Facebook says it’s going to try to help journalism ‘thrive’

Mark Zuckerberg
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg

Does today seem like a good day to discuss the future of journalism?

Facebook thinks it does: The social network, which has spent much of last year under fire for the way it deals with news, wants you to know that it thinks news and journalism are important.

"We care a great deal about making sure that a healthy news ecosystem and journalism can thrive," said product exec Fidji Simo, in a lengthy post announcing the creation of "The Facebook Journalism Project."

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What's The Facebook Journalism Project? Many things, apparently — it's a long post — but it is primarily an affirmation that Facebook values journalism and wants to "establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry."

Last week, Facebook hired former TV news anchor Campbell Brown as a liaison to the news industry. But today's announcement has more details, including: A commitment to work with news publishers on product development; a project aimed at supporting local news; and offering CrowdTangle, the Facebook analytics startup it recently acquired, for free to Facebook publishers.

(Facebook also mentions, as an aside, that it is going to be "exploring ad breaks in regular videos" — those are the new "mid-roll" video ads I told you about on Monday.)

Whether this stuff matters to you may depend on what you do for a living. If you're someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how to work with Facebook, then this announcement may be encouraging (Vox Media, which owns this site, is a company that thinks a lot about that, and says it is working with Facebook on some of these initiatives).

The fact that Facebook is highlighting local news as a particular problem could also be good for that industry, which has been hit very hard by the shift to digital, which demands scale local news outlets can't provide.

Facebook executives say the Journalism Project isn't a response to criticisms of the way it handled news, fake or real, during the election, and that it has been talking to publishers about the way it can help them for many months. That's also a hopeful sign.

Still, if you have spent any amount of time thinking about the way Facebook interacts with organizations that make content — any kind of content — you will inevitably conclude that Facebook doesn't value any kind of content over anything else.

That is: While many Facebook executives think news is a Good Thing, their real job is to keep their users engaged on Facebook. Which means news is no more important than a picture of your dog, or video of your cat, or whatever it is that keeps Facebook users clicking and sharing.

That's why Facebook announced earlier this year that it was rejiggering its News Feed to favor items from users over items from publishers, a move that may well be more consequential than anything Facebook is announcing today.

Still, Facebook is a giant platform with enormous impact, and if it tries to help, it might. Better to have good intentions than none at all.

By Peter Kafka, Re/code.net.

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.