It’s time for Facebook to invest in journalism.
This week’s Congressional hearings about the influence of social media, fake news, and misinformation campaigns has Facebook promising to do better.
But while it searches for a silver bullet algorithm to solve these problems, here’s something Facebook can do to immediately improve its platform and our country.
Facebook should fund local journalism throughout the United States.
Facebook doesn’t need to editorially oversee newspapers —it has enough trouble editing its trending topics.
Facebook should start cutting big checks.
Checks that go to qualified, experienced, smart, talented, digital-savvy journalists who can use them to create and revive local newspapers across this country.
Doing so would have an enormous impact.
Facebook (as well as Google and Twitter who should join it) sits on enough money to not only make local journalism great again, but to build it into the engine a healthy democracy needs.
Here’s why it would be a win-win for the public and platform.
More high quality news sources will help combat fake news.
Funding local journalism will lead to an overall rise in the amount and quality of news created in this country — this is especially needed in underserved areas at the moment.
This news — created by legitimate journalists — will provide a strong counter to the fake news and misinformation that currently fills Facebook’s news feed.
Facebook could also tweak its algorithm to reward these legitimate news sources to further ensure real news is more likely to be consumed than fake news.
The public will benefit from news that’s more representative of its reality.
The impact of the decline of newspapers on the public has been vastly underestimated.
The rise of social media as a news source has happened at a time in which legitimate journalism — particularly in Middle America — has vanished and/or been outsourced to journalists who largely live in a handful of cities on the coasts.
This Politico article offers a fascinating look at what’s happened.
Here’s an excerpt:
Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country.
The collapse of local newspapers — or their increasing dependence on journalism created outside of their locality — created a vacuum which has in part been filled by “fake news” and FOX News.
The public desperately needs more quality local journalism to understand what’s happening in their city— and in cities nothing like theirs.
It will help Facebook deliver on its mission.
This year, Mark Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s mission statement to emphasize his commitment to building community.
He declared the company’s goal is, “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Local journalism has traditionally played a key role in doing just that by providing people with a shared set of facts.
It’s one thing to have different opinions, but our country has become divided because we now have different facts.
In this way, an investment in local journalism is an investment in Facebook’s mission.
It’s a charitable act, but it can be more.
There are certainly charitable (and PR) reasons why Facebook should fund local journalism, but that’s not the only reason to do this.
While a large initiative like this would be unlikely to turn an initial profit, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t down the road.
The economics of a Facebook-backed journalism entity would greatly differ from the economics that doomed traditional print-focused newspapers.
Facebook would be able to monetize local journalism in different ways than newspapers have and I’m sure would do so in more effective and efficient ways.
And, as Amazon’s acquisition of The Washington Post is proving, when a tech company owns a newspaper the entire economic model changes.
And if Facebook doesn’t want to fund journalism….
Then maybe it’s time to make them.
Like it or not, Facebook’s the most powerful media entity in the world and with that power comes responsibility to ensure high quality media exists.
If it doesn’t want to invest in journalism, then maybe we should tax Facebook and use those funds to finance better local journalism across the country.
Quality journalism is a public utility and somebody’s got to pay for it.
Why not the platform that’s making the most money off it?