Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared plans to inject millions of dollars into the news business Friday, winning applause and laughs from a crowd of media industry executives and reporters, a sharp contrast to lawmakers who grilled him on the Hill earlier in the week.
The project, “Facebook News,” marks a definitive change in the company’s relationship with an industry that has been buffeted and bruised by the unpredictability of the Facebook algorithm and the social giant’s popularity with advertisers.
“It’s the first time we’re forming long-term stable relationships, partnerships, with a lot of publishers,” Zuckerberg said during an event at New York’s Paley Center alongside News Corp CEO Robert Thomson, whose Rupert Murdoch-backed company has pushed for licensing payments from the tech platforms.
Facebook will pay partners from a variety of mainstream outlets from Buzzfeed to Business Insider to publish their content. NBC News is among the companies.
Facebook said it will pay millions of dollars over multiple years to select major media partners, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, in addition to large metro area news outlets. Both Google and Apple currently operate news distribution partnerships that generate little to no revenue for the news business.
A relaxed and upbeat Zuckerberg explained that the new initiative will display select headlines from outlets with paywalls along with free news. Facebook News, he said, had a long gestation period and was developed over several years. “It’s an incredible thing that you’ve pushed me on for a while,” he told frequent critic Thomson.
Facebook has been criticized for zig-zagging on its approach to news, which some have said helped lead to the demise of some digital outlets.
Former local newspaper editor Rich Zahradnik, now president of New York’s Pelham Examiner, an online student-run news outlet, lamented local journalism’s struggles because of a lack of ad revenue and subscriptions.
"The great loss as newspapers close or cutback will be in local news coverage. Bloggers in basements won’t cover your planning board." he said.
Zuckerberg said more global news partnerships and other local links would come later and noted that Facebook is building, "Today In," a destination to gather together local information from community groups to police departments to facilitate information sharing.
Facebook won’t rely solely on an algorithm to serve up personalized news; it also has a panel of curators to decide what’s relevant. In an answer to a question about the inclusion of right wing outlet Breitbart on its list of media partners, Zuckerberg said he wouldn’t discuss specific outlets but that Facebook News needed a diversity of viewpoints.
As for how much money each partner receives Zuckerberg would say only, “The fee is not one metric,” explaining that it values the amount of high quality content people are producing. “It’s not an exact formula.” Facebook and media partners will gain learnings about readers’ interests in addition to the payments.
Jean-Claude Goldenstein, founder and chief executive of news curation service Creopoint, said Facebook News could offer some protection against disinformation. "Hundreds of millions of people will possibly be able to follow topics of interest from relevant publishers as a more trustworthy alternative to the toxic and corrupted content some of their friends create or propagate."