By:
October 26, 2021

Here’s the thing about The Facebook Papers: There’s just so much.

At least 17 news outlets received tens of thousands of Facebook’s redacted internal documents as gathered by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Now they’re all producing stories at a dizzying clip. Each new story seems as important as the last. By the time you digest that one, here comes another. Then another. And now more news outlets have joined the list of those producing stories.

Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton joked, “A Nieman Lab analysis I just did in my head has found there are as many as 5.37 gazillion new stories out today about Facebook’s various misdeeds.” Actually, maybe he wasn’t joking.

Where does one even start?

Thankfully, there is some organization and method to this flood of stories. Ben Smith’s column in The New York Times does an excellent job breaking down how the news organizations divvied up the slew of news angles so that everyone wasn’t stepping all over each other.

As Smith explains, Haugen met with journalists from the various outlets for what turned out to be a unique situation. Smith wrote, “Ms. Haugen and her advisers have created a new kind of journalistic network, one that has stirred mixed feelings among the journalists involved. In the last two weeks they have gathered on the messaging app Slack to coordinate their plans — and the name of their Slack group, chosen by Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of The Atlantic, suggests their ambivalence: ‘Apparently We’re a Consortium Now.’ Inside the Slack group, whose messages were shared with me by a participant, members have reflected on the strangeness of working, however tangentially, with competitors.”

The Verge’s Alex Heath wrote it was the “weirdest thing I have ever been part of, reporting-wise.” As Associated Press’ head of investigations, Brian Carovillano, told Smith, “It’s remarkable to see these news organizations, large and small, set aside some of their competitive impulses and work together to report out a story that is unquestionably in the public interest.”

And that’s the key: in the public interest.

Each of the news outlets could be going rogue, simply throwing a slew of reporters to write about, well, everything. That’s how journalists and journalism usually works. It’s often about scoops and impact. But, in this particular case, that doesn’t serve the audiences. When it comes to these groundbreaking stories, the audiences are best served if there is some sort of coordination — mostly because there is just so much.

And let’s not forget that all these stories come after a series — “The Facebook Files” — put out by The Wall Street Journal which was also based on documents provided by Haugen. (Disclosure: Facebook is a funder of the Poynter Institute, PolitiFact and related work, though has no editorial involvement.)

Here’s an insightful tweet by Defector deputy editor Barry Petchesky: “The Facebook docs self-embargo is good, because it lets reporters take their time and do their stories right instead of rushing to be first. But it feels like some revelations may get lost in the sheer volume of them.”

I agree, although you do hope that readers take their time to sift through these stories because it’s that important.

The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips wrote, “Now Facebook is under fire for — well, everything, it seems. Its dirty laundry is being aired as lawmakers start to seriously grapple with how to regulate Facebook and other social media companies. For better or worse, these Facebook revelations are coming to light at arguably a dangerous time for American society. One political party is denying the results of a legitimate presidential election, and one of the American leaders of misinformation, Donald Trump, is making moves to run for president again.”

The comparison is made between Facebook and Big Tobacco. They knew what they were doing, but put profits ahead of people.

Speaking on CNN, media reporter Brian Stelter made another analogy: “Facebook is a lot like fast food. We all know that McDonald’s isn’t the best for us, but the drive-thru line at McDonald’s is always crowded. And, yeah, they had a salad or they add something healthy to the menu to make you feel like you have better options, but people still order the Big Macs. We’re talking about an environment here where the Big Macs are served up 24/7. That’s a profitable company. So is Facebook.”

So what do we have?

OK, so how many Facebook stories do we actually have out there? As of Monday evening, the number was at least 50 and counting. So, again, I ask, where does one even start?

Anywhere, really. Check out my Monday newsletter for links to the first rollout of impactful Facebook stories over the weekend.

Here’s a good spot to start today: The Washington Post’s Cristiano Lima with “A whistleblower’s power: Key takeaways from the Facebook Papers.” Among the takeaways:

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s public claims often conflict with internal research
  • Facebook dropped its guard before the Jan. 6 insurrection
  • Facebook fails to effectively police content in much of the world
  • Facebook chooses maximum engagement over user safety

Here’s more:

Again, these are just a few drops in an ocean of stories that are out and will continue to come out in days, weeks and months ahead.

Facebook earnings

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Tough month for Facebook? Not at the bottom line. In a financial report Monday on the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, the company showed once again that it is making money hand over fist. Revenues were up 35% year-to-year to $29 billion. Profits increased 30% to $9.2 billion.

Opening a conference call with analysts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the company’s record in policing content. However, he also said issues raised in recent weeks by leaks of internal documents are to the side of  Facebook’s business model. More immediate concerns are the impact of Apple’s privacy protocols on ad targeting and measurement and the need to invest in “reality labs” and services targeted to a young adult audience.

Have a question?

The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin and Cat Zakrzewski will answer questions about Facebook today online at 3 p.m. Here’s the link. Dwoskin is The Post’s Silicon Valley correspondent and Zakrzewski reports on the efforts in Washington to regulate Silicon Valley companies.

Book it

The lead reporter behind The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook series has signed a book deal with Doubleday. Based on “The Facebook Files” series, tech reporter Jeff Horwitz will write more about Facebook, its employees and all the recent controversies.

Monday moves

Jonathan Lemire, on the set of MSNBC’s “Way Too Early.” (Anthony J Scutro, NBC.)

Monday was a big day for Jonathan Lemire. The veteran Associated Press White House reporter has been named the permanent host of MSNBC’s “Way Too Early.” The announcement, which had been expected, was made during “Morning Joe.” “Way Too Early” airs weekdays at 5 a.m. Eastern, just ahead of “Morning Joe.” Lemire has been filling in as host since Kasie Hunt left for CNN in July.

There’s more. Lemire is joining Politico as its White House bureau chief. Lemire has been with the AP for the past eight years. Before that, he worked a decade at The Daily News in New York.

And here’s more Politico news. Max Tani, who breaks tons of stories on the media beat for The Daily Beast, is joining Politico’s West Wing Playbook political newsletter in December. Tani has been with The Daily Beast since 2018.

Politico White House editor Sam Stein and editor-in-chief Matt Kaminski made the announcement, which you can read here.

What’s cooking

Just in time for Thanksgiving, NBC News’ Al Roker and the “Today” show are launching a limited-series podcast called “Cooking Up a Storm with Al Roker.” (Here’s the trailer and sign-up page.)

Over the course of six episodes, Roker and guests will make a complete Thanksgiving meal while talking about cooking secrets and recipes. The meals and chefs include parmesan smashed potatoes (Ina Garten); low country oyster cornbread dressing with crispy slab bacon (Alexander Smalls); crisp and juicy herb-roasted turkey (Sohla El-Waylly); caramelized Brussels sprouts (Marcus Samuelsson); cranberry Wojape sauce (Sean Sherman); and sweet potato plantain pie (Maya-Camille Broussard).

Yum, this actually sounds fun, especially if you’re into food. The entire series can be heard starting Nov. 1.

Media tidbits

Ken Buck. (Courtesy: The New York Times’ “Sway” podcast)

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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