Facebook’s news plans are starting to take shape.
After months of rumors, the company has confirmed plans to introduce a separate “news” section in its app for which it will hire human journalists — not contractors — to work on. It’s also been widely reported that Facebook may negotiate licensing deals with some publications.
Speaking to The New York Times, Facebook’s head of news partnerships Campbell Brown said the goal would be to “provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people.”
While there are still few details to go on, it sounds similar to the approach Apple has taken with Apple News. A group of employees with media backgrounds, will determine which news stories appear in Facebook’s “News Tab.” There will also be some personalization based on each users’ interests and habits.
“The ideal candidate will have sound news judgment, and a passion for breaking news,” Facebook writes in a job listing.
For Facebook, which has been repeatedly criticized for not doing enough to prevent fake news from spreading across its platform, a dedicated news section run by people who actually understand journalism could help the company highlight authoritative information. In a slightly ironic twist, news of the company’s plans to hire journalists arrived the same day the company provided an update on an outside audit investigating allegations of supposed anti-conservative bias. Those allegations kicked off in part after a story on how Facebook’s previous news curators handled “trending topics.”
At the same time, Facebook is likely hoping to appease some of its media industry critics by paying for their content. It’s been reported the company is offering some publishers as much as $3 million a year.
What’s not clear is what this means for Facebook’s News Feed, which has long served as one of the most important distribution sources for media companies. Facebook made a series of changes to News Feed last year that de-emphasized publisher content in a change that was described as “catastrophic.”
Presumably, a dedicated news section would help Facebook prove that it does actually value journalism. But how many of Facebook’s users would bother to leave their News Feeds in order to browse a more curated “News Tab” instead? What about stories shared organically in News Feed? Will those be treated the same after a separate news section becomes available?
We don’t know the answers to those questions yet, but it sounds like Facebook is one step closer to admitting that maybe it kind of is a media company after all.