Facebook

Private Companies and State Governments Fight for Local News

Facebook is the latest to announce its intentions to save local media.

|

|||Oleg Dudko/Dreamstime.com
Oleg Dudko/Dreamstime.com

Local news has become a cause for worry in recent years. A study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has highlighted the existence of "News Deserts." Simply put, 1,449 counties, which is nearly half of all counties in the country, only have one local news source. The study also found that 171 counties lack a local newspaper altogether. A Pew Research Center poll from 2016 suggested that local news consumption helped strengthen one's connection to their community and involvement in local government. With these figures in mind, both the private and public sphere have decided to bridge the gap between local news consumption and civic engagement.

Here's how they compare.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced that it would be investing $300 million in helping local outlets with newsgathering and building "sustainable business models." Recipients include the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which collaborated with Pew in the previously referenced poll. Facebook says that it believes involvement in the local news business will "have the added benefit of fostering civic engagement," pointing to some of the same research about the benefits of local news. In addition to the funds, Facebook said it would expand its Accelerator pilot, which would assist local newsrooms in subscription and membership services.

In 2018, the New Jersey state government also lent a hand to local news outlets. This past July, the state legislature set aside $5 million to subsidize local news. The money would go through a nonprofit called Civic Information Consortium, created by the state legislature.

If there's one thing that Facebook and the New Jersey government share, it's public distrust. Facebook has increasingly taken hits to its public image over news and privacy. Content publishers developed a symbiotic relationship with Facebook in the past, unintentionally giving the social media giant greater control of their news distribution. Facebook eventually pulled itself from the news distribution process and promised its users more posts from friends and family. The resulting loss for smaller publishers, particularly conservative outlets, drew accusations of partisanship. Facebook's reputation took another wave of hits after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where users learned that their private data may have been used for political purposes, broke last year.

The accusations of partiality and Facebook's blunders are relatively fresh in the minds of consumers––especially conservatives. So why would they suddenly trust Facebook?

The New Jersey government's reputation is also tarnished, due in part to the mob culture that has influenced Hollywood stories for decades. Polls throughout the years have found that the state sees some of the highest numbers of corruption convictions (though its corruption convictions per capita are somewhat lower compared to other states). Plus, the thought of state-subsidized news outlets would make any First Amendment advocate's skin crawl. Government has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not value truth if it harms an operation. When Daniel Ellsberg went public with the Pentagon Papers, for example, President Nixon himself led direct efforts to prevent the New York Times from publishing any damning content. Of New Jersey's legislation, Politico's Jack Shafer wrote the following:

Even if the consortium stays clean, won't it avoid politically charged stories of great watchdogging potential because it will fear to bite the hand that feeds it? Government-funded news outfits like NPR and PBS, ever fearful of offending their funding sources, avoid hard-hitting government news for this reason. Public media may follow the news pack on a story about government corruption, but generally, they're too compromised to lead.

Though the private and public entities here similarly share a reputation and credibility problem, there are also key differences in their proposals.

Being that Facebook is a larger entity with few monetary restrictions, it can dedicate more money to its cause. Say Facebook's efforts were evenly divided among the 50 states. That would be $6 million worth of resources for each state in the country. New Jersey, on the other hand, is limited to taxpayer funds and the legislative process. Should the state find that it needs more money for its operation, the decision must go through several hoops, and only after representatives have valued its importance against other state initiatives.

Facebook has chosen to work with several groups that have already dedicated themselves to helping local newsrooms grow and mentoring aspiring journalists. New Jersey has instead placed its eggs in one new, government-created basket.

And who is to say that these grand announcements are anything more than public relations pushes?

A social media company whose past attempts in the news business are tainted and a corrupt state government who has decided to oversee a sole operation have promised to save local news. Considering past histories alone, there are many doubts as to how successful either will be. Maybe they'll be effective. Maybe they'll simply brag about their feel-good resolutions with very little to show for their financial commitment. Only time––and the market––will tell.

NEXT: Over-the-Counter Contraception Is Immensely Popular. But Democrats Have Doomed It.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. BREAKING NEWS: Facebook Certified Best Social Media Company By World-Respected New Jersey State Officials

  2. “The accusations of partiality and Facebook’s blunders are relatively fresh in the minds of consumers??especially conservatives”

    I thought it was the left that was pissed at Facebook because Russian fake news on FB cause Clinton to lose the election. I’m having trouble keeping up.

