By Sheila Dang
(Reuters) -Facebook Inc on Thursday said it will give $5 million to pay local journalists in multiyear deals as part of its new publishing platform to help independent writers attract an audience and make money through the social media network.
The move is part of Facebook’s answer to the trend of email newsletters, led by platforms like Substack, as it focuses on reporters “who are often the lone voice covering a given community,” the company has said.
The publishing platform, which Facebook announced last month, will be integrated with Facebook Pages and include a free self-publishing tool for journalists to send out newsletters or create their own website.
Independent journalists in the United States can apply to the program beginning on Thursday, and priority will be given to reporters who plan to cover “Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian or other audiences of color,” in locations that lack an existing news source, Facebook said.
Journalists will be able to earn additional money from publishing stories using Facebook’s tools, starting with subscriptions, and each writer can set their own price, the company added.
Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, tweeted Thursday that while journalists and their communities will, hopefully, benefit from Facebook’s funding, the news industry will “have to reckon with the economic foundation of this Faustian pact,” because Facebook has been used as a tool to oppress reporters around the world and its business relies on news workers like content moderators who are “not unionized or paid well.”
The growth of paid newsletters has shaken up the news media world, as high-profile journalists from outlets including the New York Times and Vox Media have left to strike out on their own on platforms such as Substack and Patreon, lured by cash advances and uncapped earning potential from subscriptions.
Substack announced “Substack Local” this month, a $1 million program to pay up to 30 local reporters to build their own subscription-supported business.
Facebook said it would partner with the Washington-based International Center for Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists to evaluate applications, and would give the journalists selected access to experts and services to help them build a news business.
The social network has long had a strained relationship with the news industry, which came to a head in February after a showdown with the Australian government over paying news outlets for content. Following the conflict, Facebook pledged to invest $1 billion in the news industry globally over the next three years.
(Reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by Kenneth Li, Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis)