The move, media analysts say, marks a new chapter in the relationship between news outlets and the behemoth tech platforms that historically have not paid for the journalistic content they republish. But the project immediately raised new controversy when it became known that Breitbart News, a Web outlet linked to right-wing causes that was once run by former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, was a participant in the project.
“Given that Facebook is putting actual news outlets in the same category as Breitbart, actual news outlets should consider quickly withdrawing from the program,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit media watchdog.
At an event in New York launching the project, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Breitbart’s inclusion. “You want to include a breadth of content to make sure all different topics can be covered,” Zuckerberg said.
Other outlets participating include The Washington Post, the New York Times, News Corp., BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Bloomberg News, Fox News, NBCUniversal, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
The News tab marks the latest iteration of Facebook’s approach to online news. Before January 2018, the company had been a leading distributor of news, but that role was dogged by the presence in its news feed of false and misleading information, as well as allegations that its news feed and other features tilted toward liberal viewpoints. So last year the company shifted its focus to promote posts from a user’s friends and family, but the revamped news feed also hurt traffic for many news outlets that had tailored their offerings to appeal to Facebook’s audience.
Zuckerberg did not go into specifics about how different publishers would be compensated, and media analysts expressed skepticism that the arrangement will help the small and medium-sized local outlets that have been most seriously undercut by the rise of online news distribution.
“The vast majority of local news outlets are not included, and that is part of the news ecosystem that’s most at risk,” said David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, a trade association of news publishers.
Chavern called Facebook’s agreement to pay at least some news outlets for their content a step in the right direction, noting that tech platforms have been “uniquely unwilling to pay for news and quality journalism.”
It was unclear whether other platforms would follow the Facebook model. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In June, a study by the News Media Alliance found that Google reaped an estimated $4.7 billion of revenue in 2018 from scraping news publishers’ content — without paying the publishers for that use. The study found that news is a key driver of user engagement on Google’s products.
Meanwhile, the news industry has taken massive hits from declines in print advertising and competition from digital platforms for online ad revenue. Many established media companies have laid off staff or consolidated, while a slew of digital start-ups have failed. A July study from the Pew Research Center found that U.S. newsroom employment has dropped by a quarter since 2008, with the greatest decline at newspapers — from 114,000 in 2008 to about 86,000 last year.
The News tab currently is available to more than 200,000 Facebook users in the United States, with a broader rollout planned for early next year. The new service, Facebook executives say, should make it easier for users to locate the day’s major headlines, as well as stories geared toward particular topics or locales.
The initiative could reach 20 million to 30 million people over a few years, Zuckerberg said, and will eventually include a wider set of local and international publishers.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that the decision to pay some publishers was unlikely to revive the news industry altogether.
“I don’t pretend any of these steps by themselves are going to be enough,” Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg also insisted that the team of journalists curating Facebook News’ top stories will not shy away from critical coverage of himself or of Facebook.
Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for global news partnerships and a former CNN journalist, told The Post that the News tab is the result of years of conversations with news organizations. The initial phase will highlight reporting from some of the country’s largest metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington, Miami, Atlanta and Boston. (Facebook also runs Today In, a local news page that now covers more than 6,000 towns and cities.)
Under the arrangement, Facebook’s payments to news organizations will range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars annually, depending on the outlet’s size and its contribution to the service, people familiar with the plan told The Post. Outlets that don’t receive payments will be able to make money from advertising when Facebook features their stories.
Tech giants are increasingly stepping into news aggregation for revenue and expanded audiences. Apple earlier this year launched its Apple News+ subscription service, which for $9.99 a month offers outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and a slew of magazines. The Post is not a participant in that project.
Craig Timberg contributed to this report.