by Antionette Siu, Great Game India:
There aren’t many companies that can say they’ve poured hundreds of millions into journalism in the last few years. Facebook has — $600 million over since 2018 — and it is promising another $1 billion in the next three years.
Yet when surveying those around the journalism and media world, the jury is still out on whether and how much Facebook’s funding is helping its stakeholders — or merely buying good PR.
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A Wrap inquiry into the details of the $600 million found that many of those dollars are hard to track, except in the most general terms. When broken down into the main categories mostly based in the U.S., TheWrap could only specifically verify the expenditure of roughly $122 million — barely one-quarter of the pledged sum — begging the question: Where is the money going?
In addition to donating heavily to nonprofits and paying small grants to local newspapers (see graphic), Facebook pays rich licensing fees to a handful of premium publishers, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, News Corp, Bloomberg and BuzzFeed. Those deal terms are not publicly disclosed, but TheWrap has obtained documents of one agreement with a leading U.S. publisher for $5 million over five years.
An executive who was involved with making the deal said the agreement felt more like a PR move and less a business deal. “It always seemed about pacifying publishers, and less about granular tactics about how we help engage our audience. It was more about trying to quiet the storm around very serious audience losses at newspapers,” the individual said.
And in a recent interview, former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said the paper is getting “far, far more” than $3 million a year from Facebook, in response to a reporter’s misimpression. (The Wall Street Journal reported that the agreements were worth as much as $3 million a year.)
Facebook also recently signed deals with hundreds of publishers across the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada. Again, a Facebook spokesperson said the company does not disclose the terms of those deals.
When asked approximately how many of these content deals exist, Campbell Brown, VP of global news partnerships, replied only: “A lot.”
“We have deals in place with all the major publishers and many of the local and regional publishers in those markets. There are some countries where we haven’t yet launched Facebook News but we do deals to get additional content from publishers beyond just what they’re putting on the platform … We have a green light from Mark (Zuckerberg) to continue launching as fast as we can in different markets,” she said.
Another Facebook spokesperson said the company has never “previously quantified” the number of content deals or the growth around them, and that it “varies from region to region.”
On the philanthropy side, most funding has come in $25,000 to $1 million increments, some spread out over a few years, to small newsrooms in a bid to help local journalism. A spokesperson said the company has spent $175 million specifically on local news causes since 2019, with investments in the form of event sponsorships, conferences, grants and accelerator programs. The company would not specify how exactly that money was allocated. Some of the recent grants announced totaled $16 million to groups including the Pulitzer Center, Report for America and the American Journalism Project.
(TheWrap verified $122 million in grant money and deals based on the major programs listed through the Facebook Journalism Project. Some of that total includes national and international investments.)
Notably, none of the funding has come in the form of actually sharing the platform’s gargantuan ad revenue with the publishers whose news content Facebook features. And the all-important licensing deals leave out the vast majority of U.S. news publishers, notably community publishers and especially publishers of color.
“Overall, despite their many billions and the glowing press they’ve secured for the efforts they have made, they’ve done nothing to halt, reverse or even slow the steady demise of journalism that they have otherwise, in every major respect, hastened and profited from,” Ed Wasserman, professor and former dean of U.C. Berkeley’s school of journalism, told TheWrap. “Their philanthropy is best understood as a cynical palliative meant to neutralize media support for the grievously overdue antitrust initiatives that they are girding up to withstand.”