Although news media have seen a rise in digital subscriptions during the coronavirus, advertising has plummeted. Facebook has stepped in with the announcement it will provide $25 million in grants to local news outlets, as well as spend $75 million in marketing. Examples of outlets hard hit include BuzzFeed and American Media, which are cutting employees’ salaries, and alt-weeklies that have laid off as much as 75 percent of their employees. Facebook fact-checkers, meanwhile, are fighting coronavirus misinformation.
The New York Times reports that the $100 million just committed “will come on top of $300 million that Facebook … pledged last year to invest in local news by the end of 2021.” Facebook vice president for global news partnerships Campbell Brown stated that, “if people needed more proof that local journalism is a vital public service, they’re getting it now.” She added that Facebook has “begun to make progress.”
“Subscriptions have begun to increase, but there’s still a gap there, and if we can fill that gap, then we have a responsibility to do it,” she concluded. One example is a Charleston, South Carolina newspaper, The Post and Courier, which got a Facebook grant two weeks ago to “cover remote work costs for its journalists and expand its coverage across the state.”
NYT notes that, “news outlets have long seen Facebook as an adversary” as well as Google, both of which “dominate digital ad revenue, squeezing the bottom lines of traditional media.” Facebook was “built on users’ sharing enticing content, including news articles … [but] in recent years, the central News Feed pivoted away from an emphasis on hard news.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Lead Stories, a fact-checking site co-founded by former CNN producer Alan Duke, is working overtime debunking coronavirus misinformation, such as the necessity “to close your windows because military helicopters will start spraying disinfectant.” The company has been flagging “a surge of posts that are both dangerous and harder to track than many other forms of what is known as fake news,” and has already fact-checked 200+ coronavirus claims.
When Lead Stories debunks a claim, it is “labeled as false on Facebook, which limits [its] spread and links to Lead Stories’ reviews.” A staffer also “combs the platform looking to identify and label duplicates that spring up.” Lead Stories, which was already ramping up to combat misinformation in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, is now doing coronavirus combat all the time, for Facebook and Instagram. It also reviews, without payment, “material from Twitter, YouTube and other platforms.”
Facebook funds “about half of the international publishers and fact-checking organizations that are part of a coronavirus-specific fact-checking alliance coordinated by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network.”
Duke wouldn’t reveal how much Facebook is paying Lead Stories, but said it is “a multiple of the $359,000 it earned under its 2019 contract.” The company, which was co-founded by Maarten Schenk, “now has 10 full-time employees and six part-time fact checkers, mostly former CNN employees.”