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Why Facebook is giving $300 million for local journalism

Facebook’s financial commitment comes a year after Google pledged the same dollar amount, over the same timeline, to combat misinformation and support journalism. (Thibault Camus/AP)

Facebook announced on Tuesday it will commit $300 million to journalism projects to help local outlets strengthen their newsgathering operations and build their readership and subscription models.

“We’re going to continue fighting fake news, misinformation, and low quality news on Facebook,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, in a company blog post. “But we also have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to help local news organizations grow and thrive.”

Among the funded initiatives are a $20 million investment in a program to help local outlets design and execute subscription and membership models; a $5 million endowment to create a grant program with the Pulitzer Center for local multimedia reporting projects; and a $2 million investment in Report for America, an initiative to recruit and fund journalists to cover under-covered topics in local newsrooms across the country.

Facebook’s financial commitment comes a year after Google pledged the same dollar amount, over the same timeline, to combat misinformation and support journalism, with a focus on boosting subscriptions to local news outlets. The pair’s investments are significant because of the tech giants' dominance in the market for online advertising, which has exacerbated the decline of American newsrooms. Together, the two companies command about 58 percent of the digital ad market, steering massive amounts of ad dollars to their platforms.

The two companies have also come under intense scrutiny over the role their platforms played in the spread of a Russian disinformation campaign during the 2016 presidential election and after. Critics have said Facebook and Google were too slow to understand the foreign interference. But the companies have since cracked down on such threats.

Meanwhile, with restricted advertising revenue and an abundance of competing free news content and entertainment on the Web, employment in newspaper newsrooms has declined by nearly half since 2008. And local news has been especially hit by the collapsing news media ecosystem, with fewer customers willing to spend subscription dollars.

As The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan recently wrote, the decline of local reporting has profound consequences for communities and for self-governance. “One problem with losing local coverage is that we never know what we don’t know. Corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses,” she said. Local reporting can also help establish a foundation of common information, easing polarization and misinformation, owing to high levels of trust that local outlets have with their audiences, she said.

Facebook said it decided to commit to the journalism initiatives based on feedback from users on what they wanted to see on the platform and from news outlets who told the company how to better boost their audience impact. “We heard one consistent answer: people want more local news, and local newsrooms are looking for more support,” Brown said. Facebook added that, over time, these initiatives can elevate civic engagement, which in turn can boost interest in local news.