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Following a protracted debate over whether or not Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) qualifies as a media company, with Mark Zuckerberg finally accepting that the social network is indeed a type of media company, the company is now really embracing its newfound moniker. Facebook is unveiling what it calls the Facebook Journalism Projectand outlining how it wants to help journalism "thrive." The goal is to "establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry." That will include various forms of collaboration with news organizations and journalists, and partnering with publishers in a mutually beneficial way.
Here's what investors need to know.
Collaborating on product development
The first piece will be working together to develop news products. To be clear, Facebook has already come out with products that are intended to help publishers (such as Instant Articles, which dramatically reduce mobile loading times), but the company wants to take this a step farther. It will continue developing new formats based on evolving use preferences. One example of an idea that Facebook is working on is bundled packages of stories, for instance.
Facebook also wants to help local news grow. Ironically, the digital news age has utterly decimated local news stations, far more than national outlets. Facebook doesn't have any concrete ideas of how it can contribute here yet, saying this concept is "in its earliest stages." News outlets also need to make money, and Facebook wants to help. That includes considering different ways for publishers to grow subscriptions. There are also other routes to monetization, including "ad breaks in regular videos" (i.e.,mid-roll video ads). Facebook will continue hosting hackathons to address technical problems that may arise, and will try to listen more actively to feedback from media partners.
Training and tools
The company says it will also start offering online courses for journalists, and host well-known journalists to share best practices that can help aspiring journalists develop their professions. Facebook acquired CrowdTangle in November of last year, a tool that helped publishers track content as it disseminates or goes viral. CrowdTangle will now become free for media partners.
With Facebook's big push into live-streaming recently, the company also has an opportunity to participate in live news. Page administrators can now select journalists that can report live on behalf of the Page. Eventually, Facebook will create application programming interfaces (APIs) that will allow journalists to live-stream using professional equipment.
Helping you know what's real
Facebook also wants to make it easier for users to know which sources are legitimate and which are fake. By "promoting news literacy," Facebook hopes to raise awareness and will even fund some projects with this goal. In order to battle the proliferation of fake news and hoaxes, Facebook will partner with third-party fact checkers to identify fake news articles. The company recently introduced more ways for users to report fake news, as well as banning fake news sites from its ad network in an effort to significantly dampen the financial incentive of creating fake news.
Betting on real journalism
It goes without saying that the Journalism Project is a direct response to the fake news controversy that emerged in the wake of the 2016 election. The idea is that by supporting actual journalism, Facebook can undermine fake news. However, an underlying irony is that in choosing which outlets and organizations to support, Facebook is taking on even more responsibility in the global information ecosystem.
Facebook's initial reaction a few months ago of brushing off the fake news controversy and the possibility that its platform affected the election showed that Facebook wasn't really taking its existing responsibilities as seriously as it should. Hopefully, Zuckerberg is taking Facebook's role in the media more seriously now.
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