Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook can help the news business

(Mark Lennihan | AP) Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks about "News Tab" at the Paley Center, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 in New York. The new feature in the Facebook mobile app will display headlines — and nothing else — from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, NBC, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

When reporters at The Minnesota Star Tribune discovered that infant deaths had significantly increased in the state’s child care facilities, they published a series of articles that ended up driving changes in the law. They won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 — and within months the infant mortality rate dropped. As someone married to a pediatrician and committed to investing in solving health challenges, I found this to be a powerful example of how journalism can help us make progress on our biggest issues.

I know what it’s like to be the subject of reporting. I did my first interview at 19, and while I’ve gotten a little better at talking to journalists, people tell me I’m still not exactly a natural. Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen how the news has held Facebook accountable when we’ve made mistakes. This can be uncomfortable, but as I often tell Facebook’s employees, this kind of scrutiny is important: Facebook is part of so many people’s lives, and we have a responsibility to engage with good-faith criticism and use it to get better. Newspapers have broken important stories that have changed the way we operate, and ultimately that’s better not only for our company, but also for society.

Great journalism surfaces stories that wouldn’t have otherwise been uncovered, and it establishes the ground truth that helps us make progress on important issues. It also holds the powerful accountable. A free press is critical to a healthy democracy, and we need to support the journalists and publishers who do this critical work.

But the internet disrupted the business model for much of the news industry. When ads started moving from print newspapers to websites, the economics of news changed. Some effects have been positive. Internet services gave news outlets ways to reach new audiences, and research suggests people who get their news on social networks are exposed to a wider range of viewpoints. But breaking the link between publishers and their readers has also made it harder for the news industry to adapt financially to these changes.

For the past several years I’ve met with journalists, editors and publishers to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by the news business. I know there’s more we can and must do to help.

We started earlier this year, with a $300 million commitment to help publishers — especially in local news — invest in building their readership and subscription models. Local newspapers have been hardest hit by the technological changes, but they can have as much impact on people’s daily lives as the major outlets do. We’re supporting local reporting through the Pulitzer Center and funding journalists who are covering underreported topics in local newsrooms.

I’ve wanted to support journalism directly in our apps for a long time. But we’ve faced a dilemma trying to do more in the main News Feed because most of our community consistently tells us that they want to see more updates from their friends, family and communities, and less other content. For most people, social networks are still primarily about being social.

But over the past couple of years, we’ve started successfully building tabs outside of the main News Feed, like Marketplace for buying and selling items, and Watch for videos. Even if only 10 to 20 percent of our community in the United States uses one of these tabs, that’s around 15 million to 30 million people. We’ve been working with publishers on building an experience like this for news, and on Friday we launched the result of that work: Facebook News.

For the first time, there will be a place in the Facebook app dedicated solely to high-quality news. Because people are still better at picking out the most important and highest-quality stories, the top stories in Facebook News will be curated by a team of diverse and seasoned journalists. Below that, there will be a wider selection of stories that are personalized algorithmically. Each story will have clear branding and provenance from the news outlets that published them. Publishers have told us over the years that this is particularly important.

We’ve also built tools to help publishers increase their subscribers by driving people from Facebook links to publisher websites. Publishers are able to decide when a reader sees a paywall. They control the relationship with their readers with subscription payments taking place directly on publishers’ websites. We don’t take any cut of the subscription revenue because we want as much of the revenue as possible to go toward funding quality journalism.

This model establishes a long-term financial partnership between publishers and Facebook for the first time. We know that we need to help build a stable model. Unlike other things we’ve tried in the past, this is a multiyear commitment that should give publishers the confidence to plan ahead. We now have multiyear partnerships with ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, The Dallas Morning News and many more publishers.

This also establishes a new product on Facebook for people who want a dedicated high-quality news experience. This will start small, but I’m optimistic that if we listen carefully to the ideas and concerns of news organizations all over the world, we can grow this over time.

Supporting quality news can also help us fight misinformation. That’s why we’re setting strict standards for publishers to be eligible to appear in Facebook News. If a publisher posts misinformation, it will no longer appear in the product.

I believe deeply in the social good that journalism provides. Today, it’s more important than ever: We need the news to scrutinize the powerful, reliably document major events and uncover new truths. This makes our society better, and I know from firsthand experience it has made our company better too — even when it’s uncomfortable. I hope our efforts will honor the important work that journalists do and support the news industry that keeps us all informed.

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder and chief executive of Facebook.

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