Facebook needs news organizations. And news organizations need Facebook.

October 24, 2013

(Facebook)

It didn't take very long for Twitter to become a hub for journalists and breaking news events. For better or for worse, so has Reddit — its crowd-sourced, real-time sleuthing tends to draw massive interest, even if it sometimes leads to tragic conclusions.

Yet the same can't be said about Facebook, which for many is still a place for their personal lives. Even though Facebook has a dedicated page to help journalists source stories and promote their work there, it's hardly clear that readers prefer Facebook as a source of news.

(Pew)
(Pew)

Two-thirds of Americans are on Facebook. But only about half of those users ever get their news from it, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. And what news they do consume gets ingested serendipitously, as they browse the site for other reasons. Just 22 percent of people who get any news from Facebook think the service is a useful way to keep up with current events. And just over a quarter of Facebook news consumers have ever turned to it for coverage of breaking news.

These numbers pose a challenge for Facebook — and a huge opportunity for the news outlet that can figure out how to turn the social network to its advantage. People who do read news there tend to be more active on the service overall, spending more time on Facebook, liking and commenting on things more frequently and coming back for more reasons. And not only is there a big gap between people who get their news from Facebook and those who don't, but there's also a gulf between those who are generally well-informed and those who don't keep up that often. Facebook is an important source of news for nearly half of people who don't really follow the news, compared to just 38 percent of people who follow the news regularly.

Facebook and media companies, it seems, share something of a symbiotic relationship. Driving news consumption higher there isn't just a matter of good civics; it's good business for everybody.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · October 24, 2013