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Facebook Introduces News Tab

Oct 26, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Facebook gets a lot of bad press - for not fact-checking fake ads, for letting groups post fake news including disinformation that was planted on voters' Facebook feeds during the 2016 election. And of course, then there's the revenue that they've taken from news organizations, newspapers and broadcasters. In the middle of all this bad press, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced the launch of a new service called News Tab.

NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us. David, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Of course, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin by noting Facebook is one of NPR's financial sponsors, and NPR will also be included in this new feature. How's it going to work?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they're creating this thing called News Tab. And I think they're trying to present this, you know, gorgeous garden of information they've curated from what are meant to be reliable news sources. And some of the nation's most prestigious outlets are there. NPR's there, along with The Washington Post, The New York Times and notably The Wall Street Journal, controlled by Robert Thompson, CEO of the parent company but also Rupert Murdoch, the ultimate controlling owner who's long been a skeptic of Facebook for the reason you described, that Facebook has been wreaking such havoc on the economic model.

And they're providing these blurbs and these headlines and curating stories with, you know, human editors and also using an algorithm to try to also devise links to stories that you might be interested in from these sites as well as major regional outlets from some of the nation's top markets across the country.

SIMON: But News Tab is also going to be, I gather, a vehicle for Breitbart.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. And that's one of the first things a lot of people stumbled across. It's not that they're including point-of-view outlets. I think that that's not only understandable but reasonable, a panoply of ideas. In the case of Breitbart, there's - Mark Zuckerberg is saying he's not paying Breitbart for it but that Breitbart would be there to help provide this range of views. Well, Breitbart's been linked with a lot of information that's been wrong, that's been hurtful, that's been racist and inflammatory. In many ways, it's served as an arm of Trump propaganda and gone in all Trump according to former staffers who left. I think that's a deeply problematic inclusion - not because of its ideology, because of the way it approaches what it does.

SIMON: Which, of course, raises the question, does Mark Zuckerberg see Breitbart as just another news outlet like The New York Times or The Washington Post and not a provisioner of fake news?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's a clear concession, a sop to the significant far-right, which has made, so far, fairly groundless accusations that Facebook is ideologically to the left, trying to promote a liberal agenda. They at one point hired a Republican retired senator to do an audit of it. And he basically said no, that's not the case. But they continually find ways to try to deal with the ongoing criticism they've gotten from the far-right, and this is quite clearly pandering to them in that regard.

SIMON: News Tab is going to pay news organizations for content. That makes it an attractive deal, doesn't it?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, sure. I mean, look; what's not to like for major news organizations that nonetheless - or even smaller ones - nonetheless have felt pressure on the financial end? And so this is free money because it doesn't require them to do new things. The claim reportedly - although details are not announced - that a place like the Wall Street Journal might get as much as $3 million a year. That's a significant infusion.

It doesn't solve the problem. It doesn't compensate for all the money that's been stripped away. And I think it's worth remembering for Facebook, for Zuckerberg, you know, Campbell Brown, a former cable news anchor who said, you know, this should show the depth of our commitment. This is a rounding error of a rounding error for Facebook. It's a very small percentage of a very small percentage of a small percentage. So for them to throw some millions of dollars at this is modest. But for news organizations, including our own - and I'm speaking not corporately here but as your media analyst - you know, it's a nice bump. And it doesn't require anything of us.

This also isn't Facebook's first such initiative. They paid news outlets at one point for something called Instant Articles. They paid news articles to pivot to video, including NPR. This was a promise of significant money. And when those initiatives dried up, so did the funds.

SIMON: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.