Facebook helps develop digital subscriptions for local news publishers

Now publishers can label and schedule articles as 'breaking'

On 27 February 2018, Facebook announced its ‘Journalism Project: Local News Subscriptions Accelerator’, a US$ 3 million project scheduled to be run for a three-month timeframe in the United States. The project aims to help city-based newspapers to take their digital subscriptions to a new level.

Campbell Brown, head of News Partnerships, Facebook, USA, stated, “We often talk to publishers on what is the future of journalism. For instance, local news publishers tell us that digital subscribers are critical to the long-term sustainability of their business. We know Facebook is one part of the strategy to engage readers and to ultimately drive paid subscriptions.”

Facebook’s accelerator will work with more than ten metro news organizations in the US to observe and unlock strategies that help publishers to build digital customer acquisitions on and off Facebook. Facebook has Tim Griggs, a former New York Times executive and leading digital media consultant, to oversee the program’s curriculum focused on understanding digital audiences and building marketing plans for digital subscriber acquisition.

Progress track
All participating publishers will assemble in person once a month, receive coaching from digital subscription experts, and participate in weekly trainings that include an array of digital subscription marketing activities. These activities are not merely restricted to the use of Facebook. Working with program coaches, publishers will then design individual projects that tackle their unique business needs. Grant funding will empower each publisher to implement solutions that will help generate their subscription business.

Currently enrolled publishers include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, The Miami Herald, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Omaha World-Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Tennessean and Newsday. Facebook also wants publishers at large to benefit from the strategies explored during the program, so it is working with The Lenfest Institute to distribute learnings and case studies from this pilot group through the Local Media Consortium, Local Media Association, and the News Media Alliance.

“The Accelerator has been designed by publishers for publishers,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. “The workshop and grant program addresses one of the most significant opportunities for new revenue to fund local journalism. We look forward to sharing the learnings with news organizations worldwide.”

“Providing a venue for metro news organizations to collaboratively develop audience and subscriber acquisition strategies is a smart way to tackle what’s been a vexing problem for most publishers,” said Christian Hendricks, president of the Local Media Consortium. “There’s no doubt the combined-forces fast-paced structure of the Accelerator will produce a positive outcome benefitting all publishers.”

This initiative is a part of Facebook’s aids to provide tools and trainings to newsrooms and journalists and also to ensure that the platform connects people to the quality, trusted and local news that is most important to them. The social media giant, Facebook will make additional investments in organizations and programs committed to strengthening and advancing the future of journalism.

Earlier this year, Facebook committed  to show high-quality news  on its platform. An internal research concluded that people want to see informative news on what is happening around them, when it happens, on Facebook.

Drawing conclusions over the clear signal on ‘what stories are breaking news,’ Facebook worked on the algorithms and made it possible for the local and national publishers to identify and label breaking news in a local area. Started on 5 March 2018, the test will expand to 50 additional publishers in North America, Latin America, Europe and Australia. If this expansion is successful, Facebook may add more publishers.

Publishers in the test will be able to label instant articles, mobile and web links and Facebook Live as breaking news. They can use the indicator once a day by setting how long the story is marked as breaking (up to 6 hours). Publishers also have an extra pool of 5 indicators per month. The posts will appear in News Feed and there will be information in Page Insights, so that publishers can keep a track on their tagged posts performance. Readers will also be able to provide feedback when they don’t consider a story to be breaking news by clicking on the top-right drop-down menu of a post. This feedback will help Facebook to learn and improve the way it shows breaking news.

Observations so far
The official communique issued by Facebook states that people in the US engage more with posts that are labelled as ‘breaking’ news. Observations between 8 December and 14 January show:

– 4% lift in clickthrough rate
– 7% lift in Likes
– 4% lift in Comments
– 11% lift in Shares
The document further stated, Dave Merrell, lead product manager at The Washington Post believes that the publisher is pleased to collaborate with Facebook to elevate breaking news on their platform and is excited – but not surprised – to see readers respond the way they have. He said, “Delivering accurate information quickly has always been core to our mission, and in an overwhelming news cycle, we want our readers to be able to easily identify when there’s new reporting.”

Drawing attention to breaking news on Facebook will help get important information to people when it matters most. This is an early test and Facebook aims to keep working with news publishers through its Journalism Project to incorporate publishers’ feedback and to refine how it works.

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