Is Facebook quitting the news business?
In March 2019, the company now known as Meta announced the Facebook Journalism Project, a plan to spend $300 million over three years “supporting local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs in the immediate future, and helping local news organizations build sustainable business models.” At an event in Denver that same month, called the Accelerate: Local Media Summit, Facebook’s news-partnerships team insisted their commitment to helping journalism was genuine, and that this commitment was shared at the highest levels of the company. “This is something Mark cares about,” one staffer said of the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
If that was true, it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, as Meta has spent the past year cutting funding for and downsizing most of its journalism efforts. Last month, it laid off a number of staffers from its journalism programs, including several who were in charge of local news partnerships, as well as Meta’s director of international news partnerships, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Campbell Brown, who was previously in charge of news partnerships for Meta, was recently moved into a broader role.
In June, the Wall Street Journal said Meta was “reconsidering” its payments to publishers as part of the Facebook News program, which featured news stories from certain outlets in a special News tab. The company reportedly paid annual fees of more than $15 million to the Washington Post, just over $20 million to the New York Times, and more than $10 million to the Journal. Those payments have since been halted and are not expected to resume.
Sources with knowledge of Meta’s journalism operations note that while funding may have stopped, large media outlets such as Axel Springer or the New York Times still have staff at the social network who will help them. Small publishers, however, who mostly worked with Meta through programs or grants, never had that many people helping to begin with, and the ones they did have are now gone.
Meta still has a director of news partnerships for Asia Pacific, but a strategic manager and another director have both left the company, the Morning Herald reported. According to the Nieman Journalism Lab, other journalism staff at Meta who have lost their jobs recently include a program manager for news, two program managers for news integrity, and multiple staffers in news communications. And while the Meta Journalism Project website is still open, with a number of announcements about partnerships, the training courses it used to offer to journalists appear to have vanished.
In June, Meta decided to retire the term “news feed” for the main stream of content on a user’s page, and Axios reported that one of the reasons given for the change was that Meta was “de-emphasizing its investment in news content.” In July, the Journal quoted from an internal memo sent by Brown, in which she said that the company was “reallocating resources” away from the Facebook News project and Bulletin, the newsletter platform Meta launched just over a year earlier, in an attempt to compete with Substack.
In October, the Times reported that Bulletin is officially dead. That same month, Meta said it would shut down its Instant Articles mobile format next year. Instant Articles was launched in 2015, ostensibly as a way of helping media outlets shift their news distribution to mobile. Many news companies, however, said they saw little benefit from adopting the company’s standard, and it failed to gain much traction.
Asked about the unwinding of Meta’s financial commitments to journalism, a Meta spokesperson said the same thing the company told Axios in October: “Less than 3 percent of what people around the world see in Facebook’s feed are posts with links to news articles. As a business it doesn’t make sense to overinvest in areas that don’t align with user preferences.” The spokesperson didn’t comment on how Meta’s repeated changes to its news feed algorithm—which have de-emphasized news—might have affected the level of news awareness among users, or their preferences.
One factor that may have contributed to Meta’s desire to stop funding journalism through its various programs is that the company has been forced to pay a number of media outlets licensing fees as a result of legislation that was passed in Australia last year and is being contemplated in a number of other countries—including the US, where the proposed law is called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. Meta has threatened to remove news from its platform completely if the bill becomes law.
While larger news outlets may have no problem replacing the funding they used to get from Meta, Nancy Lane, the chief executive of the Local Media Association, told the Nieman Journalism Lab that local media organizations may not have it so easy, now that the more than $16 million in funding Meta used to provide has vanished. “For all those who hated on FB over the yrs, you got what you wished for. News is now being deprioritized on the platform, despite being the #1 source for so many,” Lane wrote on Twitter. “The news partnership team has been dissolved & many industry labs/accelerators are going away. It’s a sad day indeed.”
In 2018, CJR wrote about the “Facebook Armageddon” for news, saying: “There’s another way the Facebook threat could actually get worse: Instead of continuing to be a primary platform for news companies and trying to strike relationships with them, the company could decide to simply wash its hands of news entirely, either because it isn’t generating enough revenue, or because it has become too much of a political headache.”
The company’s revenue and share price have both been falling steadily all year, wiping hundreds of billions of dollars from its stock-market value, and Meta recently announced plans to lay off about eleven thousand people over the next year, in an attempt to cut costs. One source close to the Journalism Project said that when it began, a senior manager said that if it didn’t generate at least $100 million in revenue it likely would not survive, and Meta appears to have lost faith that this will ever happen.
