Facebook Pledges $100 Million To Aid News Outlets Hit Hard By Pandemic

Mar 30, 2020
Originally published on April 16, 2020 9:31 am

Facebook says it's dedicating $100 million to prop up news organizations pummeled by the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just two weeks ago, the company announced it would devote $1 million to aid local newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada covering the crisis. It turns out, Facebook was already thinking about giving far more.

"All these journalists are working around the clock under very difficult circumstances to try to keep us all informed," Facebook Vice President for Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown, a former anchor for CNN and NBC News, told NPR. "And at the same time, their news organizations are struggling because of the economic fallout from the outbreak."

Facebook will "try to ensure that the dollars keep flowing to those news organizations that are hardest hit in the moment that we so desperately need them," she said.

NPR last week reported on the dire peril posed to the local news business by the economic effects of the coronavirus. Many in the industry have seen past philanthropic moves by Facebook — even on this scale — as a short-term fix from a long-term threat.

The local news industry has already declined as digital giants have peeled away its readers and advertisers. Google and Facebook are among the leading actors (or offenders, depending on your point of view). During the pandemic, many remaining advertisers for newspapers and local sites are falling away.

"I'm not looking for charity. I'm looking for a business model," David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, an industry trade group, told NPR last week, before Facebook's announcement was public. "They haven't felt compelled to pay for news content because the law hasn't supported them being compelled to pay for it."

Platforms such as Facebook and Google are often main conduits for news sites and newspapers to reach readers digitally, though they typically share little in revenues from the digital giants. Chavern hopes to strike a deal to change that in a more consistent way.

Brown said a quarter of the new Facebook money — $25 million — is to help smaller U.S. newsrooms cover the pandemic. Papers receiving grants so far are adding reporters, dropping paywalls or acquiring new equipment for working remotely. The grants have typically been in the relatively low thousands of dollars.

Facebook will pour another $75 million into ads in publications in the U.S. and pandemic hot spots in Europe, including Italy and Spain, in an effort to give a quick infusion of cash to news publications. As the crisis fades, Brown says, Facebook should focus on what happens next for the industry, in some ways echoing Chavern's concerns.

"What we need ... is Facebook to be a better partner to news for the long term, to [develop] those sustainable business models that keep news organizations in a place where they're not trying to figure out, you know, what their future looks like," Brown says. "If they have a future. There are a lot of existential questions facing this industry right now."

Facebook has announced news initiatives with big price tags in the past. But it has routed comparatively little to newsrooms, given all the traffic and revenue it's diverted from them. An irony: News does not usually constitute a major part of Facebook's volume — except at times of great crisis and tumult, like the current moment.

Editor's note: Facebook is among NPR's sponsors.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Facebook says it is stepping into the breach, dedicating $100 million to prop up news organizations pummeled by the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, this is a short-term boost for an industry facing a longtime threat.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Funny story - two weeks ago, a Facebook spokeswoman sent word that the social media giant would devote $1 million to aid local newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada covering the coronavirus crisis. That's $1 million, as "Austin Powers'" Dr. Evil might say. I suggested the mighty Facebook should envision something far bigger if a real social impact were desired. Turns out, Facebook was already thinking about what it might look like.

CAMPBELL BROWN: All these journalists are working around the clock under very difficult circumstances to try to keep us all informed. And at the same time, their news organizations are struggling because of the economic fallout from the outbreak.

FOLKENFLIK: Campbell Brown is vice president at Facebook and a former anchor for CNN and NBC News.

BROWN: And we are going to try to ensure that the dollars keep flowing to those news organizations that are hardest hit in a moment when we so desperately need them.

FOLKENFLIK: The local news industry has already declined in no small part because digital giants, like Facebook and Google, have peeled away its readers and advertisers. During the pandemic, remaining advertisers are falling away. A quarter of the Facebook money, $25 million, is to help smaller U.S. newsrooms cover coronavirus, whether by adding reporters, dropping paywalls, acquiring new equipment for working remotely. Another 75 million will be poured into ads and publications in the U.S. and other pandemic hotspots, like Italy and Spain in Europe. And then, Brown says, Facebook should focus on what happens next - after this.

BROWN: What we need to do as Facebook, to be a better partner to news for the long term, to developing those sustainable business models that keep news organizations in a place where they - they're not trying to figure out, you know, what their future looks like, if they have a future.

FOLKENFLIK: Facebook has spent money in the past on news initiatives, yet it's not typically routed a lot directly to newsrooms given all the traffic and revenue it's diverted from them. Thing is, news is not usually a huge part of Facebook's volume, except in times of crisis, like this, when it is.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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