Facebook says it is investing 300 million US dollars over the next three years in American local news programmes, partnerships and other initiatives.
The money will go towards reporting grants for local newsrooms in the US, expanding Facebook’s programme to help local newsrooms with subscription business models and investing in non-profits aimed at supporting local news.
The move comes at a difficult time for the news industry, which is facing falling profits and print readership. Facebook, like Google, has also been partly blamed for the ongoing decline in newspapers’ share of advertising dollars as people and advertisers have moved online.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, acknowledges the company “can’t uninvent the internet” but says it wants to work with publishers to help them succeed on and off the social network.
“The industry is going through a massive transition that has been under way for a long time,” she said. “None of us have quite figured out ultimately what the future of journalism is going to look like but we want to be part of helping find a solution.”
Facebook has increased its focus on local news in the past year after starting off 2018 with the announcement that it was generally de-emphasising news stories and videos in people’s feeds on the social network in favour of posts from their friends.
At the same time, though, the company has been cautiously testing out ways to boost local news stories users are interested in and initiatives to support the broader industry.
It launched a feature called Today In that shows people local news and information, including missing-person alerts, road closures, crime reports and school announcements, expanding it to hundreds of cities around the US and a few in Australia.
The push to support local news comes as Facebook, which is based in Menlo Park, California, tries to shake off its reputation as a hotbed for misinformation and election-meddling. The company says users have been asking to see more local content that is relevant to them, including news stories as well as community information such as road closures during storms.
The investment includes a 5 million dollar grant to the non-profit Pulitzer Centre to launch “Bringing Stories Home”, a fund that will provide local US newsrooms with reporting grants to support coverage of local issues.
There is also a 2 million dollar investment in Report for America as part of a partnership aiming to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across the country over the next five years.
The idea behind the investments, Ms Brown said, is to look “holistically at how a given publisher can define a business model. Facebook can’t be the only answer, the only solution — we don’t want the publisher to be dependent on Facebook”.
Fran Wills, CEO of the Local Media Consortium, which is receiving 1 million dollars together with the Local Media Association to help their member newsrooms develop new revenue streams, said she is optimistic the investment will help.
“I think they are recognising that trusted, credible content is of benefit not only to local publishers but to them,” she said.