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Even if you’re a Facebook skeptic, you still have to give the social media giant a lot of credit for trying to fix everything that’s wrong with the mainstream media these days. One high-profile project at Facebook, for example, is known as the Facebook Journalism Project, and it seems to be informed by the same sorts of values that once imbued traditional media.
One key value, for example, is that media should play a strong role in supporting vibrant, informed communities. If citizens are truly informed about what is happening around them, and if all voices are really being heard, then you are going to have strong local communities. So Facebook appears to be putting its money where its mouth is, and actually funding new community-led media initiatives.
Three pillars of the Facebook Journalism Project
With that in mind, there are three primary pillars of the Facebook Journalism Project. The first of these is “building community through news.” With that in mind, Facebook is working to fund new citizen-led journalism initiatives in the local community. This would seem to be a good thing, since so much of the modern media world seems to be controlled by just a small handful of powerful corporations. Small, independent voices are the key to balancing this form of corporate control. And, indeed, the website for the Facebook Journalism Project is filled with stories from the Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented communities.
The second pillar of the Facebook Journalism Project focuses on training newsrooms globally. Since many media organizations are slashing budgets and scrambling for funds, this, too, would seem to be a positive development. One e-learning project, for example, helps news organizations leverage Facebook and Instagram in innovative ways. It provides online courses so that journalists can write stories in a way that they can be seen and heard across the web. And it shows newsrooms how to create different types of experiences for niche audiences.
And, finally, the third pillar of the Facebook Journalism Project focuses on “quality through partnerships.” Here, Facebook is looking to partner with top names in the news media business to deal with issues like misinformation and news illiteracy. The website showcases a number of high-profile partnerships with organizations like Reuters.
A healthy dose of skepticism
Of course, since this is Facebook, we have a right to be skeptical – especially when the sizzle reel for the project includes media powerhouses like CNN and the Washington Post. Is this just another attempt by powerful forces in the media world to co-opt all local, independent voices while getting a few financial kickbacks every now and then from Facebook? If you’re being skeptical, then teaching a bunch of journalists how to create “Instant Articles” for Facebook is not really going to help these media organizations as much as it is going to help Facebook. And teaching journalists how to make their stories go viral is only going to exacerbate some of the worst trends in the mainstream media today. It might only lead to content that is more divisive, more polarizing and more sensationalistic.
Facebook’s role in the media ecosystem
At the end of the day, at least Facebook finally recognizes that it has to play a role in maintaining and sustaining the traditional media, and that what happens in the media world has a strong impact on our communities. We need a diversity of narratives in the media, and we need small, vibrant, independent voices telling us what is really happening in their local communities. If the Facebook Journalism Project can help to bring us this outcome, then it is certainly a project worthy of future consideration by anyone who is tired of the current mainstream media and all that it currently represents.