UK is the first country outside the US where Facebook rolled out its News feature. From now on, users can browse the top stories and headlines of the day in a new tab added the family-and-kittens content, which remains the main driver of traffic to the platform.
According to Facebook, the stories will be personalised to users’ interests via algorithms that learn from what you read, share and follow, which can help audiences discover new outlets beyond their usual go-to news sources. Users will also be able to pick content from publishers they prefer and hide articles from those they do not like. Finally, a team of human journalists will curate breaking news throughout the day.
The feature comes amid growing pressure on big tech to share revenue from news content, with Australia leading the way with its 'news media bargaining code'. This new set of rules looks to offset the loss of advertising revenue to the big platforms and it would force tech companies to negotiate payments for news content or face third party arbitration if they cannot reach a deal.
"The aim for Facebook News is to help grow [publishers'] audiences," says Sarah Brown, head of news partnerships, Northern Europe, at Facebook.
"The launch builds on the great success of Facebook News in the US, where we've found over 95 per cent of the traffic Facebook News delivers to publishers is new audiences that have not interacted with the news outlet in the past. Coupled with the success of the $9m Community News Project, which is now funding 80 journalists in newsrooms across the country, we hope Facebook News will offer publishers a source of traffic and audience they can build on for the future."
According to Brown, Facebook is paying some local publishers for content that is not on the platform to make sure there is enough content to serve their users. Monetisation for the majority of publishers appearing in Facebook News will be similar to monetisation via other Facebook tabs, from referral traffic to your sites or ads in Instant Articles to pushing people to hit a paywall.
"It's important to note publishers do not need to have a deal with Facebook for their content to appear in Facebook News. As long as they are on our News Page index and adhere to our publisher guidelines and integrity guidelines their content is potentially eligible to appear," she adds.
The platform has already announced partnerships with some big names, including Channel 4 News, Daily Mail Group, DC Thomson, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Sky News and Telegraph Media. These are in addition to hundreds of local news sites from Archant, Iliffe, JPI Media, Midlands News Association, and Reach.
However, it is not yet clear what Facebook News will mean for smaller public interest news publishers as we do not know all the financial terms, said Jonathan Heawood, executive director of Public Interest News Foundation.
"If payment for publishers is on a pay-per-click model, it may incentivise attention-grabbing content above slow-burn stories and local material that's only important to a small number of people. The devil will be in the detail.
"By giving professional journalism its own feed, Facebook might be able to help audiences see the difference between investigative reporting and conspiracy theories. But they’re going to need to make Facebook News a ‘must-visit’ part of the platform, or this will end up like a reference library – full of worthwhile content that no one ever sees," he said.
In an age where most people are happy to just skim the day's headlines and take them at face value, Facebook News does not incentivise users to read the story. What it does though is display reactions and the number of shares, which can influence how the story is perceived by the users and favour the big brands over local content.
Another risk is that audiences might decide they can get what they want just by browsing Facebook News without paying individual publishers, which will make publishers even more dependent on the platform, added Heawood, so this is a big gamble for the industry.
The main problem is that high-quality, in-depth pieces and churnalism appear equal in a feed. But, according to Brown, Facebook News will help promote journalism from quality sources.
"The team worked with news publishers to develop a set of principles, which we've made public, as well as more detailed operating guidelines that help govern their choices for stories.
"Among their top considerations will be whether stories demonstrate the signs of quality reporting, such as on-the-record sourcing and having reporters who are on the ground covering events firsthand, as well as whether they provide context about events."
By giving publishers their own space, Facebook is creating new ways to reach audiences and tell stories we would have previously missed out on. But these opportunities will not solve all industry's problems, especially declining advertising revenue.
The search for a sustainable and diverse media economy for the twenty-first century continues, concludes Heawood.
Note: This article was updated on 29 January 2020 to make clear that Facebook News is a new tab separate from the main feed.
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