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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Vadim Lavrusik: What Facebook’s latest updates mean for journalists

Facebook’s Journalist Program Manager explains the changes and how journos can take advantage of them.

Editor’s Note: Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s Journalist Program Manager, is responsible for building and managing programs that help journalists, in various ways, make use of Facebook in their work. Below, he explains Facebook’s recent design changes.

Facebook has released several updates in the last month that will affect how journalists use the platform for reporting and storytelling. Many of these new features will make it easier for journalists to distribute their content and keep up with sources of information.

Some of the relevant changes for journalists include Subscribe, which enables readers to subscribe to journalists’ public updates, and a redesigned News Feed — complete with a newly introduced Ticker for real-time updates that makes it easier to keep up with the news that’s most important to you. The new lists also make it easier for you to target updates to a specific group of people, and to see a customized stream of news from them.

The updates also include Timeline, which showcases not only the most recent stories from a single user, but also contextualizes who that user is through a historic timeline. Timeline has the potential to create a “face book” that truly serves as a digital representation of a the self: an authentic identity that has been molded over time through life experiences, personal interests, and the people we share our lives with — the people for whom we aren’t afraid to reveal our authentic identity.

With all that in mind, we wanted to provide a breakdown of what these new updates mean for journalists and how journalists can use some of the new features in their reporting.

Subscribe: Subscribe enables journalists to update their broader community of readers and sources, while reserving personal updates for friends only. It also allows journalists to keep up with sources without having to friend them, which can often give rise to conflicts of interest. Because the feature is opt-in, journalists who want to enable readers to subscribe to them have to turn on the feature.

Since its launch, the feature has been adopted by journalists from around the world and includes the likes of NBC’s Ann Curry and Lydia Polgreen, The New York Times’ South Asia correspondent.

Subscribe enables journalists to separate their personal updates and connections from their professional without having to create a professional Page. You’re able to use your profile to do everything from contacting sources you want to interview, to distributing content to subscribers, to keeping up with personal friends. And your audience, for their part, can connect with you and keep up with your content without having to add you as a friend. They can simply subscribe.

You can also have an unlimited number of subscribers, and easily update them on-the-go (from your mobile phone or from the web) simply by setting the update to “public.”

Subscribe is also an easy way for journalists to keep up with sources by subscribing to their updates. After you subscribe to particular sources, you will start getting their updates in your News Feed. Also, you can customize what kind of updates you get from each individual source within your News Feed.

Timeline: Timeline, which is going to be phased in as the new profile, enables users to access their historical content and to fill in their life experiences retroactively, on a digital timeline. People now have the opportunity to share their stories not only with those who are in their lives now, but also with the generations to come — by creating a digital and historical footprint. This means that journalists who are trying to locate sources on Facebook will be able to learn more about those people through the historical context depicted on their timeline of public posts.

Aside from that historical information and the fuller picture of sources that comes with it, journalists will also be able to use the timeline feature to access their own archived content that they’ve shared. Up until Timeline, it was difficult to go back and find a story you’ve shared in the past — one that you may want to, for example, reference in an article you’re writing. The feature will serve as a better bookmarking tool.

News Feed & the Real-Time Ticker: The new layout puts top news and most recent stories into one stream. The idea is to simplify how users keep track of the news that’s important to them. If you haven’t visited Facebook for a few days, for example, you’re probably interested in the top news. If you’ve already looked at your News Feed recently, on the other hand, you probably want to see only recent stories. The News Feed now functions more like your own personalized newspaper with a real-time twist. The top news stories first show up at the top of the feed; after you’ve seen them, you’ll be able to see recent stories based on what your connections are sharing and doing on Facebook.

The content within the main feed is still filtered for quality, and the overall amount of top stories that are being shown to visitors hasn’t decreased. For news organizations and journalists sharing their content, this means that their quality content is still showcased, front and center.

The biggest change in how users consume journalists’ content will come with the Ticker, which shows you activity in real-time. This means that breaking news is more likely to be seen, and more quickly, by users. When a user hovers over something in their ticker, they can interact with the story and share it with their friends. Because the ticker is real-time, news organizations may have to reconsider how often they publish content.

The bottom line: The News Feed continues to reward quality content by surfacing it as a top story within the main News Feed, but it also provides greater exposure to timely and breaking stories.

New Character Limit for Status Updates: The new 5,000-character limit for status updates enables journalists to post more in-depth and detailed micro stories as they report on-the-go. Though journalists have used the Notes feature to write longer posts in the past (and sometimes as a blogging tool, as well), the new character limit enables journalists to write in-depth updates when rich formatting is unnecessary.

Friend Lists: The newly re-launched lists enable journalists to better organize their sources on Facebook and to have better control of whom they publish to. Lists enable you to better categorize your connections, which includes your friends, those you’re subscribed to, and Pages you have liked.

