America, a nonprofit organization focused on cultivating local journalism, is in conjunction with a partnership looking to place 1,000 journalists into the newsroom of local communities. The plan is expected to roll out over the next five years.
Campbell Brown, head of global news partnership for Facebook, said in searching for what kind of news people want they heard “one consistent answer: people want more local news,” she wrote in a blog post. “News is a key part of Facebook’s mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world together,” wrote Campbell, “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. We know we can’t do it alone, but there is more we can and will do to help.”
Given Facebook’s current less-than-stellar reputation questions and concerns naturally arise as to what this move will mean for the future of the news industry.
Dr. David Anderson, professor of Communication and Journalism, believes this will be a step in the right direction taking some of the responsibility off the hands of citizen journalists. “This seems like a legitimate attempt to develop local news as part of Facebook. The general public has done a fairly good job of keeping an eye on Facebook in recent years and we don’t want the new media to just be PR or extreme advocates on one side or the other informing the public.”
There is some apprehension arises over whether this move would be a conflict of interest considering that Facebook will now have a direct hand in the news business. While agreeing that these conflicts exist, Anderson feels that Facebook will now start being a part of the solution of information provision. A major concern was that sites like Facebook and Google weren’t paying for what they were reporting, but instead “borrowing it” from legitimate news sources.
“The news organizations just kept losing money. Now at least Facebook is starting to pay.”
“My main fear is that local news has disappeared,” said Anderson. “There are no longer local papers. If you live in the suburbs you can watch a lot of news about the mayor’s race in Chicago. But you don’t vote in this election. You will find no information on local government and politics.”
In a study, the Center for Innovation and Sustainability found that Illinois has lost 157 papers weekly papers, many of which were in the suburban Chicago area.
Anderson sees Facebook as a start to the future of local news. He believes that communities need to have an online presence that will provide citizens with local, reliable and valid information that is both objective and unbiased.
“I see a much more expansive online initiative [needed] to make this happen. But I am glad this many groups have seen the problem and are getting involved.”