Nonprofit news employees may be eligible for loan forgiveness
Current employees of nonprofit news organizations might qualify to have their federal student loan balance wiped if they apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) by October 31.
Eligible employees must have made at least 120 monthly payments toward their loan balance while working full-time for a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization. Only balances on Direct Loans can be erased, not Perkins loans or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans.
CJR found, using the government’s employer eligibility search, that employees who work for the following news organizations at the time of submitting their PSFL application are potentially eligible for forgiveness:
- The Texas Tribune
- The Marshall Project
- Center for Public Integrity
- Foundation for National Progress (Mother Jones)
- Lost Light Projects Inc. (InsideClimate News)
- Center for Investigative Reporting
- Institute for Nonprofit News
- National Public Radio
- The Trace
Our search was not comprehensive, merely illustrative. Other nonprofit newsrooms may be eligible for forgiveness. For more information on how to apply for PSLF, visit this website.
WNYC removes dozens of articles over attribution issues
WNYC removed forty-five stories from its websites, wnyc.org and Gothamist.com, according to an announcement on the site today, because they contained “unattributed passages from other sources,” in forty-two of the cases, and had been “published on other websites by the author” in three of the cases.
It is the latest development in a long-running series of investigations at the station and its websites over attribution, which CJR detailed as part of a longer story about the newsroom’s recent struggles.
The articles were all written by one person, as Audrey Cooper, the station’s editor in chief, told her staff in a newsroom-wide meeting today, according to a recording of that meeting. She declined to name the person, but said the time frame for the retracted stories stretched back to 2010.
The stories were uncovered after the station commissioned an outside auditor, she said. Cooper then reviewed the articles herself using Grammarly and Copyscape software. Cooper said the station appended editors’ notes to each article “as soon as we confirmed the findings of an outside auditor.”
She said the station will continue to remove articles that violate editorial standards as it finds them, and that the station has searched for plagiarism on air, though that process is much more challenging.
“We take these issues really seriously and we are addressing them as part of a process with our legal and HR teams right now. Due to the fact that we are doing that process and the confidentiality of those processes, I’m afraid I don’t have a lot more to say than that,” she said.
Unionized journalists at Miami Herald, sister papers to walk out
Unionized staff at three newspapers in Florida—the Miami Herald, its Spanish-language sibling El Nuevo Herald, and the smaller Bradenton Herald—are refusing to work for one day Friday amid ongoing contract negotiations with their owner, McClatchy.
The union has been engaged in more than two years of bargaining over demands including the introduction of paid parental leave and pay equality between Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald journalists.
Joey Flechas, a city hall reporter at the Miami Herald and a union cochair, cited a fifteen-year veteran of El Nuevo Herald still earning $49,000 a year—while a ten-year employee at the English-language paper is earning $80,000. “It’s the same work,” Flechas said. “And it’s especially offensive in Miami, where our culture is deeply tied to the Hispanic diaspora and Spanish-speaking population.”
In October 2019, prompted by rounds of layoffs and buyouts, a majority of the combined newsroom of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald (which totals about 100 people) voted to unionize with the NewsGuild–Communications Workers of America. Employees of the Bradenton Herald unionized in 2020 and are in the midst of negotiating their own, separate contract.
“They unionized to save their own publications and their jobs,” said Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA. “The thing that always surprises me with these companies like McClatchy is how aggressive they are at fighting journalists.”
A McClatchy spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The company, based in Sacramento, operates thirty daily newspapers, seventeen of which are unionized. It has owned the Miami Herald since 2006, when it purchased Knight Ridder, the paper’s previous owner.
Herald employees described today’s action as a “walkout,” but they don’t mean it literally. There’s nowhere to walk out of. In the summer of 2020, McClatchy gave up the lease at its physical newsroom in a Miami suburb, citing the covid-19 pandemic and cost-cutting measures. Just before contract negotiations began, in February 2020, McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; Chatham Asset Management, a New York hedge fund, bought it for $312 million.
During the virtual walkout today, the union bargaining committee and its supporters are gathering at a hotel conference room downtown. There they will talk to McClatchy (and their lawyers from Jones Day, a firm famed for fighting unions).
Other union demands include experience-based salary floors, protections against outsourcing, and higher gas mileage reimbursement. Their current rate is 33 cents per mile, though the IRS standard mileage rate is now 58.5 cents per mile.
Many union demands have been met by McClatchy since bargaining began—they are just not extended to union employees. Last year, McClatchy implemented a company-wide parental leave policy, its first ever, but denied it to a new mother in the Miami Herald newsroom.
