Facebook offers to host articles for news sites. Good deal for journalism?

Reports say that Facebook is planning to bring news directly to people's feeds, but is it a smart idea for the media industry as a whole?

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/File
Facebook Inc warned of a dramatic increase in spending in 2015 and projected a slowdown in revenue growth this quarter, slicing a tenth off its market value. Facebook shares fell 7.7 percent in premarket trading the day after the social network announced an increase in spending in 2015 and projected a slowdown in revenue growth this quarter.

Facebook has been exploring new forms of revenue, which apparently includes entering the news industry.

According to sources with the New York Times, the expanding tech giant and a number of media organizations, including NYT, Buzzfeed, and National Geographic, are considering displaying articles directly in news feeds, instead of users clicking a link that sends them to the publication’s website. It was also reported by Engadget that its sister publication, The Huffington Post, was interested in a possible collaboration.

Facebook plans to unroll the program in the coming months with the four publications, though more news sites may have been added to the roster as the discussions continue, according to those familiar with the matter. NYT appears to be the closest to moving toward a “firm deal” with Facebook, as stated by anonymous sources.

This idea was first reported last October, when NYT’s David Carr elaborated on a Facebook “listening tour” with media outlets. Facebook’s mission on the tour was to ease publishers' worries about content control. While the social-media site promised faster load times – a major issue on mobile devices – many were wary of the amount of power Facebook would have over brands and advertising dollars. Mr. Carr compared the company to a large dog running toward you: does the monstrosity just want to play, or is it out to devour you?

“We don’t want to try and devour and suck in the Internet,” Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox reassured audiences while speaking at the Code/Media conference in February.

Facebook has been very public about its interest in integrating more legitimate news in between photos of cats and weekend outings – and to the company’s credit, it has streamlined its own news feeds. Facebook believes it could close the so-called "eight-second gap" it takes for users to get from a Facebook link to an article’s page, which the company believes is way too long, according to NYT.

However, publishers would have to relinquish some control of their stories to Facebook, starting with their ability to speak freely about the negotiations. 

Facebook already has a massive influence over media content, which is displayed every time the company’s self-governing algorithms disrupt the flow of online news. As Fortune reports, from the outside, it appears Facebook has the potential to make or break any news site of its choosing.

Though, according to Mr. Cox, the algorithms are not touched by executives and are dictated by user data, the Internet’s version of currency, which could end up being part of the final deal with Facebook.

Facebook’s 1.4-billion-member audience is like a gold mine as major news sites facing declining page views. This fact is likely why employees at the Guardian have reportedly suggested different outlets banding together to “negotiate deals that work for the whole industry,” according to NYT. Additionally, proposing that media outlets retain control over their own advertising, no matter who is hosting a publication’s content.

As media outlets continue their awkward attempt to find better footing in the digital age, they will have to decide if it is a good idea to make themselves cozy in the pockets of tech giants such as Facebook, especially as the social network is in decline and it searches for new forms of revenue. 

More details of the negotiations may be revealed at Facebook’s developer conference, F8, this Thursday, but as Carr said, “The Facebook dog is loose, and he’s acting more friendly than hungry. But everyone knows that if the dog is big enough, he can lick you to death as well.”

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