The publishing industry and Facebook have been friendly enemies for a long time. Both platforms teamed up on a few occasions, but they competed for most of the time.
Now, both sides have decided to form an uneasy truce. Facebook unveiled Facebook News on Friday, which is the social network’s latest lunch into digital publishing.
The newest product is an added section of the Facebook application that is entirely dedicated to news content, which the social network strongly believes will have users running back to the app to consume news content entertainment, sports, tech, and politics.
Facebook News is set to offer stories from a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, as well as digital-only outlets such as Business Insider and BuzzFeed.
Facebook’s team of professional journalists will choose some of the stories to be featured, and the other news will be specially tailored to readers’ interests with the use of Facebook’s machine-learning technology.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, mentioned during an interview that “We feel acute responsibility because there’s an awareness that the internet has disrupted the news industry, business model. We’ve figured out a different way to do this that we think it is going to be better and more sustainable.”
Facebook also plans to pay for a wide range of content from many different publishers — which includes striking some deals running into millions of dollars — and some local news from known small publishers in the metropolitan markets such as Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Atlanta.
The chief executive of News Corporation, Robert Thomson, mentioned in a statement that “Mark Zuckerberg seems personally and professionally committed to ensuring that high-quality journalism has a viable, valued future. It is appropriate that premium journalism is recognized and rewarded.”
One other partner of Facebook News is the far-right digital publisher Breitbart. Unlike The Washington Post, The Times, and different other paid partners, Breitbart will not get any payment, and only articles posted on Facebook by the site will be eligible for the tab.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of Breitbart, which was once called “a platform for the alt-right, ” by Steve Bannon, has provoked an outrage from some political activists.
Sleeping Giants, which is a digital watchdog that monitors the advertisers on Breitbart, tweeted that “Today, @facebook, who is still ensnared in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, added Breitbart, whose owner and former President were OWNERS of Cambridge Analytica, as a ‘trusted’ news source. This scandal writes itself.”
The relationship between publishers and Facebook has been strained for a long time. Because big platforms like Google and Facebook dominate the online advert market, taking in as much as 80 percent of the total advertising revenue together, publishers have viewed both tech giants as hindering the chances of their digital expansions.
Facebook has courted publishers for different journalism initiatives over the years, such as Instant Articles which is a product in which publishers would provide articles that appeared only within Facebook Live, and Facebook which paid newsrooms good money to hire teams of journalists who were to use and promote Facebook’s live video content.
However, those relationships quickly soured as Facebook frequently shifted its strategy, which left publishers feeling frustrated and abused when the social network platform abandoned its initial plans.
After a series of massive promotions of partnership for video projects, for example, Facebook made up their mind not to renew several video deals with publishers — with harmful effects.
Mic, a digital publisher, focused at targeting the news-hungry millennials and was forced to sell itself at a ridiculously discounted valuation after Facebook did not renew the deal for its video content.
Mark Zuckerberg recognized the tension that had grown between the social network and publishers, and he said the past experiences had informed his present approach.
Mark said of the new partnerships with publishers that “It’s not a one-time thing, that’s why the deals we are structuring are long-term commitments, not two months, not one year, but multiple years.”
Zuckerberg added that “We think we’ve worked out the formula through all these conversations where we now can sustainably pay for content.”
A week ago, Mr. Mark Zuckerberg delivered a talk at Georgetown, which he used as an opportunity to extol the virtues of free speech across his social media platform. He vigorously defended facebook’s decision to not do any fact-checking for political ads from any politician on the platform.
Campbell Brown, who is a veteran television journalist and had covered politics for CNN and NBC before joining Facebook as its head of news partnerships, now leads the new Facebook News effort.
Most of the recent financial struggles of the publishing industry can be tracked to a recent shift toward digital ad revenue, which is yet to compensate for the loss of income from print ads.
Although, indeed, the tech giants are not solely responsible for the publishers’ revenues eroding, even seemingly insignificant tweaks in Facebook’s algorithms have been noticed to have an outsize effect on the web traffic of publishers.
So whenever publishers took a step to design their corporate strategies around Facebook News Feed, they experienced a plummeting in their traffic when Facebook changed plans or tack.
In a recent memo that was sent to the staff of The New York Times, the chief executive of the company, Mark Thompson, and its chief operating officer, Meredith Kopit Levien, explained that Facebook News should be seen as a “step change” in the platform’s financial dealings with digital companies.
They wrote that “We have long argued that the major platforms derive substantial value from the presence of high-quality journalism and should help support the economics that makes that journalism possible. We welcome the fact that Facebook has taken the lead here.”
While the two Times executives did not make any attempt to disclose the specifics of the new deal with Facebook, they, however, said they viewed Facebook News as more of complementary with, instead of competitive to, the focus of growing digital subscriptions to reach 10 million by the year 2025. The Times presently has 4.7 million subscribers.
Facebook does not stand alone in currently choosing to promote original reporting. In September, Google made an announcement that it would be giving priority to articles that features breaking news or that had made an investment of considerable resources into reporting rather than imitative aggregation.
The digital giant also made it clear that the decision was not entirely an altruistic one. Highlighting that original reporting would increase the trust users have for Google and keep them going back to the search giant.
With Facebook News, the platform said that it wanted to avoid some mistakes made by past news products, which heavily focused on algorithmically generated suggestions paying no attention to any selections from professional journalists.
In a recent blog post, Ms. Brown said that “People want and benefit from personalized experiences on Facebook, but we know there is reporting that transcends individual experience. We want to support both.”
Facebook News is sure to grab the attention of more users and will hopefully strengthen the relationship between the social network and publishers. Share with us your thoughts about this new collaboration by leaving a comment below.