Facebook spends £4.5m attempting to revive local newspaper reporting

Facebook’s relationship with news coverage is typically hosting “fake news”, failing to remove it and then subsequently rating its users based on trustworthiness. However, the company is hoping to turn a new leaf and has plans to pledge itself to aiding legitimate news.

The social media giant announced it is donating £4.5 million to the National Council for the Training of Journalists, an organisation for training journalists. The money will be spent hiring 80 new journalists based in, and reporting on, underrepresented communities around the UK on behalf of regional news publishers.

The fund is designed to support journalists on two-year placements, affording each one a lovely £28,125 yearly salary. Facebook hasn’t stated what it’s planning after these two years are up, so it’s likely the onus could fall on regional publishers to keep the scheme going.

It’s ironic that Facebook is suddenly attempting to support legitimate journalism given that it’s one of the tech giants accused of bringing about  the death of print journalism. Facebook has taken part of the blame due to the platform eating up ad revenue instead of publications and helping facilitate the spread of “fake news” and thus reduce the impact of legitimate news outlets.

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Facebook has also recently come under attack for overstating the importance of video content on its platform.This caused many publishers to embrace the medium as a means to deliver content, only to find out that audience interest in video was greatly less than expected. Ultimately, this caused many video journalists to lose their jobs, Unilad being once notable case.

In addition, there’s a reason why smaller communities are lesser-served by journalists — there’s less demand for local news, and the costs of covering it often outweigh the readership numbers. Members of a small community generally share news among themselves on specific Facebook pages, rather than read it in a local paper. Once the trainees finish their two-year placement, it’s highly unlikely these jobs will remain. To the cynically minded, it seems that Facebook is essentially funding the jobs of 80 journalists only to subsequently make them redundant.

Of course Facebook may be aware this could be the case, and its donation of £4.5 million (or 0.35% of its reported UK revenue in 2017) could be part of a larger PR campaign to signal its commitment to real news instead of “fake news”. However, it would have cost them a lot less to simply ban “fake news” propagators, a move that it currently refuses to make.

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