Facebook Expands Push into Local News Through Expansion of its Bulletin Newsletter Platform
While Facebook’s Bulletin newsletter platform hasn’t seemingly been a big hit as yet, we’re starting to see the first seeds of how it could become a much bigger consideration, and where the platform is angling the tool as a key connection option for creators and journalists.
Today, Facebook has announced that it will add 25 new local journalists to its stable of Bulletin writers, as it moves into a key space of potential growth for the tool.
As explained by Facebook:
“Our commitment to help independent local journalists interested in starting or continuing their work on Facebook Bulletin was announced in April, with a $5 million investment to support them. As part of the application process, we are delighted to announce that 25 authors have been selected by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) for publication in their respective publications.”
The funding comes from Facebook’s broader pool to assist local publications, which includes a $100 grant program that it announced to ‘support the news industry’ in March last year. Facebook has also announced a new $1 million to support local journalism in Argentina today.
The Bulletin expansion, however, is significant in that it provides a new outlet for local journalism, which has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Indeed, according to Poynter, more than 85 local newsrooms across the US have shuttered in the last year, with the lockdowns exacerbating an already tough market for local news.
“In the United States, over 1,800 newspapers have shuttered their doors since 2004. Until date, the rate of closures has been around 100 per year on average.”
With the closure of local stores, the relative interest in local marketing decreases, which in turn reduces the amount of advertising money available to finance these publications, which had already migrated to online channels for the most part. Now that the epidemic has wiped them out completely, many regions have no local news presence at all, which is a significant blow to civic and community participation in those areas affected by it.
Although Facebook may be able to give a lifeline through Bulletin, and when you consider Facebook’s huge reach, it is possible that Facebook and Bulletin may become the primary local news sources in many communities.
It’s possible that, given recent experiences with news dissemination on Facebook, this is a source of concern – but the truth is that the audience is already there, and people are already going onto Facebook every day to keep up with the latest news and to communicate with their family and friends. Why not give them with information on the local news as well?
This is where the popularity of Facebook groups is likely to be the most reliable indication of prospective success. Every month, 1.8 billion individuals participate in Facebook groups, with more than 38 percent of those who participate looking to interact with others in their local region using the service.
That indicates a significant potential, which may lead to Facebook being an even more important factor in a variety of contexts, including local community outreach, connection, advertising, and other uses.
As a result, at least for the time being, it is impossible to assess the success or failure of Facebook’s Bulletin initiative. At the time of the option’s introduction, Facebook released a list of high-profile writers who have signed on to the program, including Malcolm Gladwell and Tan France. However, it is increasingly turning the emphasis on smaller, more localized publications and journalists.
While this presents a significant opportunity, it also presents a significant risk. While benefiting creators by providing an alternative platform, Facebook benefits primarily by increasing engagement, increasing return users, and increasing advertising opportunities through increasingly active local audiences.
Building on Facebook’s platforms, of course, always entails a certain amount of uncertainty. When the main companies in the news industry refused to share income with the smaller ones in February, Facebook shut off all Australian news publishers, large and small, from its platform completely. That had a far greater impact on smaller newspapers than it did on the major media outlets at the heart of the discussion, and it served as a cautionary tale about what might happen if you create a following on Facebook and then allow Facebook to possess that audience.
There are extra restrictions incorporated into the architecture of Bulletin to account for this, but it remains a critical consideration. And if Facebook can pull off this new effort successfully and establish itself as a significant source for local news, that will be something to keep in mind as a counterpoint to the company’s growth potential.
However, it appears to be just another strategy for Facebook to become even more prominent and a greater part of people’s everyday lives. Soon, if you’re looking for local news, Facebook will be the place to go, which might assist further entwine individuals with The Social Network in the process.
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