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Facebook Launches News Section to Compensate Publishers

Gerry Smith and Sarah Frier

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. introduced a separate news section in its flagship app, offering users more control over articles they see and providing money to the publishers whose stories are featured.

The section, called Facebook News, helps the social-media giant stem criticism on two fronts: It’s an effort to combat misinformation and could improve relationships with media companies, which have complained that Facebook profits from selling advertising alongside their articles.

Facebook News debuts Friday to some users in the U.S. It will feature articles chosen partly by Facebook employees who “will be free from editorial intervention by anyone at the company.” The section also will be personalized based on news that users prefer and they can hide articles, topics or publishers they don’t want to see.

The section will include stories from about 200 publishers, including national outlets like the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NBC News and ABC News, and local outlets in big cities such as the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News. It also will feature conservative-leaning sites, including Breitbart News.

“We worked really hard to honor their business model and recognize the importance of original reporting,” Campbell Brown, who oversees news partnerships at Facebook, said in an interview.

At an event hosted by Twitter on Thursday, New York Times Chief Operating Officer Meredith Kopit Levien said “it’s a welcome development for any platform to be compensating the publisher for use of the content in any form.”

A Times spokeswoman confirmed the newspaper’s participation in Facebook’s news section early Friday by email. “Facebook News should make quality news easier to find in the Facebook environment and easier to distinguish from other forms of content,” said the spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha.

Bloomberg also is participating in Facebook News.

Facebook executives say they chose the publishers based on surveys that found users want more articles on entertainment, health, business and sports. It also picked outlets that adhere to Facebook’s guidelines, weeding out those that serve misinformation, hate speech or clickbait. News articles will still appear in Facebook’s main News Feed.

Peace Offering?

To some publishers, Facebook’s new initiative amounts to a goodwill gesture after years of tensions. In the past, Facebook has asked them to dedicate resources to produce work for a new initiative like Facebook Live, then left them frustrated when the social-media company shifted strategies.

“This is the first time we’re going to be forming long-term, stable relationships with publishers,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said. “For the first time we’re making multi-year financial commitments.”

Facebook is paying some publishers $1 million to $3 million a year to put their articles in the new section. In most cases, links in the new section will take readers back to publishers’ websites, which helps them attract advertising and subscriptions. That’s different from other Facebook initiatives, like Instant Articles, which kept readers on the main site.

Zuckerberg spoke at an event in New York at the Paley Center for Media, where he was in friendly conversation with Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp. Thomson and his boss, News Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, have been among Facebook’s loudest critics, calling on the company to pay media companies for articles the way that a cable-TV company pays Walt Disney Co. to carry ESPN.

Facebook users want to see their friends and family in their news feeds, Zuckerberg said, and that they don’t have a lot of room there for high-quality news content. That’s why it’s better to have a separate tab, which will definitely draw a smaller audience, maybe 10% to 20% of the main feed, but that will still be significant. Facebook is working on similar partnerships around the world.

One challenge for Facebook will be getting people to visit the news tab, which will appear at the bottom of the app. It can be hard to change users’ habit of scrolling the News Feed, rather than clicking on a separate tab. Facebook’s streaming video tab, called Facebook Watch, has struggled to gain traction.

The news team will have editorial independence when it comes to stories about the company, Brown said. That means they can feature news about Facebook if warranted.

“There is a clear separation with regards to the editorial team,” she said. “They have independence and they can curate Facebook and would curate Facebook the way they would any other story.”

(Updates with comments from Zuckerberg in 11th paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Gerry Smith in New York at gsmith233@bloomberg.net;Sarah Frier in San Francisco at sfrier1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, John J. Edwards III

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