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Oct. 25, 2019, 6 a.m.
Audience & Social

Facebook launches its “test” News tab in the U.S., but you may not see it yet

Facebook stressed that it during this first test it will “showcase local original reporting by surfacing local publications from the largest major metro areas across the country, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta and Boston.”

It’s heeeee-ere: On Friday, the Facebook News tab we’ve been hearing about since the summer became reality, launching today to some users in the U.S. with “local original reporting by surfacing local publications from the largest major metro areas across the country, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta and Boston.” Facebook is calling this a “test,” and you may not see the tab — which for now is only on mobile — yet; about 200,000 U.S. users can see it now.

Facebook isn’t offering a full list of the publishers it’s working with, but here’s a sample (from which Vox Media is notably missing): The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Chicago Tribune, Gannett, USA Today, McClatchy, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Bloomberg, The Atlantic, Forbes, National Review, The Washington Times, Condé Nast, NPR, CBS, ABC, NBC, Breitbart, and News Corp, including, yep, Fox News. (News Corp CEO Robert Thomson appeared Friday with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at an event with New York to announce the new product.) The Washington Post reported this week that 200 publishers are participating as of now. Facebook will honor publications’ paywalls; you’ll still need subscriptions to many of these outlets to read beyond a limited number of stories.

It had been unclear whether The New York Times was in, but the Times itself seemed to confirm that it will be, at some point: “Facebook News will offer stories from a mix of publications, including The New York Times.”

Zuckerberg told the Times, “We feel acute responsibility because there’s obviously an awareness that the internet has disrupted the news industry business model.”

Facebook stressed that it during this first test it will “showcase local original reporting by surfacing local publications from the largest major metro areas across the country, beginning with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta and Boston” — it’s a little unclear where publications like Business Insider and BuzzFeed News fit into that although I guess they could be slotted into New York pubs.

Some, but not all, of the publishers are being paid licensing fees to participate, in amounts that reportedly range as high as $3 million a year for the large national publications to “several hundred thousand dollars a year for regional publications,” The Wall Street Journal reported this week — but most, including, presumably, the small local papers that might need it most, aren’t getting paid at all. (This morning, the Journal noted that Facebook was offering “substantially more [than a few million] for the very largest outlets, according to people familiar with those talks.” News Corp’s deal will bring in “double-digit millions of dollars annually.”)

The tab has some human-curated news: The “Today’s Stories” section is chosen by a team of “seasoned journalists” — independently and “free from editorial intervention by anyone at the company,” Facebook says, but chosen according to the guidelines here — among those guidelines:

Facts: The stories and headlines should aim to represent the people and events that took place, with information-rich supporting material, including figures and quotes (when applicable).
Diverse voices: Stories should include a diversity of voices, where relevant and especially concerning topics with multiple perspectives. Stories should be sourced, with few exceptions, from publishers who meet our inclusion criteria. Publishers will rarely appear more than once at any given time in each Today’s Stories unit.
Original reporting: Wherever possible, the team will prioritize original reporting, whether that means breaking the original story, or building on it. (Original defined as: a publisher has published new information or media (ie, interviews, photos) that no other outlet has).
On-the-record sourcing: The team will aim to prioritize stories with on-the-record sources rather than unnamed ones when two stories are otherwise equivalent. Curators will aim to prioritize stories with original supporting documents.
Timeliness: The team will work to ensure the most recent version of a story appears.
Depth and context: Curators will prioritize stories that include the most depth and context, including quotes, research, historical context, maps and data-visualizations where relevant.
Fairness: For heavily debated topics, curators will aim to curate stories that represent multiple perspectives on the issue.
Local reporting: The team will aim to prioritize coverage from local news organizations, if the publisher covers the area impacted by the news and its coverage is accessible to a national audience.

Mostly, however, the content is chosen by algorithm, with a personalized section that should theoretically get better the more you use it. There’s a top stories carousel up top and news arranged by topic (business, entertainment, health, science and tech, and sports — notably, politics is missing), a “Your Subscriptions” section “for people who have linked their paid news subscriptions to their Facebook account,” and controls to let users customize what they see and hide publishers, topics, and articles they aren’t interested in.

One thing you won’t see here: Video. “Video will not be available in the launch version of the news tab,” Facebook says in its FAQ, “but we know the importance of video to our consumers and to publishers and will be working to add video capabilities in early 2020.”

POSTED     Oct. 25, 2019, 6 a.m.
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