February 13, 2017

Last week, Facebook visited journalists in Atlanta and Dallas in what looks like the start of a more reciprocal relationship between the social media giant and local newsrooms.

Journalists rely on Facebook to help them reach their audiences, but, until now, Facebook’s attention has largely been on national news organizations. The visits are part of the Facebook Journalism Project, which Poynter is part of.

San Diego and Seattle are up next, part of an ongoing listening tour that will span newsrooms across the U.S.

Poynter spoke with Jason White, manager of U.S. news media partnerships at Facebook, via email about the outreach. Here’s what we learned about what Facebook is up to.

Why local? Why is that important?

Local news is the starting place for great journalism — it brings communities together around issues that are closest to home. As stated in the Facebook Journalism Project announcement, we’re interested in exploring what we can build together with our partners to support local news and promote independent media. This initiative is in its earliest stages; we want to talk about it now so that we can get as much input from newsrooms and journalists as possible, working together to shape what local news on Facebook could look like.

We want to hear from local journalists and news organizations, and in visiting these newsrooms and hosting these events — it’s a great way to hear from our partners directly. It is an opportunity for newsroom leaders, social media editors and journalists to learn more about using Facebook and Instagram for news — and for us to learn more about what is and isn’t working for local news organizations on these platforms.

Facebook has worked closely with national news outlets as partners. What’s different about working with local outlets?

The biggest difference is how distributed they are — both geographically and in terms of responsibility for business and journalism. We might work with the main corporate office or editor for a major chain of newspapers, but are also dozens of properties in their portfolio that have some of their own ideas about how they should leverage Facebook.

What are the incentives for local newsrooms, some who don’t have the resources to have people dedicated to social media, to work with Facebook?

Most local news organizations that we’ve talked to say they use Facebook primarily to grow and connect with their audience. And because of the audience they have cultivated over the years, Facebook has become a primary source of referral traffic for many of them — and that’s traffic that they can monetize. So they find it is well worth their time.

We also make it easy for them to do innovative storytelling via products like Facebook Live. It used to be incredibly expensive to set up livestreams from events, and now it can be done with the push of a button on a phone. If you’re out in the field and you see a protest or a snowstorm or floods, you can just hold up your phone and tell a really powerful story just because you were there and you have access to this technology.

You visited Atlanta and Dallas and will continue traveling around the country for regional events. What did you learn from those places that you haven’t yet learned from other newsrooms?

It reinforced just how great local media is at serving their audience, regardless of what platform they’re using. They’re keenly interested in Facebook Live and have used it to do everything from cover protests to film a fitness routine to go behind the scenes of a newscast. We also learned just how much Facebook matters to their digital business, and that we are driving a high percentage of their website visitors.

We also learned that there are some information gaps around best practices that events like this can help to close.

What are the biggest challenges you think local news outlets face, and how can Facebook help?

They are typically strapped for resources, so we’re keeping this in mind when we’re building products that they need to be as user-friendly as possible. We also need to make sure the connection between their activity on Facebook and the business value they get out of is clear.

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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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