The Media Today

The media today: Is Facebook leaving journalism?

January 16, 2018

“Facebook is done with journalism,” journalist and media critic Frédéric Filloux writes in his Monday Note. “It will happen, slowly, gradually, but the trend is here.” Since Facebook announced last week that it will tweak its News Feed to favor updates from friends and family over publishers’ content, news organizations have struggled to grasp what the move means for journalism, and the early results are surprisingly optimistic.

Nearly half of all Americans get at least some news from Facebook, and publishers have grown addicted to the promise of clicks offered by a platform boasting two billion users around the globe. “For most everyone…using the world’s largest social network to draw attention to their content,” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel writes, “the change is potentially seismic.”

ICYMI: Former New York Times employees are angry

Mark Zuckerberg told The New York Times that he hopes the move will nudge users towards “meaningful interaction” over consumption of “passive content” like videos and articles from media outlets. The changes come as Facebook has faced growing backlash and increased governmental scrutiny over the past year for helping feed a hyper-partisan environment.

“Facebook became a news powerhouse with reluctance, and journalism executives allied themselves with it mostly out of necessity,” write The New York Times’s Sapna Maheshwari and Sydney Ember. The planned changes to its News Feed are seen by many as a retreat from the company’s effort to create a virtual public square. In returning to the scrapbook format of baby pictures and engagement announcements that fuel likes and allegedly create a more positive emotional experience, Facebook is choosing to abdicate the responsibility it gained in becoming the world’s most influential publisher.

For the outlets that rely on Facebook traffic to boost their bottom lines, the changes will no doubt be painful, and possibly terminal. But Filloux argues that the new reality provides an opportunity to reinvest time and resources in the things that actually make for good journalism. “Once the acute pain is gone, the industry will realize that this is not such bad news after all,” he writes. “It is time to regroup and refocus on the basics.”

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RELATED: Facebook changes could help the media kick its algorithm addiction

Below, more on reaction across the industry to Facebook’s big change.

  • ‘The beginning of the end’: Digiday’s Lucia Moses says that the changes to News Feed could signal a new era for publishers, as they break the control exerted by their Silicon Valley overlord.
  • A favor for media: While giving Zuckerberg perhaps more credit than he deserves, The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer writes that Facebook’s announcement will force “media to face the fact that digital advertising and ever-growing web traffic will never sustain the industry, especially if that traffic comes from monopolies like Facebook hoping to claim the entirety of digital advertising dollars for themselves.”
  • Positive spin: The Outline’s Joshua Topolsky says good riddance to the old model, in which “no one won but Facebook.” He argues that “there’s the opportunity for outlets willing to rely less on social networks to set their fate, publishers who have diversified their traffic sources, who have pushed back on Facebook’s News Feed carrots, who have built (or are building) brands that resonate with audiences beyond what can be bought or given.”
  • Breaking an addiction: CJR’s Mathew Ingram argues that “moving from an advertising-focused model to one that relies on reader subscriptions may be the prudent move, but getting from point A to point B could be difficult, and some companies may not be able to make the transition.
  • Pivot to apps: Facebook is breaking up with news,” reads a BuzzFeed advertisement encouraging readers to download the company’s app.


Other notable stories

  • Where is the truth?” asks North Carolina truck driver Chris Gromek in the Associated Press’s excellent look at trust in the news media under Trump.
  • Cool project from The New York Times’s Jacey Fortin and Maggie Astor: What would push alerts from 1968 look like?
  • Lizzie Crocker resigned from The Daily Beast after being caught plagiarizing an article from The Weekly Standard. The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson reports that it wasn’t the first time Crocker had lifted material.
  • The Intercept’s Nick Turse reports that he was “blacklisted” by the head of US Africa Command’s Public Affairs Branch. As Turse notes, AFRICOM has been under intense media scrutiny after the death of four US Special Forces soldiers in Niger last October.
  • The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan weighed in on President Trump’s “shithole countries” comment, writing that journalists should frankly report on the racist thinking behind it. “What mattered much more was what Trump’s words really meant, and what the responsibilities of journalists were in conveying that meaning in some sensible way,” Sullivan wrote.
  • Disturbing news from the Philippines, where the government has ordered the closing of Rappler, a site that has provided critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte. The New York Times’s Filipe Villamor has the story.

ICYMI: Koch Foundation grants to journalism institutions ignite criticism

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.