Facebook execs paint a grim picture for news publishers

Key Points
  • Facebook news feed changes will help local publishers but cause "meaningful downward pressure" for others, company executives said Monday.
  • The company is revamping its News Feed and creating a new section dedicated to hard news on its new video tab, called Watch.
  • The changes could cause some publishers to conclude that they shouldn't be on Facebook, head of news partnerships Campbell Brown told the CodeMedia conference.
Campbell Brown

Changes that Facebook is making to boost the quality of news content will help local publishers but significantly hurt some others, company executives told a media-industry gathering late Monday.

The resulting experiments, which are still ongoing, could ultimately cause some to re-consider working with the company altogether, said Campbell Brown, the company's head of news partnerships.

"If you're a publisher who feels Facebook isn't good for your business, you shouldn't be on Facebook," Brown told an audience at the Code Media conference in Los Angeles.

Last month the company said it would start showing users more news from local sources.

Facebook also said it would start polling users about which media outlets they trust the most and would begin favoring news from broadly-trusted sources on its site.

"News organizations should be thinking differently about their relationship with Facebook. This is not us stepping back from news, this is us changing our relationship with publishers. This is about Facebook doing something it's never done before, having a point of view and leaning into quality news," said Brown, a former CNN anchor.

"Not all news is created equal. The way we're thinking about it now, this is very early stage, give a boost to broadly trusted publishers…give a boost to local news publishers," Brown said during an onstage interview.

Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook's news feed product who sat alongside Brown during the interview, said "Instant Articles will be more useful for small publishers" while the revamp overall would mean "meaningful downward pressure in the months ahead for publishers" and their distribution.

"We've said over the next few months it (news content on Facebook) would go to 4 percent from 5 percent of overall content."

Mosseri also addressed criticism about the company's two-question user survey, which it will use to determine which news sources its users deem most trustworthy.

"This isn't a popularity contest -- not who is trusted the most, but those who are broadly trusted by a wide variety of users. To game it, you'd have to get people from different viewpoints."

Brown also announced that the company will roll out its "subscription product" for publishers on March 1. It will allow publishers to set a limit for the number of free articles users can view on Facebook's Instant Articles feature, then allow them to set up a paywall to charge those who want more.