Facebook’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has hinted the social network is exploring ways to better fund journalism after Silicon Valley counterpart Apple launched a divisive news product of its own.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, along with Google, is repeatedly criticised for its effect on the paid-news ecosystem, despite several attempts to mend the dynamic. That's among other scandals.
Speaking with Mathias Döpfner, chief executive of Europe’s largest publisher Axel Springer, Zuckerberg admitted that he is looking at ways to “surface high-quality and trustworthy information” and is considering a business model to support this, although he admitted the company would not charge for content.
This followed in the tracks of the Apple News launch, a magazine subscription service that threatens to undercut established individual subscription models by offering 300 publications for $9.99 a month. Zuckerberg said: "We’re coming to this from a very different perspective than I think some of the other players in the space who view news as a way that they want to maximize their revenue. That’s not necessarily the way that we’re thinking about this.”
Suggested was a “news tab to surface more high-quality news” – which may be a separate node similar to its Watch category. Zuckerberg said the company could “potentially have a direct relationship with publishers to make sure that their content is available if it’s really high-quality content.”
Hinted was Facebook paying publishers a licensing fee to surface top content.
Zuckerberg concluded: “That’s definitely something that I think we should be thinking about here because the relationship between us and publishers is different in a surface where we’re showing the content on the basis of us believing that it’s high-quality, trustworthy content.”
Dominic Young, the former News International executive turned founder of publisher wallet firm Agate, said it’s "great" that Facebook is showing an "ability and willingness to adapt".
Young said: "It creates the opportunity for publishers to think about what kind of relationship they want." But he warned: "Looking at the language Zuckerberg used, I’m not sure he’s proposing something that will appeal to publishers quite yet.
"Zuckerberg talks repeatedly about paying publishers for content, and then “surfacing” it in the “correct ecosystem” – presumably somewhere within Facebook.
Young said it reminds him of the relationship that publishers have with news agencies. "That’s a perfectly valid business model, and if the fee is right it might also be a profitable one."
The head of the payment service added: "If Facebook’s vision of the future insists that publishers must 'surface' their 'content' within a Facebook controlled 'ecosystem' and without users paying, publishers should avoid it, regardless of what fees are on offer. It might delay their demise but it won’t reverse it."
Catherine Kelly, senior paid social specialist at media buying agency the7stars, noted that "Facebook and publishers haven’t always had the most mutually beneficial relationship – so it’s great to see that this is something that Facebook are considering and actively including publishers in the conversation".
Kelly said Facebook is keen to "address the recent controversies, and recognise the key way to do this is to build relationships with trusted sources to ensure quality".
She noted that "many news outlets have deemed Apple’s new Subscription News offering unviable".
The social network has to do something about filter bubbles, Kelly said. "Facebook has a social responsibility to ensure [readers get] top news stories mixed with local, national publishers and independent journalists should keep things neutral.
"Will publishers actually want to get on board? Considering that just a few months ago, Facebook's head of global news partnerships Campbell Brown told a room full of magazine executives that "Facebook cannot be the entire solution to your problems…By its very nature, Facebook is constantly changing and not dependable."
She concluded: "I see a really nice opportunity for local journalism to be the mid-way between curating content and users ending up in a filter bubble. People care about the area they live in and will naturally engage in content that is relevant to them."
Terry McGrath, senior brand and product marketing director, JPIMedia, agreed with Zuckerberg's emphasis on premium content.
She said: "Trust in the UK media is at an all-time low as a result of global trust in social platforms falling, while trust in properly sourced journalism is rising, according to the Edelman Trust barometer.
"To engage audiences and generate loyalty, quality newsbrands need to capitalise on the trust in their brands as they build scale and loyalty."
Watch the Zuckerberg’s full discussion below.