In a candid conversation at MPA’s annual American Magazine Media Conference (AMMC) Tuesday, Facebook's global head of news partnerships Campbell Brown admitted the company’s missteps in its relationship with publishers.
She says Facebook is making efforts to improve the platform.
In an interview with Glamour editor-in-chief Samantha Barry, Brown said: “We need to get Facebook to work for publishers. We are not there yet, and have real work to do on that front."
Facebook is testing new features to promote subscriptions to publishers’ brands.
The Economist is one of a number of publishers testing the feature, as well as about seven Tribune Publishing titles.
Facebook invested millions in the Membership Accelerator initiative last last August, as well as in a Local News Subscription Accelerator Program in April to offer training and provide support and resources to publishers.
Columbia Journalism Review, however, has noted the funding, in many circumstances, enhances Facebook's goals, such as training publishers on how to use Facebook to build a brand out of their newsrooms.
Facebook, according to Brown, is also testing a membership model where content on the platform would not be put behind a paywall. Users would pay a monthly fee for exclusive content, or access live Q&As.
Brown, a journalist for over 20 years and served as an anchor at CNN and NBC, said she feels a “sense of urgency” to make Facebook work for publishers, rather than against them.
Facebook invested $300 million into its Local Journalism Initiative, she noted, primarily for direct investments in nonprofits that support local news.
Some of programs to receive funding include a $5 million endowment to the Pulitzer Center, a $2 million investment in Report for America and a $1 million investment to the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund.
Facebook has also committed $2 million to an initiative to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms across America over the next five years.
"Local news is a passion of mine. I came from local news … At Facebook, we are focused on communities,” Brown said at the AMMC.
Brown noted a recent shift at Facebook. “Now, we sit down with publishers and say: You decide what you need, and we will talk to our engineers and build it,” she said, rather than pushing features onto publishers.
Barry noted that when she was an executive producer at CNN, her team was one of the first to tackle Facebook Live.
“I needed a kill switch,” to cut the live feed in case of an emergency, Barry said, “but Facebook didn’t understand that because they didn’t know what it was like to be in a control room with producers.”
Brown said Facebook is hiring more people with media backgrounds now.
“I don’t want to throw money at the problem… otherwise we are dependent on a company that by its very nature is constantly changing and not dependable,” she added candidly.
Various publishers shuttered after Facebook changed its algorithm in 2017, prioritizing content from from family and friends.