As Facebook Prioritizes Local News, Industry Experts Respond

The latest in the stream of announcements coming from Facebook in the new year is one that affects an often-struggling publishing industry with the hopes of boosting it via local news outlets.


In a newsroom post on Monday, Facebook’s Alex Hariman, head of news product and Campbell Brown, heads of news partnerships, announced the social platform would begin to prioritize local news outlets in the feeds of its users, emphasizing that local communities benefit and trust the outlets closest to them. 



Publishing Insider spoke to an executive from local news platform and leaders in the advertising, marketing and publishing tech sphere to learn their reactions to the latest changes:

Warren St. John, Patch CEO

“I see this as Facebook simply living up to its commitment to contribute to the building of strong communities. Time will tell [what the biggest benefits are for local outlets], but I think it's significant in light of the recent announcement to deprioritize publisher content in general. My hunch is that Facebook sees in its data that users value and engage with local content at a high level because it's so relevant to their lives.

"Facebook traffic is potentially helpful to publishers trying a subscription approach, and for audience growth for publishers with a free ad-supported model. But it's still incumbent upon publishers to build their own direct relationship with users.”

 Eric Berry, CEO TripleLift

"The move to emphasize local publishers, like many of Facebook’s changes, is noble in its motivations. But given its scale and importance, it has significant risks and upsides.

For example, the algorithm prioritizes publishers that over index in a ‘tight geographic area’ as those it promotes. Meaning a voice representing the plurality view could easily be promoted as though it is the dominant position and potentially reinforce local thought bubbles and magnify the impact of political gerrymandering.

"At the same time, civic engagement, especially in local politics, is at historic lows, and highlighting relevant issues at the local level can have a dramatic increase in voter turnout and general participation.” 

 Adam Morrice, Industry Consultant, MPP Global

“Another day, another pivot from Facebook. The Journalism Project has clearly been impacted by wider political concerns, which are neither in favor of news publishers nor their businesses. It is hardly surprising that many executives are taking these conflicting announcements with large doses of skepticism. Very few people really know where Facebook’s News Feed roulette will eventually land. Hedging bets by reducing reliance on it as a source of traffic is becoming a top priority."

Matthew Fanelli, SVP of Digital, MNI Targeted Media

“Research from the Newspaper Association of America proves that local sites—television, newspaper and radio—are most trusted by consumers and rank first among all sources for trustworthiness, credibility and being the most current, relevant and informative. In a world where all we hear about lately is ‘fake news,’ readers are turning more and more to community centric outlets.

"As a result, local sites have seen a surge in visitors and, in turn, marketers are looking to local media sources to drive higher engagement. With the news of Facebook prioritizing local sites in the News Feed, local-level advertising is more valuable than ever.”  

Keith Sibson, Vice President, Product & Marketing, PostUp

“While on the surface, this is good news for local news, it feels a bit like flowers after being punched in the face. Let's not forget that Facebook just cut publisher's organic reach to zero. Also, this change is more about Facebook trying to show users healthy content than it is about helping publishers. I think we can agree that local news is better than clickbait, but it still causes discomfort that Facebook is the arbiter of what's good and bad for us.” 

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