January 15, 2019

Facebook announced Tuesday that it’s giving a total of $300 million over three years to several organizations and initiatives devoted to the health and sustainability of local news. A press release explained where $36 million of that money will go, and it falls in three directions — coverage, technology and business models.

The other $264 million?

“There will be more to come. This is just the beginning,” said Campbell Brown, head of Facebook’s News Partnerships. “We are making what I would characterize as an important shift to focus on local news.”

Facebook already started focusing on local news in 2017 and 2018 through efforts including the Facebook Journalism Project, “Today In,”  which helps surface local news on Facebook, an initiative to help local independent newsrooms better use Facebook tools, and a membership and subscription accelerator.

Today’s news builds in particular off successes with the membership accelerator, Brown said.

“We have learned a lot over the last year,” she said, “and we now want to double down on the areas where we see success.”

Facebook reported its latest accelerator results in January, with an earlier report in August.

Here’s a breakdown of who is getting what in this latest news and how it will be used:

  • Pulitzer Center: This $5 million grant will create a fund that gives grants to local newsrooms for coverage that impacts their communities.  According to the press release, “Bringing Stories Home” will result in 12 reporting projects annually.
  • Report for America: $2 million toward this program’s goal of getting 1,000 local journalists into local newsrooms through year-long assignments.
  • Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund: $1 million toward a tech hub aimed at helping newsrooms better develop products, report news and find sustainable business models. (Disclosure: Knight and Lenfest are both Poynter funders, and Knight helps fund my coverage of local news.)
  • LMA & LMC: The Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium will share $1 million to work with member newsrooms on branded content.
  • American Journalism Project: This new project aimed at helping local newsrooms through venture philanthropy will get $1 million.
  • Facebook will put $20 million into expanding the Accelerator pilot for membership and subscriptions.
  • Community News Project: Announced late last year, $6 million will go toward this project, which works with regional publishers in the United Kingdom to train “community journalists.”

Last year, when Facebook announced that people would see less news in their news feed, then “more local news on Facebook,” local journalists told Poynter they felt a bit of whiplash.

“My hope is that Facebook’s realization of the value of local news is backed by advancements in how it helps sustain that news,” Les Zaitz, editor and publisher of Malheur Enterprise, told Poynter then.

Facebook also announced an upcoming two-day summit, called “Accelerate: Local News” with the Knight Foundation and the Online News Association to “discuss, design and drive towards solutions that address today’s most pressing local news challenges,” according to the press release.

Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, thought it was striking that this news and another announcement from Google and WordPress on a new toolkit for local newsrooms came just after news of Digital First’s interest buying Gannett.

“You have on the one hand the platforms and a collection of not-for-profits turning up the steam on support of local news, and on the other hand, a deeply committed newsroom cost-cutter seeking to buy the nation’s largest newspaper chain,” he said. “The Facebook announcement is very good news on quite a cloudy day.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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