By the time you read this, Facebook will have relaunched its News tab. The Oct. 25 rollout is the social media giant’s return to aggregating journalism. It comes at one of media’s more curious moments, in a period of curiosities aplenty.
Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress this week, as the House Financial Services Committee inquired about the company’s plans to get into the cryptocurrency business. Facebook had bowed out of news curation after being pelted with accusations of propping up misinformation in its old news feeds during the 2016 elections. Facebook promised to refocus on personal streams. Many media outlets’ fortunes plummeted in the process.
The reentry into news rekindles what has to be a love-hate relationship between journalism and Facebook. No one doubts Facebook’s power to generate audiences or conversation in news. But the power lies in Facebook’s hands and news organizations have minimal influence in what the company’s priorities may be. After Facebook changed its tools to deemphasize news stories, media organizations that had come to depend on Facebook traffic saw stock plunges and layoffs.
Will it be different this time around? Hard to know. Facebook’s newfound interest in local news is encouraging. Given the local lens, for all the criticism of Facebook receives, rightly or wrongly, the News tab could represent a benefit and opportunity to local journalism hubs like community radio.
Facebook would be wise to tap into the vast network of community radio stations providing coverage to their towns, and giving a local perspective to national stories all of us have our eyes on. Whether it’s the excellent coverage by Marfa Public Radio of the El Paso mass shooting or immigration issues, WRFI’s coverage of housing in New York state, or KZMU’s coverage of the complex environmental issues in Utah, there is no shortage of essential stories being told. They’re stories told not from the viewpoint of a parachuting journalist from the coasts, but reporters that live and work in these communities. It is authenticity that is rare in journalism. It is refreshing. And local news from community radio is needed now more than ever, by Facebook and the nation.
Beyond making community news more prominent in feeds, Facebook could build trust by investing financially in community radio journalism and by giving training and access to the slate of new features. Not every community radio station may be able to take advantage of such support, but for those willing and able, a powerful ally can only lift up local voices. Facebook has a unique power in can wield for the betterment of community media.
While details for independent publishers remain sketchy, a process for publishers to submit feeds and stories is expected. One can hope Facebook may have learned from the firestorm during its last foray into news. It launched an initiative to improve news delivered on its platform, and one can hope community radio stations are active in getting themselves listed. Facebook should also take this journalism seriously. I love the Washington Post, Fox News and the like as much as anyone, but Americans deserve the richness community media offers.