The government compelled Microsoft to turn over emails, Project Veritas says
US attorneys investigating the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary during the 2020 election campaign compelled Microsoft to turn over emails from nine accounts associated with Project Veritas, a conservative group known for hidden-camera sting operations designed to embarrass liberals and mainstream news outlets, according to a court filing from Veritas that Microsoft confirmed.
According to the filing, beginning in November 2020, under Attorney General Bill Barr, attorneys for the Department of Justice obtained secret warrants, nondisclosure orders, and a subpoena demanding Microsoft share emails and contact information from the Veritas members, who use Microsoft cloud software.
In a motion filed yesterday, Veritas condemned the surveillance as overly broad—in one case stretching back eight months before the group began pursuing the diary—and asked a judge to halt use of the information obtained via Microsoft.
A Microsoft employee shared the information with Veritas earlier this month after the nondisclosure orders were lifted. “It is our policy to always push back on legal demands for enterprise customer data and to notify the customer as soon as we’re legally able if we’re forced to comply with such orders,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. “We did both in this instance.”
The American Civil Liberties Union lent Veritas its support, with a caveat. “We deplore Project Veritas’s deceptions, and we don’t have a full picture of the government’s investigation,” said Brian Hauss, a senior ACLU staff attorney. “But we’re concerned that the precedent set by this case could have serious consequences for press freedom.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
James O’Keefe, Veritas’s founder, says his organization did purchase the Biden diary, which it ultimately did not publish. But he said in an interview that Veritas was not directly involved in its theft, and is therefore protected under the law.
“If it was illegal for someone to receive a document that a source stole, then you should incarcerate all people at the Washington Post and New York Times,” O’Keefe said by phone yesterday.
Government lawyers seem to be suggesting that Veritas’s involvement was more direct, and they have resisted categorizing the group as journalists. “There is no First Amendment protection for the theft and interstate transport of stolen property,” they wrote in a filing. In November 2021, roughly a year after the first subpoena of Microsoft, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York found probable cause to authorize a search warrant of O’Keefe’s apartment related to federal crimes including “conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines” and “interstate transportation of stolen property.” Searches were also executed at the homes of two other Veritas members.
A month after the raids, a judge agreed to appoint an independent third party, known as a special master, to review the materials seized by FBI agents. But even after the raids were highly publicized, US attorneys sought to extend the nondisclosure orders against Microsoft.
Project Veritas pokes at the New York Times but loses a legal battle
Project Veritas, the right-wing website that often publishes surreptitiously recorded and selectively edited videos to embarrass liberals and mainstream media outlets, continued a battle against the New York Times this weekend by posting edited video of two depositions from a lawsuit the Times is engaged in against Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and candidate for vice president in 2008.
Palin alleges that the Times libeled her in a 2017 editorial that inaccurately linked her to the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that wounded US representative Gabby Giffords and killed six people. In the videos posted by Project Veritas two former members of the Times editorial board answered questions about the editorial process. The videos were “sliced and diced,” a lawyer for the Times in the Palin trial said. The Times’ legal team argued that the evidence, which was not admitted at trial, could interfere with jury deliberations.
Separately, last week, a New York State appeals court stayed an order that had kept the Times from publishing certain material about Project Veritas. First Amendment advocates and a group of sixty-three media organizations that joined a legal brief on behalf of the Times had decried the unusual order as an unconstitutional example of prior restraint, a form of censorship before the fact.
“Prohibiting a news organization from publishing information of public interest is clearly unconstitutional,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which filed the amicus brief. “It was unconstitutional on day one, and it’s unconstitutional on day eighty-five, and we’re glad to see it lifted.”
Justice Charles Wood, a Westchester County trial court judge, had signed the order against the Times on November 18. It blocked the paper from publishing attorney-client privileged materials from Project Veritas—something the paper would normally be within its right to do, so long as it hadn’t actively stolen them.
In their arguments against the order, lawyers for the Times warned that it could set a dangerous precedent. In the future, they wrote in a filing, “any individual or organization wanting to limit unfavorable news coverage could simply file a libel suit over an earlier story and then use discovery orders to censor or prevent future reporting.”
A four-judge panel agreed to the stay last Wednesday, February 9, until a formal appeal is heard on or before March 11. But the appellate court did not agree to vacate the order permanently, noted Libby Locke, an attorney for Project Veritas, who said she was confident that the court would ultimately side with her client.
A spokesperson for the Times, Danielle Rhoades-Ha, said she was pleased with the decision. “The use of prior restraint to prohibit newsgathering and block the publication of newsworthy journalism is unconstitutional,” said Rhoades-Ha. “No libel plaintiffs should be permitted to use their litigation as a tool to silence press coverage about them.”
The background to the case is here.