    1. See? You must be in a news desert.

  3. What do these people imagine local news will be like? A mini New York Times or Wall Street Journal in every podunk town? Are there hungry, eager (and relatively literate) reporters and editors sitting around just waiting to share the hard-hitting news about the new assistant manager at the supermarket and the factional rivalry at the PTA meeting?

    I live in a town with 20k people, and our local newspaper struggles (both with content and with grammar). I also live in a state where the only big city (and state capital) also struggles. Beside sports, their web page serves up mostly stale and recycled articles. Paying readership continues to drop, while the city population grows.

    Sorry, for the average person (city or country), the “news” model seems to be dead.

    1. Good description.

      Newspapers started way back as a means of advertising; to get advertisers, some clever spark thought up printing gossip between the ads.

      Gossip comes from the internet now. The idea of reporters searching for gossip is obsolete. People willingly spread gossip on their own, always have, but now they have much better means, and newspapers can’t compete.

      There is still some potential for actual investigative reporting, but even that has been mostly obsoleted by whistle blowers and Wikileaks.

      All this pulled the rug out from under the news media. They have had to scramble for a new gig, and that gig is not gossip but outrage.

      And there is no local outrage on the scale that would support reporters. This is why local newspapers are dying out.

      Anyone who wants actual local gossip is best served by Nextdoor, or by local Facebook groups organized by locals.

  4. North Carolina at Chapel Hill has highlighted the existence of “News Deserts.” Simply put, 1,449 counties, which is nearly half of all counties in the country, only have one local news source.

    News Deserts. They’re kidding, right?

    1. “Simply put, 1,449 counties, which is nearly half of all counties in the country, only have one local news source.”

      This is also bullshit on the face of it. Whoever designed the “study” simply defined a “news source” such that the results were a given.
      The web is certainly a source of ‘fake news’, but that’s also true of most dead-tree sources; the local lefty rag, the Chron being a prize example.
      Reading between the lines has been a required skill to ascertain what’s going on since Ben was running the press in Boston.

  5. “New Jersey, on the other hand, is limited to taxpayer funds and the legislative process. Should the state find that it needs more money for its operation, the decision must go through several hoops, and only after representatives have valued its importance against other state initiatives.”

    Of course there are no built-in incentives for the ‘New Jersey Really Honest News Agency’ to bias its reports. Nope, not here.

  6. who trusts FB to be true about anything?

    1. People that are howling about how Russian memes gave Trump the election?

  7. In 2018, the New Jersey state government also lent a hand to local news outlets. This past July, the state legislature set aside $5 million to subsidize local news. The money would go through a nonprofit called Civic Information Consortium, created by the state legislature.

    I’d like to see a local news story on who runs this consortium, and how the money is allocated.

  8. #WhatCouldPossiblyGoWrong?

    The media today: Journalism as national service
    Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruthProject, Google, and others, plans to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms over the next five years. Writing in CJR, the project’s co-founders argue that America needs “a dramatically new approach at the local level?grounded less in the traditional commercial model and more on a reawakened spirit of public service among reporters.”

    Steven Waldman and Charles M. Sennott say that they want to model their initiative on organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America, providing opportunities and support to emerging journalists while also helping newsrooms around the country do civically important reporting. Waldman first pitched the idea in the pages of CJR more than two years ago, calling for a new national service program dedicated to journalism.

  9. Damn. I need to get a job at the SEC.

    The 800,000 federal workers who haven’t been paid during the government shutdown have each missed more than $5,000 in wages on average so far, according to a New York Times analysis. Combined, that’s more than $200 million per workday.

    $12,543
    per worker
    Securities and Exchange Commission
    $56 million owed to 4,436 workers

    Attorneys and lawyers in the S.E.C. can make more than $200,000 per year. The number of unpaid workers for the S.E.C. and other agencies comes from contingency plans and from Enigma, a New York start-up. (The New York Times Company is among Enigma’s investors.)

  10. Local news isn’t even good at it’s own job. Reason had far more comprehensive coverage of our Philly soda tax than the Inky ever did. It’s become nothing more than a B team NYT editorializing about Blumpf and his two scoops.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.