Facebook Funds Questionable Local Journalism Projects

Facebook this week announced the first grant recipients for its project to support local journalism. Grant recipients include big-city newspapers, like the Los Angeles and New York’s Newsday, which seems completely contrary to the spirit of tackling this country’s “news deserts.”

The social-media giant had committed $300 million to local news, amid criticism that its dominance in digital advertising had hastened the demise of community journalism. Who would have thought that the LAT and Newsday, both owned by wealthy individuals, needed a welfare check from Facebook?

The Facebook Journalism Project’s Community Network doled out grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to about 24 media outlets. The Lenfest Institute, a nonprofit founded by former cable magnate Gerry Lenfest to help finance The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, chose the recipients as Facebook’s partner in the project.



The winners “include a fresh approach to business sustainability through community-funded journalism, and expansion of successful storytelling events shown to increase reader revenue,” Facebook said.

The LAT “will support community forums and provide copies of monthly book selections to nonprofits and others in conjunction with the new Los Angeles Times Book Club.” It’s not clear how playing Oprah advances the cause of local journalism.

Newsday will pilot “an obituary outreach program to tell the stories of Long Island residents currently underrepresented in media coverage.” Yes, you could say dead people are underrepresented in the media. Newsday can’t just hire another obits writer?

Fortunately, the 23 grant recipients include organizations that focus on community-based journalism, and likely have a greater need for extra funds.

Spaceship Media, which aims to uncover stories by organizing events that promote civic discussions of controversial issues, got money to host a conversation series at a library in Douglas, Arizona, to discuss a new port of entry that has polarized the community. That should make for some interesting news coverage.

Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public schools, received a grant for a multi-city tour of live events and online surveys to understand gaps in local education information. Another worthy effort, given the dismal state of public education.

Documented, a nonprofit news site aimed at New York’s immigrant communities, will build a database of companies guilty of wage theft. I’ll bet their research will uncover plenty of deadbeat publishers.

The next Community Network grant window opens on July 22, Facebook said. Interested parties can find program criteria, guidelines and links to the application at its website.

If The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal win a Facebook grant for local journalism, we’ll know the social network's effort is a complete charade.

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