Is the US Media in Bed With the Devil?

Chicago Tribune

A little under two weeks ago I attended the LION 18 conference in Chicago. LION is short for Local Independent Online News and is an organisation for local news sites. Little did I know all the reactions I would get when I tweeted my surprise over how in bed Facebook is with local news sites and newspapers in the US.

In Norway newspapers consider Facebook as the enemy, that they begrudgingly use to post links to their articles. In fact, one of Norway’s biggest newspapers had a big editorial piece on how they would not dance to the tune of Facebook. This landed Aftenposten’s editor on CNN and a whole lot of other news channels around the world. It also prompted Jeff Jarvis to tweet  this:

The enemy

In the two years that have passed, not much have changed between Facebook and Nowergian media. Of course, most newspapers have a Facebook page where their share links to their stories. Some newspapers also have other activities, like competitions, giveaways and other things going on, but not many. Radio stations also tend to have Facebook pages for their most popular programs, where people can be in contact with the producers and presenters.

But Facebook is still considered to be an enemy that not only is an editor’s editor, they also steal your traffic, revenue and readers.

In the US the media have taken their relationship with Facebook even further. Facebook was one of the main sponsors of the LION 18 conference. They also had their very own slot where they presented their Facebook programs for the US media.

On Friday Dorrine Mendoza from Facebook presented Facebook Instant Articles. This is a platform where any publishers can publish rich content, but mobile friendly, articles directly to Facebook. The program started in 2016, with 72 American publishers, but over 50% of them have since abandoned the platform. Their reasoning was that Facebook took most of the monetization, the publishers had much less control over the ads being shown and some publishers have complained that they received limited information on how they could track and learn about their Instant Articles readers.

Join them?

However, Facebook has also launched a 12 week long program, called Local News Subscriptions Accelerator, where they gather together news publishers and representatives from Facebook to have workshops around how to make good content for online news. Facebook claim they do this because they want to promote local news and help local news sites to monetize from it in a better way.

I was amazed to see how many newspapers and sites that took part in this, so I tweeted this:

To their credit, the LION 18 conference re-tweeted it, and I got a lot of replies from editors and publishers around the US. The reactions went from “Norway has the right idea” via “we can’t beat them, sadly, so we’ve joined them” to “yeah, it’s a deal with the Devil!”

Several of the people I spoke to at the conference agreed that this union was problematic. Especially when you consider how Facebook censors content and how they time after time are caught lying about what they do with all the data they have about us.

Considering Aftenposten editor Espen Egil Hansen’s posting two years ago, I choose to believe that such an alliance would be unthinkable in Norway. And I truly hope it will stay that way. Facebook is not a reliable partner. Especially not for independent news publishers who want to keep their integrity intact.

However, since I’m a social media buff and I love promoting social collaboration, I’m professionally curious to see how this will develop in the US, and what the result will be.

What do you think about the US media and Facebook being in bed with each other? Leave a comment below!


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