Facebook has begun rolling out its new Facebook News section with support from some of the country's most prestigious newsrooms, including USA TODAY.
The social network has also enlisted The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Business Insider and Buzzfeed, among other high-profile news organizations, lending much-needed credibility given Facebook's previous failures to clamp down on the spread of “fake news.”
“We’re pleased to partner with Facebook on their efforts to highlight news from trusted, high-quality publishers for their audience," says Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of the USA TODAY Network and publisher of USA TODAY. "It’s also a big step forward that Facebook is investing in trust and quality by licensing content from news publishers for the first time."
Facebook is calling this ambitious march into news and journalism a test, for now, made available to a “subset” of people in the nation’s largest cities. The new news tab will appear in the Facebook app on your phone, not on the web.
During the initial phase, Facebook plans to showcase original reporting from local properties in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington, Miami, Atlanta and Boston.
"The fact that local news is part of this big Facebook rollout goes to the fact of how important trust is, and that local news is where that's at," says Steve Chung, chief digital officer for Fox Television Stations.
Adds Patrick Paolini, vice president and general manager at Fox's WTTG and WDCA stations in Washington D.C.: "From my perspective, shine a light on us."
Readers will be able to access content through four distinct sections:
Today’s Stories: A section with human-curated pieces that will be updated during the day.
Personalization: An algorithmically curated area filled with topics that Facebook believes you will want to read, share and follow.
Topic sections: An area where you can dig deeper into the business, entertainment, health, science and tech and sports categories.
Your subscriptions: Where you’ll find content from paid subscriptions linked to your Facebook account.
You will be able to access controls to hide articles, topics and publishers you choose not to see.
Facebook says it surveyed more than 100,000 people on Facebook in the U.S. earlier in the year and found that it was under-serving many topics people wanted most in their News Feeds, especially around categories like entertainment, health, business, and sports.
Citing unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is offering licensing fees ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for smaller publishers to a few million dollars annually for bigger ones, with much larger sums reserved for major organizations.
Facebook says it has chosen publishers that are in its News Page Index, which was developed in collaboration with the publishing industry. Publishers must abide by Facebook guidelines that address hate speech, clickbait, and other violations, including inaccuracies determined by certified non-partisan third-party fact-checkers.
Facebook also added that the publishers must serve a sufficiently large audience, with different thresholds set by category.
"We already have a lot of eyeballs on Facebook. This is a nice way to position our brand in a section of Facebook dedicated to reputable journalism," says Colby Smith, senior vice president and general manager for ABC News Digital and Live Streaming, and another Facebook media partner. Smith hopes for ABC to eventually provide live video through the new news section, just as it already does through the Facebook Watch video platform. At first ABC News will be contributing written stories.
In a blog post co-written by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, and Mona Sarantakos, a product manager at the company for news, Facebook said it will continue to expand the algorithmic selection of stories driving the majority of Facebook News.
But journalists will play a prominent role.
“We have progress to make before we can rely on technology alone to provide a quality news destination,” the blog authors wrote. “When we started talking to news organizations about building Facebook News earlier this year, they emphasized that original reporting is more expensive to produce and better recognized by seasoned journalists than by algorithms."
Facebook says it has formed a curation team to oversee its Today's Stories section. "This team is independent, free from editorial intervention by anyone at the company.“
For his part, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressed skepticism about Facebook’s involvement in curating news. “I have a quite contrarian view here because I think the more you start to curate, and to select, and to make choices, the more you automatically, and even involuntarily, transform into a publication house, into a media company. And then, honestly, you're just too big,” he said during an exchange earlier this year in Berlin with Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Europe’s largest publisher Axel Springer. “Sooner or later, you will be split up by regulators because they will say there cannot be so much dominance in one company that makes the decisions globally who reads what.”