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article imageFacebook aims to help keep local news alive

By Tim Sandle     Mar 1, 2018 in Internet
Local newspapers are in decline due to rising costs, falling advertising revenues and a public that is seeking digital news content. Facebook has stepped in to help.
In the boom years of newspaper sales local news thrived through city and town related titles. Sometimes even a small town would have two or more competing titles. Few newspapers survive on their cover price, however, and they are instead reliant upon advertising. The rise in popularity of digital content saw a shift in focus by many advertisers away from print media and towards online content. In the U.S., between 2000 and 2015, print newspaper advertising revenue dropped from about $60 billion to around $20 billion. Consequently many local news titles have disappeared.
As the number of newspapers slated for closure, bankruptcy or severe cutbacks has risen, especially in the U.S., the way that people access news has changed. This doesn't necessarily mean improved content, with some news stories increasingly being written by robots. Moreover, there is a difference between carefully researched and quality journalism and blogging. The impact of these changes has it journalists too. In the U.S., for instance, it is estimated that the where the industry has shed a fifth of its journalists over the course of fifteen years.
There is another consequence: fake news. The British Prime Minister, this year, expressed concerns that the decline of local journalism poses a threat to democracy and has fueled the rise in post-Trump fake news. Here Teresa May said that advances in modern technology are having “a profound impact on one of the cornerstones of our public debate – our free press”.
So can local newspapers continue to play a part in the digital age? Facebook thinks so and the company plans to spend $3 million in assisting local newspapers in building digital subscriptions. While print is in decline, there's no reason, under the Facebook model, why local news media should disappear completely.
A spokesperson for Facebook, Campbell Brown explains about a new scheme to Poynter: “Participating publishers will convene in-person once a month, receive coaching from digital subscription experts, and participate in weekly trainings covering a broad array of digital subscriptions marketing activities, including but not limited to the use of Facebook."
Brown adds: "Working with program coaches, publishers will then design individual projects that tackle their unique business needs. Grant funding will empower each publisher to implement solutions that help elevate their subscription business.”
Facebook will also assist selected local titles to by providing to its users new ways to find local news and helping to publicize a new focus on local news, through targeting stories to people according to their locale.
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