In a recent article, Leadership Connect shared just how drastically local journalism appears to be shrinking and what the harmful effects are on underserved communities. The situation has the attention Facebook, or at least Mark Zuckerberg, who committed $300 million to help publishers – especially publishers of local news – invest in strengthening readership. He also recognizes how social media has played a part in the demise of many smaller media outlets. In a recent New York Times article, Zuckerberg discusses how bringing advertisements to websites instead of print newspapers has dealt a financial blow to many companies. He also says that local newspapers have been most affected by this change and that some of his $300 million pledge would go towards “supporting local reporting through the Pulitzer Center and funding journalists who are covering underreported topics in local newsrooms.”
However, Zuckerberg’s recently-introduced Facebook News, a news aggregation tool that will become part of the social media platform, could take a toll on local journalism. The new feature comes as a response to the growing number of Americans who turn to social media to get their daily news. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 55% of Americans look to social media “often” or “sometimes” for their news. Moreover, 28% of participants reported they “often” find their news on social media. Although news stories appear regularly in our feeds, “Facebook News” will be a dedicated, separate tab – similar to the ‘Marketplace’ tab on the app.
Zuckerberg sees Facebook News as a phenomenon that will help journalism. In addition to paying publishers millions of dollars for access to their stories, he says “we’ve also built tools to help publishers increase their subscribers by driving people from Facebook links to publisher websites.” However, it is also argued that Facebook News will further marginalize local newspapers by lifting up only major publishers. In a story published on CNN Business, Heidi Legg writes that “there will likely be some major collateral damage as a result of this deal: The likely obliteration of local news.”
Legg argues that Facebook and other purveyors of aggregated news will have little incentive to promote local news stories on their sites, as major publications will offer an abundance of alluring content that will keep users engaged for longer periods of time. News aggregation sites are becoming more popular – Apple News, News Corp. and (soon) CNN provide the service. However, if all of these sites end up focusing only on major publishers, it will spell danger for the already at-risk local news industry.
Legg suggests a solution: Facebook could subsidize “trained journalists at a local newspaper or local NPR station based on the size of that area’s population.” This way, the platform could both ensure that some local news outlets stay open and promote their content. Only time will tell if Zuckerberg sticks to his commitment to bolster local news for the sake of America’s smaller communities.