Intended to “do more to support local publishers”, yesterday Facebook announced the launch of The Community News Project. The £4.5m fund designed to support local journalism in the UK, appears to be an olive branch between the social media giant and the news publishers affected by the rise of fake news and ever-changing algorithms.

The Facebook local journalism fund is intended to enable the NCTJ to recruit around 80 trainee “community journalists” to train in local newsrooms on a two-year scheme, partnering with the likes of Newsquest, JPIMedia, Reach, Archant and the Midland News Association to revitalise reporting in towns that have lost their local papers.

The scheme is part of the Facebook Journalism Project, designed to encourage a “healthy news ecosystem” and  “establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry”. However, given the often negative impact the platform has had on journalism, some are not convinced.

Facebook local journalism fund: too little too late?

The regional press is undeniably facing trying times in the UK. Since 2007, over 300 local and regional titles have closed, with many attributing this to the dominance of digital giants such as Facebook and Google, as businesses choose to advertise on their platforms instead of news websites.

Facebook’s control of the digital advertising market means that the platform is unpopular among many local journalists, who believe that they have been robbed of a huge amount of advertising revenue.

As a result, some have been cynical over Facebook’s intentions, pointing out that a donation of £4.5m is a drop in the water for a billion-dollar business, and some even speculating that the project could be to ward off regulation that would mean that Facebook would have to pay for news content featured on the platform.

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Two experts have shared their views on the issue with Verdict, shedding light on whether a Facebook local journalism fund will make a difference to the regional press.

James Clench, PHA media consultant:

“Journalists will be cynical about this training offering as local newspapers have seen a collapse in classified advertising since the rise of tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

“The level of investment in the scheme will undoubtedly be questioned as an outlay of £4.5m is a pittance to a company that recently enjoyed quarterly revenues of £10.7bn.

“Facebook supporters may argue that it is not the company’s duty to support or rescue a rival industry. But journalists are justifiably frustrated that Facebook lifts their stories that are often the result of days or weeks of hard work – and then Facebook benefits from the ad revenue.

“The decline of local journalism means local democracy is poorer – magistrates’ courts, inquests and local council meetings are not properly reported on – and this proposed scheme will not address that issue.”

Dr Ben Marder, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at University of Edinburgh Business School:

“Mark Zuckerberg’s motive is irrelevant – if training is to take place, Facebook will be directly interfering with the evolution of the news industry.

“Throughout history, enterprises that have been slow to adapt to their surroundings have not survived, and this has become the case for local newspapers. The news outlets that are thriving have quickly shifted their business models from print publications to news brands, creating online content that people engage with, increasing their SEO rating and digital advertising revenue.

“In the world of social media for news, it is the ‘survival of the clickable’, as no clicks equates to no advertising revenue, meaning  reporters must too become digital marketers. The proposed training of reporters by Facebook may help some smaller news outlets fend for themselves by grabbing enough clicks to survive, but inevitably many will perish.

“The more worrying trend for the news industry is it is becoming dependent on ‘click bait’, rather vacant posts that prioritise engagement metrics over genuine newsworthy content. Emphasising this general demise in journalistic substance, a former UK broadsheet newspaper turned news brand recently posted a story whose sole focus was a video of a cat getting stuck in a bin. Albeit such content has its place on the internet, it would be a travesty to call this hard-hitting journalism. News brands will survive, but the question is, is it the end of journalism?”