Jesper Doub, Facebook’s director of partnership, EMEA, speaking at European Community News Summit
Collaboration may not be the silver bullet for all the problems the journalism industry is facing today — but it is a good start.
This, at least, this was the idea behind the European Community News Summit, a gathering of some 100 community news industry leaders in Amsterdam organised by European Journalism Centre, International Journalism Festival, Facebook, and Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) last month.
The organisers added a few workshops on design thinking into the agenda to equip the participants with unorthodox problem-solving skills and help them on the path to journalism soul-searching.
"I hope to see a diverse set of people we haven't met before working on their challenges together," said Jesper Doub, Facebook’s director of partnership, EMEA, whom Journalism.co.uk caught up with just before the summit started.
As far as Facebook is concerned, the focus was on showing the delegates that collaboration can achieve a lot quickly, considering how huge projects can take months to even set up the first meeting.
The idea was that in a protected environment, people can open up about challenges facing them and then start working towards solutions. Delegates would then leave the conference with an action plan to take into their organisations and then assess the progress when they reconvene at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia next year.
Doub agreed that one of the biggest challenges the industry is going through is monetisation.
"We see layoffs, we see closures of newspapers, especially in the local areas, which is the major problem when you look at the tangible indicators."
But behind that, there are bigger challenges. Journalism is at risk because it is increasingly disconnected from society. Audiences mistrust journalists, especially the younger generation, and see the press as part of the establishment rather the fourth estate that holds the powerful to account.
Very few news organisations have solved this reputation problem. The journalism industry has to find a new way to address the audience in a meaningful way.
In the UK, Facebook worked with the RISJ over the past few years and they discovered that some 119 communities were not covered by any local paper or radio station at all, sometimes for decades.
Doub added that the Facebook Community News Project, launched a year ago in collaboration with the National Council for the Training of Journalists, aims to inspire regional newsrooms to do their work differently, re-engage local audiences and help communities to look at journalism in a new way.
"We have a responsibility to try and help, to bring new contacts, ideas, concepts and players [together]," he said.
"I have been working in the industry for 20 years and I've seen that journalists have become very comfortable with the idea that they are the ones who explain the world.”
Many news organisations have, however, moved from reporting the facts to opinions. This led people to feel that the media tries to dictate an opinion rather than reporting the truth, and in the process, losing the audiences' trust.
Another part of the problem is misinformation. When audiences feel misled, they may simply stop trusting anything that is published. This is why Doub said Facebook is keen to fight mis- and disinformation on its platform.
The company has invested heavily in third-party fact-checkers to reduce or remove misleading content that can cause harm. In addition to fighting misinformation, the social network also tries to elevate trustworthy and legitimate content.
A month ago, it started the Facebook News pilot project in the US which is only visible to a couple of hundred thousand people for now.
To assure only legitimate reporting appears in the feed, it put in place a vetting process based on a 'news page index' where publishers register their websites and have to answer a series of questions. These range from 'Do you have correction standards?’ to 'What happens when your publication makes an error?'.
Facebook also asks about newsroom ethics standards and examines whether the publisher is in the business of professional journalism. Only if publishers tick all these boxes will they be allowed to appear in Facebook News.
"What we hope is that this will help reduce misinformation and help audiences regain trust in quality reporting. They may still not like the stories or opinions they see on the news feed, but at least they can be sure these pieces of journalism come from a legitimate newsroom."
Doub added that Facebook also strives to introduce as much diversity as possible and it does not allow any advertorials or commercial content packaged as reporting to appear on the news page.
These efforts, however, may still not be enough to appease Facebook’s harshest critics who call for the platform to accept more responsibility for the content it publishes.
"We are in favour of regulation," confirmed Doub, acknowledging that society and individuals are impacted by the complexity of these problems.
Governments or other professional bodies should come up with regulation and decide how these issues should be dealt with, he suggested, stressing that Facebook is willing to comply.
"We would be much more comfortable with [compliance] because we are aware that we are a private company and we should not be in the position to make major decisions that are so influential for society.
“I'm excited to see people from all around Europe to come together and try to find solutions together. A decade ago, people from competing brands would not sit around a table and talk about common challenges they are facing.
"I'm excited about collaboration because I don't believe a single individual or a company can solve journalism problems on their own."
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