Facebook Pledges to Invest $300 Million in Local News in Latest PR Move

Facebook, awash in scandals over user privacy and questionable business tactics, wants to spread some good news.

The company announced that it has earmarked $300 million over the next three years to support local news programs, content and partnerships. It’s partly a response to critics who have accused Facebook of making money from news content without paying for it.

The social giant’s journalism initiative is led by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, the former CNN host and NBC News reporter who joined the company in January 2017. She spearheaded Facebook’s funding of video programming from partners including CNN, ABC News and Fox News Channel, distributed exclusively on Facebook Watch, last year.

According to Brown, Facebook’s local-news funding efforts are aimed at two main areas: supporting local journalists and newsrooms with newsgathering tools and helping local news organizations “build sustainable business models.”

“News is a key part of Facebook’s mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” Brown wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “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.”

Last year, Google also announced that it planned to spend $300 million over three years to support multiple journalism initiatives. That includes YouTube’s $25 million pledge to support verified news content on YouTube as well as educate users about spotting fake news.

The journalism-funding moves from the internet giants come as local newspapers continue to struggle amid advertising and readership declines. This week, hedge-fund-backed Digital First Media — which owns about 200 publications — made a $1.36 billion hostile bid for Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and a network of local newspapers.

Facebook didn’t fully detail where the full $300 million will go, but it outlined a few initiatives. Those include:

  • In 2019 Facebook said it will commit more than $20 million to expand the Accelerator program worldwide, including in Europe. The Accelerator pilot launched in the U.S. last year with the aim of helping local newsrooms with subscription and membership models.
  • A $5 million endowment to the Pulitzer Center to launch “Bringing Stories Home,” which will provide local newsrooms in the U.S. with reporting grants to foster coverage on topics affecting local communities.
  • A $2 million investment in Report for America, an initiative to hire 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across America over the next five years.
  • A $1 million investment in the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, which is dedicated to building a news innovation and technology hub to help evaluate and improve how technology is used in U.S. newsrooms for newsgathering, product development and new business models. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation last September announced an initial $20 million, five-year commitment to the fund.
  • A $1 million investment in the Local Media Association (LMA) and Local Media Consortium (LMC), organizations that help more than 2,000 local member newsrooms generate revenue through branded content on Facebook and other platforms.
  • The Community News Project, a $6 million project in the U.K., first announced at the end of 2018 with publishers inlcuding Reach, Newsquest, JPI, Archant, Midland News Association and the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) to recruit trainee ‘community journalists’ and place them in local newsrooms over two years.

There’s a broader question of whether it’s desirable for Facebook or Google to be patrons of journalism. For one thing, there’s the risk that their funding could blunt aggressive reporting of their businesses. But industry observers and news execs have welcomed the Silicon Valley money, seeing it as a kind of redistribution of the digital-ad dollars Facebook and Google generate off third-party news content.

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