How Facebook is wooing local news publishers with the Journalism Project

Google and Facebook’s ad ‘duoply’ is said to be sucking up 98% of every new ad dollar spent online, leaving small local news publishers to grapple for a slither of the remaining pie. To make matters worse, Amazon is getting hungrier for a portion too, leaving publishers extremely worried about the viability of their ad businesses moving forward.

According to industry estimates, Google and Facebook are on track to account for 64.6% of digital ad dollars spent in the US this year. Some efforts have been made by the local press to fight back against this duoply: for example in July, David Chavern, head of the News Media Alliance (known until recently as the Newspaper Association of America) published a proposal in the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘How antitrust undermines press freedom’, requesting legal protection from Congress so that independent newspapers could collectively negotiate as a unit with Google and Facebook. TV networks, advertisers and the ad agencies are also feeling the pressure and recently caused a firestorm over brand safety when ads their products and services were placed alongside videos promoting hate, racism, and violence across the Facebook and Google networks, but this eventually died down and had no real lasting impact.

Yet despite all of this, it appears Facebook is successfully beginning to woo local news publishers around the world with its Journalism Project.  In the first six months of the operation, the global sessions have brought together 2,600 publishers and Facebook experts, offering best practice guidance on how the social platform’s array of products can help news publishers, covering every phase of digital. It has also hosted 15 News Days for journalists in Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Seattle, San Diego, Delhi, Hyderabad, Manchester, Milan, Edinburgh, Manila, Jakarta, Mexico City and Buenos Aires, offering all-day product training, feedback sessions, partners showcases and 1:1 help desks for local journalists and audience, business, and newsroom leads.

In particular, Facebook is making efforts to explain how its products, News Feed and Instant Articles, work so that publishers understand how to get more value from them. According to Facebook, “Instant Articles now pays out more than $1 million per day to publishers via Facebook Audience Network, and in the last six months, RPMs from Facebook Audience Network in Instant Articles have increased by over 50%. We’re excited by this momentum and will continue to invest in Instant Articles: over 10,000 publishers around the world use Instant Articles, growing over 25% in the last six months alone. More than a third of all clicks to articles on Facebook are now to Instant Articles.”

David Beard, a seasoned journalist who is a consultant to the Journalism Project through his involvement with the Knight Foundation (a US organisation supporting journalism), explains in an interview with Street Fight Magazine that “publishers have various needs, and we’ve been trying to find the best place where those needs can be helped with Facebook tools or deeper understanding”. He goes on to say that critically, local publishers are having issues with “conversion – moving a reader to an action such as signing up for a newsletter, becoming a member, donating or subscribing.” He claims projects are being designed to help with each of these needs.

As part of Facebook’s mission to help rebuild local journalism, the Journalism Project aims to forge deeper collaborations with local publishers. To achieve this it’s organising regular opportunities to engage, via…

  • Executive Roundtables: regularly convening a group of leaders from a diverse set of news organisations in both North America and Europe to provide guidance and share feedback.
  • New Product Development:  bringing Facebook and publisher engineers together in two ways: working groups and 1:1 meetings.
  • Product Iteration: organising publisher workshops to identify and act on opportunities to improve current products, like Instant Articles.
  • Hackathons: In the first half of 2017 the social network hosted four Facebook Journalism Project Hackathons in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany where hundreds of people from news organisations gathered with Facebook engineers to prototype and create solutions important to the news industry.

There’s no question, local journalism and publishing has needed to evolve for quite some time, and the situation relating to ad revenues has now become critical. Whether this project will help the press to reclaim a bigger stake in ad growth is yet to be seen. According to Facebook “it’s going to take a concerted effort on all of our parts to help build a future where quality journalism can thrive”.

To keep abreast of opportunities to get involved in the Facebook Journalism Project, there’s a Facebook page to follow

 

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