Nieman Foundation at Harvard
A journalistic lesson for an algorithmic age: Let the scientific method be your guide
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Dec. 12, 2016, 2:59 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Ricardo Bilton   |   December 12, 2016

Facebook has taken plenty of heat recently for distributing fake news during the 2016 election. While CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially downplayed Facebook’s role, it’s clear he’s open to finding solutions to the problem on multiple fronts.

Facebook has started to hunt for a “Head of News Partnerships” at the company, a role that will involve overseeing Facebook’s news partnerships teams, managing relationships with news organizations, and acting as a public face for Facebook’s overall news outreach.

While such roles are nothing new for tech companies and in particular for Facebook itself, what stands out about this job are the qualifications its ideal candidate should have. Facebook says that, at minimum, applicants should have “20+ years of experience in news, with strong track-record and understanding across the business.” Limiting its applicant pool to people with decades of experience would seem to put a significant damper on the number of people who can apply.

In his post earlier this month, Zuckerberg alluded to the delicate nature of, for example, differentiating a hoax news story from one that “gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted.” Other stories might express opinion as fact. The company may think that journalism veterans are best equipped to answer these kinds of tricky editorial questions.

Likewise, someone with a long history of dealing with financial pressures of the media business will be a more effective liaison than someone with a few years of reporting under their belt. Facebook says it wants its head of news partnerships to “proactively resolve business issues with partners,” which could give publishers more confidence that Facebook is truly committed to the industry.

On the other hand, the requirement could just as easily artificially exclude the number of people who are qualified for the role.

The listing’s appearance comes a few days after Business Insider reported that Facebook is working on a Snapchat Discover-like feature that will showcase content from a handful of curated sources. The feature could make it easier for Facebook users to differentiate legitimate stories from fakes ones, and high-quality news outlets from less reputable ones. That may help solve one of the more prevailing criticisms against Facebook’s News Feed, which gives all news stories the same treatment, regardless of their source.

Still there are reasons to be cynical. Tech companies have frequently poached journalists over the years, though their track record is mixed when comes to their longterm commitment to the roles. Consider, for example, Facebook’s decision to fire its entire Trending Topics team in August.

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