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Oct. 4, 2022, 2:25 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   October 4, 2022

Facebook is pulling the plug on its newsletter subscription service Bulletin and no one is even pretending to be surprised.

New York Times media reporter Katie Robertson broke the news:

Bulletin was launched as Facebook’s answer to Substack in 2021, not long after Twitter jumped into the paid newsletter game by acquiring Revue. The first featured authors were folks like Malcolm Gladwell and Malala Yousafzai.

“What’s weird about Bulletin…and perhaps shines a bit of a light on how much faith Facebook actually has in this product long-term, none of the creators they’ve launched with are people who I would think actually need Facebook’s monetization features,” noted Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick at the time. “I have an extremely hard time believing that Tan France needs a monetized newsletter hosted on Facebook.”

I imagine the celebrities recruited by Facebook to write for Bulletin will be okay! But Bulletin had started to extend support to a subset of writers who could really use the Facebook cash: local news reporters.

We know the local news writers had been promised “licensing fees” as part of a “multi-year commitment” that would provide them “time to build a relationship” with their audience but when we wrote about the program last year, Facebook declined to put a dollar value on the support or specify exactly how long writers could expect the payments to last.

A Meta spokesperson said this week that 23 out of the original 25 local news writers are still using the platform and confirmed they will receive licensing payments for at least another year, as the original contracts suggested. The company said they would also provide resources to the writers to help them map out their next steps.

“We are committed to supporting the writers through this transition,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “As mentioned, we are paying out their contracts in full. Additionally, they can keep their subscription revenue and subscriber email lists. In terms of content, they can archive all content and move it to a new platform of their choice.”

Roughly half of the 25 local news writers selected to join Bulletin are journalists of color. They’ve been publishing from communities in Iowa, North Carolina, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, California, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Georgia, Washington, Arizona, and Washington, D.C.

The financial support from Facebook was likely not life-changing for the local news writers. (Some boldface names reportedly inked deals with Bulletin in the six figures, but several of the local news reporters were planning to keep other jobs to make ends meet.) Facebook also provided legal resources, design help, newsletter strategy, and coaching to the group.

Soon after the local news partnership was announced, Kerr County Lead writer Louis Amestoy told Nieman Lab he saw a chance for Facebook to shape its information ecosystem of many local communities into something better.

“I think it’s important for Facebook to recognize this opportunity and say, ‘Okay, what do we really want to be?’” Amestoy said. “You see in certain communities that Facebook has come to fill a hole left by news deserts. Who becomes your local authority? The messaging group that’s there? Is there really someone there to curate that — someone who is objective and can differentiate the good stuff from the bad stuff? I certainly hope that they take some of the lessons that they’re going to learn from this, and make some more investments, because I think that there are a lot of opportunities. There’s so many talented journalists out there who really want an opportunity to do kind of thing that I want to do.”

With Tuesday’s abrupt announcement, it seems a little less likely those questions will get answered.

This article has been updated.

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