Facebook News debuts as publishers call for fairer business model

Facebook News debuts with The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Fox News among list of launch partners

Facebook has introduced Facebook News, a dedicated news section in its app that the company hopes will aid “in our effort to sustain great journalism and strengthen democracy”.

Facebook has been criticized for eating into publishers’ revenues, as news outlets have had to rely on the social giant for reach while succumbing to the digital duopoly of Facebook and Google that takes in roughly 60% of all US digital ad spend, according to eMarketer.

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Fox News, Condé Nast and Gannett are among the publishers involved at launch.

Facebook will reportedly pay its media partners licensing fees of varying amounts.

A company spokesperson said Facebook News will allow publishers to monetize their content in the same way they do elsewhere on Facebook, including referral traffic and Instant Article ads, but there will be no ads from advertisers within the tab.

At a news industry conference held at Twitter’s New York office on Thursday (24 October), the day before Facebook News launched, executives at The New York Times and USA Today, two yet-to-be-announced launch partners, were asked about Facebook’s initiative.

Maribel Perez Wadsworth, publisher of USA Today, said the financial arrangements between publishers and distributors often vary, but it’s important that platforms such as Facebook recognize that not all news is created equally.

“True, quality, trusted journalism is not free and is worth investing in,” said Wadsworth. “It should not be taken for free by platforms. That to me is really important.”

Meredith Kopit Levien, chief operating officer, simply said: “It is a welcome development for any platform to be compensating publishers… for use of the content in any form.”

Facebook News will host content across four categories of publishers: general, topical, diverse and local news.

Publishers that want to join the service need to be in Facebook’s news page registration index, abide by Facebook’s publisher guidelines and serve a “sufficiently large” audience.

“We’ll continually check Pages’ integrity status to ensure eligibility criteria is consistently being met,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.

“Our criteria will evolve over time to make sure people are seeing sources that are valuable to them and that we’re including reporting across these topics.”

Facebook is bringing its news product to select US consumers as it faces pressure from lawmakers over the platform’s handling of free speech and misinformation. Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg recently fielded questions from Congress on the platform’s fact-checking process just days after the company updated its policies around fake news and political advertising.

Amie Lever, head of social at MediaCom, said Facebook News poses more questions for the company that’s already square in the public’s eye.

“How do journalists remain true to their craft and avoid curating stories tailored for Facebook?,” said Lever. “How does Facebook ensure users don’t fall into an echo chamber of news and categories ‘most relevant’ to them but instead gain an understanding of the full spectrum of news reporting? It’s Facebook’s responsibility to provide users with a variety of news from a variety of viewpoints while remaining unbiased.”

In its initial test, Facebook News will emphasize original reporting by surfacing local publications from major metro areas. Facebook News will expand to include more local news in the coming months.

“Facebook News was built to bring people closer to the stories that affect their lives,” the company said. “We’ll continue to learn, listen and improve News as it rolls out more broadly. We hope this work aids in our effort to sustain great journalism and strengthen democracy.”

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