For example, a journalist could create a list for his local politics beat and add any sources he’s subscribed to as well as any relevant Pages. After he creates it, he’ll see the list as a tab in his left-hand navigation under “lists.” When he clicks on the list he’s created, he’ll see a stream of updates from those in the list. This makes it easy to keep up with content from a specific group of sources.

After you create a list, as well, it also becomes a publishing option, which means that you can choose to publish something that only a select list of people will see. (You can do that by selecting the list in your publishing composer or by going to the list and create a status update there.) Anyone who is also subscribed to your updates will get the post in their News Feeds. Journalists can always add and remove people and pages from the list, and only the creator of the custom list can see it. (Smart lists, which are created for you, work differently.)

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  • Karim Ben Khelifa

    Great, but who is going to
    fund the work journalists want to do ? I’ll be happy to have thousands of
    subscribers reading my updates from the field but how do we get the
    necessary cash to bring the story out ?
    This works well if you are a staff, but as a freelance, good luck !

  • Karim Ben Khelifa

    Great, but who is going to
    fund the work journalists want to do ? I’ll be happy to have thousands of
    subscribers reading my updates from the field but how do we get the
    necessary cash to bring the story out ?
    This works well if you are a staff, but as a freelance, good luck !

  • Jerry

    Get a job, like the rest of us who are still sweating it out in newsrooms.

  • Crystal

    Will there be a charge to facebook? I live in a very small town and there is many people do not have a jobs. If they do they are having alot of to pay for this wonderful site. This helps parents on so many levels. Would you please let me know.

  • Mandy Jenkins

    The rumor of Facebook charging for access isn’t true. Facebook denied it last week. It’s just an Internet hoax. 

  • Richard Fallis

    Interesting. So…how can media relations people use these same tools to attract beat journalists or those who have expressed an interest in following a subject, say during a mine collapse or riot or protest…a crisis situation?

  • Contactjohnkerrison

    Richard… If you have a Facebook Page, you would publish the details via Twitter and then update it regularly so that news organisations and journalists had a direct source of information. Check out what Queensland Police have done with their page. Brilliant

  • Deepa Venkatraghvan

    If I post something, is it possible for me to allow only my subscribers to view it and NOT my friends? I don’t want to mix personal and professional since facebook has by far been a personal sharing platform for me.

  • Sue Campbell

    Great explanation of the new features. Whiners, please, FB is a gift.

  • Jen Watkins

    What I LOVE about Facebook and do not like about Google Plus is the public page I use for my “personality” page. I am a talk radio host and newspaper reporter. My family and friends don’t want my opinionated politics and story posts on my personal page and I like having a clearly defined line of “this is my personal page” and this is my “public page.” I prefer to stick to that! But I do like timeline and some of the other new options. 

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great point @facebook-690155683:disqus , and this is where smaller and independent companies have the opportunity to innovate. Business models that were traditionally relied on by media are largely becoming obsolete. I think that there are a few ways that smaller companies can provide a better service than large media: authenticity, accessibility, good design, laser focus and expertise on a specific niche, emotional appeals, no fear of reporting real news because you’re not corrupt, etc. I’m not saying that I have a specific answer here, but as a smaller company, you definitely have the ability to use some of these advantages to your benefit. And social media is a big advantage here because corporate news feeds are B-O-R-I-N-G. I know that by promoting a Facebook page, even though you don’t directly benefit because all of the initial traffic goes to Facebook, you can build up a following over time and use it to promote your website. I know that this is becoming more and more popular even among big businesses because there are tons of social media marketing companies out there emerging (see for for a couple dozen of them) that do nothing other than help people get Facebook traffic. I think this is where the market is going for a lot of businesses: Facebook is rapidly becoming the platform. I think that Facebook is going to create some sort of virtual currency eventually that becomes really widely used so I think there are financial opportunities there as well (at least down the road).

    @fbd40ef57b16d96f829aa49610716e55:disqus  There’s no doubt that trying to get a job is always an option, but people should also chase their dreams too. Furthermore with the economy being as down as it is and media jobs being competitive, a lot more people are going to have to try and make their own luck and create their own businesses. This isn’t a bad thing. And if you’re not enjoying your own job in a newsroom, you should be thinking about pursuing something that can make you happy. You don’t even need to do something fulltime, just create something at night/weekends and see if you can make a go of it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  • Vadim Lavrusik

    No, at least not right now. They are private and the people you add to the lists don’t know they’re on it.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this info. Really helpful. I already have Timeline installed and this has opened up my eyes to its possibilities 

  • Agarcia

    Isn’t it true that the real-time ticker will reveal your activity to everyone, thus blurring the line between your various lists? you can set privacy controls on status updates, but if I comment or like a post, I can’t apply a privacy filter to keep that from showing up the ticker of all my friends, correct? 

  • Zoe

    I have concerns about this because I like the separation of my personal and professional Facebook presence. Does this mean I have to declare every single post private or public? What about likes or comments on friends’ posts? Will my subscribers see the same profile pic as my friends for eg? My 2 presences are quite different.

  • oil press factory

    Is this a press release from ICUC that you’re publishing?