July 3, 2017

Last month, a group of local newsrooms began working with Facebook as part of a project by the social media platform to establish stronger ties to local news.

Six newsrooms are part of the first six-month pilot program, with another six to follow. Those newsrooms, Berkleyside, Honolulu Civil Beat, Texas Tribune, QCityMetro, Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Homepage Media Group, are members of Local Independent Online News Publishers and the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Each organization is working on their own project during the six months, building a direct relationship with Facebook, undergoing training and learning best practices for using the social network.

The results of their projects will be shared, said Stefanie Murray, director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media. The Center for Cooperative Media is coordinating the Knight Foundation project for the program’s work with LION, INN and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. (Disclosure: The Knight Foundation helped fund my position.)

Members of the project, who come from both editorial and business ranks at their organizations, have several goals.

“One, we want to help them have a direct relationship with people at Facebook,” Murray said. “That’s something that sounds simple, but for many, many news publishers, trying to get ahold of someone who works at Facebook is nearly impossible.”

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David Beard, who previously worked at The Washington Post and PRI, is working as a consultant with the newsrooms to get a sense of what they need, what they need to do and what Facebook needs to know about them.

They’re all very different organizations with very different needs, he said. But they do have one need in common.

“I think in some ways it’s something as simple as a mechanism for an answer back,” he said. “Just to be able to say, ‘We’ve had success in a dealing with Facebook,’ it’s not just ‘go see my links for certification’ or ‘go to the FAQ page.’ It’s something beyond that.”

The projects each outlet is working on vary. For instance, at Philadelphia Public School Notebook, email lists have been an important tool. Does Facebook have tools that will help those lists grow? Could they alter those tools to help grow subscribers or members?

Murray hopes to work with other platforms as part of the project as well, including Instagram, Twitter, Google and YouTube.

In May, Facebook began testing new products to help better connect users with local news by helping people find local groups, linking people in community-focused groups to local news and offering a badge that lets locals identify as such when commenting on local publishers’ pages.

The Facebook Journalism Project met with local publishers at the recent Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Phoenix, and the meetings were encouraging, Josh Mabry, the strategic partnerships manager for local publishers at Facebook, said via email.

“One common refrain we heard is that they are keenly interested in more education on products like Instant Articles and how their peers are using them successfully,” Mabry said. “Our intention with this project, and the Facebook Group we’ve created for these publishers, is to provide more resources and a more direct conversation along with opportunities to learn from one another in the process.”

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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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