Facebook is investing an additional $4.5 million in programs to support news publishers, extending its initiative to help metro news publishers grow their digital subscriber base. It's also introducing a new program for nonprofit news organizations and local publishers with membership models.
“Creating a sustainable future for trusted local and nonprofit news requires collaboration across sectors and fields,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “This new support ... will help news organizations essential to our democracy build the exposure and resources they need to inform and engage.”
The investments are an effort by the social-media giant — which started in 2017 with the Facebook Journalism Project — to help local publishers navigate their businesses in a digital world heavily impacted by the Facebook platform.
Publishers lament the ad dollars snatched by Facebook has led to the struggles (and in some cases, demise) of businesses. However, they do acknowledge the platform is essential for scale, distribution of content and growing audiences.
The Accelerator programs hold training sessions with publishing executives and develops strategies to bring in more paying customers from Facebook and elsewhere.
The money breaks down into two areas.
The new Facebook Membership Accelerator program will span three months with $3.5 million funding. It will likely include around 14 companies, or more — a similar size to the Local News Accelerator program it launched earlier this year.
Plus, Facebook is contributing $1 million to the 2018 NewsMatch campaign, which matches individual donations to more than 100 nonprofit newsrooms around the country.
“The bootcamp-style curriculum will focus on acquisition marketing designed to convert and retain paying supporters. As in the Subscriptions pilot, publishers will collaborate in-person once a month, work 1-on-1 with coaches on a regular basis, participate in weekly trainings, and receive grant funding to tackle projects tailored to their specific business needs— all while documenting their work to be shared with publishers around the world,” global head of news Campbell Brown wrote in a blog post.
Tim Griggs, a former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive and digital media consultant, will again lead the curriculum. The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which oversaw the grant program for the first program, as well as coached participating publishers and tracked results, will continue in this role for the new group.
The Local News Accelerator program will continue through the end of the year with its current group of metro news publishers. Facebook and the group will reconvene in 2019 to focus on subscriber retention.
Facebook released a number of findings from its pilot program today.
The Seattle Times found that its one-day “flash” sale for digital subscriptions in April produced its most successful single day of acquisition ever, beating its previous best by 63%.
Over the 12-week program, The Denver Post experienced a 60% increase in digital subscriptions sales. The San Francisco Chronicle did a sale around the California primaries and NBA finals, with a campaign geared to sports and political coverage. The publisher experienced an increase of 700% in newsletter sign-ups and subscriptions during the two-week campaign.
The Miami Herald and Gannett’s The Tennessean focused on strengthening their paywalls by closing loopholes. The Tennessean experienced a 250% increase in paywall stop rate over the 12 weeks. McClatchy’s Miami Herald had three-times growth in readers hitting the free-article limit between March and June. Its paywall now accounts for 65% of new digital subscription starts, up from 26% in March.
This is the second year Facebook has invested in the NewsMatch campaign, which pools funds from local and national funders, including Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to match donations to nonprofit newsrooms nationwide.
Last year, NewsMatch raised over $4.8 million in three months, making 2017 a record-breaking year for support to non-profit journalism.