Facebook announced Wednesday that it is launching its own journalism project, continuing its efforts to change the way media organizations work with the social network. The move could be seen as an extension of its vow earlier this year to crack down on fake news.
Facebook said in a company blog post that it will work with news organizations including The Washington Post, Fox News, Germany's Bild and Spain's El País to create products that could present stories in new ways. The Facebook Journalism Project will also try to improve the media literacy of its users, the company said — a key suggestion that media scholars offered the site as it continues to grapple with the spread of misinformation.
Facebook outlined 10 key points that it hopes to address with the project. These include working with news organizations on new storytelling formats and ways to present stories — which, in turn, will show up in users' news feeds. The company will host hackathons, collaborative computer-programming gatherings, dedicated to news problems. It will work with journalists to teach them how to use Facebook for reporting, including how to verify witness accounts of breaking news. Facebook is also putting out a call for local news outlets to be more involved on the social network, to give its users more information about the world immediately around them.
Facebook's struggle with defining its place in the media world has played out publicly over the past several months, coming to a head just after the November election. Some questioned whether fake news articles passed around on the site could have influenced the outcome. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the possibility as “extremely unlikely”. But continued questions about Facebook and other tech firms' responsibility to vet news or curtail misinformation led to Facebook announcing that it would begin submitting stories reported as false to third-party fact-checking sites and then labeling stories that were found to be “disputed.”
The new project has the same philosophy as Facebook's announcement late last year that it had a responsibility to reduce fake news on its site, said Justin Osofsky, Facebook's vice president of global operations and media partnerships. “This is, in some ways, a continuation of those efforts,” he said.
What, exactly, any of this will look like is yet to be determined. Wednesday's announcement is meant to spark discussions, Osofsky said, and lead to new partnerships
. “This is us announcing a road map,” he said. “We can't have all the answers.”
But there are ideas. Shailesh Prakash, the chief information officer for The Post, said that at a high level, he's looking to develop products that go beyond the traditional Facebook feed and explore the company's other businesses such as virtual reality and messaging.
"There hasn’t been real content in either of those platforms that I look to and say, 'Wow, that’s how stories should be done,'" Prakash said. Coupling newsroom expertise with Facebook's technology, he said, gives both sides an opportunity to try new things.
He would also like Facebook users to experience stories with deep audio, video and graphic content, similar to the treatment given to in-depth stories at The Post, on the social network. More integration, he said, can also help chip away at the question of how newspapers can make money in a social media age, by letting news businesses offer users easy ways to sign up for subscriptions or newsletters that can help pay the bills. At the very least, he said, having Facebook give news organizations more information about how people read articles on Facebook — not necessarily about who they are, but how they scroll through articles or what makes them leave stories — can help news organizations better adapt to the new media landscape.
Nancy Lane, president of the Local Media Association, said that getting users to interact with content and find ways to make money off those interactions is key. Her group is composed of 2,800 print, television and radio media companies, many of which have been buried by Facebook's algorithms.
But, for her, what really matters is that Facebook is looking for ways to better serve readers and users through these partnerships. Even six months ago, she said, she would have been skeptical about the possibility that Facebook would want to help media companies like the ones she represents find new business models.
"We've been frustrated with the partnership until now,” she said. “Now Facebook wants to finally work with us, and we’re encouraged by the progress that’s being made.”