Facebook is trying to fix its relationship with the news business

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Facebook took a step toward resetting how it works with the news media in the UK at the end of January. The social network launched Facebook News in the UK, the first market to get the dedicated, curated news tab outside of the US.

  • The UK news tab will launch with content from hundreds of local and national media organizations. These include newspaper companies, magazine publishers and broadcasters.
  • Facebook users will see a curated list of top stories of the day; a personalized list based on news sources followed or interests expressed; and dedicated sections for sports, entertainment, health and science and technology.
  • The financial details of the deal struck between publishers and Facebook have not been made clear, but reports say the multi-year deal runs into the tens of millions of pounds, with the biggest publishers making millions a year from the agreements.
The big picture

The news business has suffered deep cuts over the last 20 years, with publishers under pressure as ad revenues have shifted online, primarily to the duopoly of Facebook and Google. The Big Tech companies are trying hard to find new ways of working with media organisations to head off potential government regulation that will curb their dominance.

  • The launch of News in the UK marks a change in the social media giant’s relationship with the media as it finally agrees to pay UK publishers directly for their content.
  • Both these moves are in direct contrast to the confrontation developing in Australia, where both Google and Facebook have threatened to remove services rather than accept  government regulation that enforces mandatory payment for use of content.
The Duopoly’s efforts to support the news media

Increasingly worried about a techlash against their perceived role in syphoning off the ad revenues that support journalism and enabling the rise of misinformation globally, both Google and Facebook have invested heavily in supporting news organisations.

  • Early in the pandemic, Facebook announced $100 million to support local newsrooms in the US trying to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. The money came at a time when many were struggling to cope with the collapse of revenues caused by the Coronavirus.
  • In the UK, Facebook supports local journalism through its Community News project. It recently announced a further £2.5 million to fund the initiative, which is managed independently by the National Council for the Training of Journalists.
  • Since 2018, Google has been funding innovations that help publishers ‘thrive in a digital age’ through the Google News Initiative. It initially committed $300 million to news projects around the world and widely shares the lessons and tools developed.
  • Specifically related to the pandemic, Google launched a fund to support fact checking in relation to COVID-19 misinformation. The money is targeted particularly at audiences “disproportionately affected by misinformation.”
Reality check

Payments from the duopoly will not fix the news industry over the long term. Advertising revenues may have shifted to Facebook and Google, but the explosion of content options available has made narrow ad-funded business models for news unsustainable.

The future success of newspapers online is much more likely to lie with the digital subscription models adopted by publications from the New York Times to The Guardian.

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