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The future of journalism… on Facebook

by Silvia Martelli

Facebook and editors have always been two parallel planets. On one side, there is Facebook the Giant, which collects the revenue of almost half of the world’s digital advertising; on the other, there are editors. While the battle of the social media site is annihilating the rising amount of fake news among its two billion monthly active users, editors are busy in their fight to the death to maintain their audience, despite the threatening contraction of the traditional advertising market.

Two distinct worlds that share a mutual destiny: collaborating with each other to achieve their respective aims. While Facebook needs editors to provide the platform with news of quality, editors need to orbit where there are readers – no better place than social media. The negotiations have already started, and Facebook has now introduced a new function of ‘Instant Articles’, the tool launched back in 2015 to create fast, interactive articles. The latest service promotes subscriptions to the newspapers present on the white-and-blue platform, with the plan being that, after a fixed amount of free articles, users will have to subscribe for accessing further ones.

A new source of revenue for the already outrageously wealthy Facebook? Most probably. However, it is undeniable that the tool will also be beneficial for those users who now heavily rely on the platform for accurate news. It seems very likely, in fact, that Facebook has introduced this new feature to keep influential outlets on the platform, following the threat of Forbes, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal to leave due to scarce profitability. This new way of subscribing, now directly on the social media site with one click (quick, easy and immediate, the imperatives of the century) will hopefully provide the newspapers with the profit they need and the readership they deserve, while diverting users away from fake news. In addition, since August, publishers’ logos have been put alongside articles in the ‘Trending’ and ‘Search’ sections, in order to make sources more visible.

‘Instant Articles’ are only a tiny piece of a bigger puzzle, the so called ‘Facebook Journalism Project’. In an effort to foster relationships with journalists and news organizations, the initiative is aimed at a collaborative development of news products (e.g. exchanging data on readers with editors), and providing training and tools for both journalists and an informed community.

In a response to the sharp criticism of being a distributor of fake news, Facebook has certainly taken some steps towards becoming a better home for journalists. However, even though it’s now trying to help news organizations to survive in the digital world it has created, it still is the royal of the court. Whether it is a ruler with a genuine concern for the creation of a healthy ecosystem of news, or simply a profit-driven magnate, is still up for debate. The next few years will provide the answer.

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