By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Facebook to fund revenue models for community news projects

When Facebook has announced various initiatives to help news organizations, they have tended to benefit larger newsrooms that are less in need of assistance. For instance, when the News Tab was unveiled a year and a half ago, it was explicitly designed to benefit behemoths like The New York Times, The Washington Post and BuzzFeed.

As I wrote then: “At a time when local news is under unprecedented economic pressure, the News Tab will only widen the gap between relatively well-off, highly visible national news organizations and small local projects. The national sites will get paid; the local sites will be billed monthly.”

On Wednesday, though, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers announced a $1 million, two-year initiative funded by the Facebook Journalism Project to help its members develop their revenue models. Anika Anand, deputy director of LION Publishers, writes:

Through an application process, we will select a group of LION member organizations that will receive up to two years of funding to hire someone who will focus primarily on revenue generation with the goal of making their position self-sustaining at the end of the two years. For our first cohort, we will prioritize news businesses pursuing sustainability through a revenue strategy focused on readers, major donors or advertisers. Every LION member will be considered eligible for this program — their tax status will not matter.

In other words, the program is open to for-profit and nonprofit ventures alike.

News organizations that are part of LION are sources of reliable journalism, and they’re providing it on the community level, where the news implosion has hit the hardest. With 262 members, $1 million isn’t going to go a long way. But we do seem to be at a moment at which Facebook and Google understand that they are going to have to pay for the news they’ve been using. The LION program is exceptionally worthy.

Let’s call this a good start.

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1 Comment

  1. aaronread1

    I prefer Josh Benton’s analysis of what Facebook (and Google) are doing when it comes to funding journalism: shooting the hostages. No matter how tempting it is, we should not be looking at anything they do as “well, maybe there’s SOME good that’s coming out of this.”

    “The tech giants have money, and they have power. They don’t mind giving up money if it gives them something in return: a friendlier regulatory environment, or silence from cranky publishers. What they don’t want to give up is the power: the power to pick winners (whether via algorithm or cash transfer), the power to decide what it’s willing to pay, and — most importantly — the power to maintain their main advantage as platforms, which is to aggregate huge amounts of free information and profit from all the ways they can organize, distribute, and monetize it all.

    If there were suddenly a law that says Google has to pay for some kinds of information in its search index — or that Facebook has to pay to have some kinds of information in News Feed — that core element of their model would be at risk. Suddenly, instead of being a toll road that commuters pay to use, you have to pay drivers for the privilege of using you? That’s the unthinkable.”

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