Will Facebook’s $100M Investment to News Help Address COVID-19 Crisis?

March 31st, 2020 12:37 PM

Facebook is committing 100 million dollars toward local journalism hit hard in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Facebook has reportedly already invested $300 million in local news companies, but following recent events, Facebook will commit $100 million more. Facebook VP of Global News Partnerships Campbell Brown announced via a company blog on March 30 that Facebook will be making this massive follow-up commitment. Brown wrote that Facebook will donate “$25 million in emergency grant funding for local news through the Facebook Journalism Project, and $75 million in additional marketing spend[ing] to move money over to news organizations around the world.

“Through the COVID-19 Community Network grant program, direct funding is helping journalists cover important stories when we all need them most,” Brown wrote. The blog also mentioned how Facebook is “building on this work and will direct a portion of these funds to publishers most in need in the hardest hit countries. The first round of these grants went to 50 local newsrooms in the US and Canada.”

Near the bottom of the blog, Facebook linked to related stories. Under the “Partnerships” category is the headline How 5 Local Reporters Are Covering Coronavirus in the US,” Examples of this ranged from “Online reporting center launched to track coronavirus-related hate crimes” by The Sacramento Bee’s Theodora Yu to “Delays in getting COVID-19 materials in Spanish may put people at risk, experts say” by Megan Taros of Times-News.

What about these stories make them critical reporting during a global pandemic?

Facebook’s relationship with news outlets has been complicated, from excluding Fox News from its human-curated News Tab to eventually including Breitbart.

Necessary or unnecessary, news outlets have reportedly been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the Byers Market March 30 newsletter summarized, the current pandemic “has forced advertisers to cut their budgets, depriving news outlets of much-needed revenue and raising existential questions about the long-term health of the industry, particularly at the local level.” While many more people may be at home and have the time to read articles, companies in multiple industries have less money to spend to purchase ads on those same news websites. In short, despite more traffic, less advertising means those outlets will make less revenue.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told the newsletter’s writer that "In a recession, marketing is the first thing that everyone pulls back on. We're very sensitive to that. Marketing is what supports our business. For local businesses, for local news, they need that to be sustainable."

Zuckerberg was quoted in Axios’ March 30 newsletter, “We know that a lot of journalists are working really hard under very difficult conditions, when getting accurate information is incredibly important." He added that "At the same time, a lot of these organizations are struggling because of the economic impact of the outbreak."

Axios’s Sara Fischer summarized in her article that “the coronavirus and a pending recession has pushed the local news industry into near collapse at a time when people need access to local news and information more than ever before.”