Facebook has launched several initiatives aimed at boosting media companies’ presence on the social network thus far in 2014 — Public Content Solutions, aimed at providing its partners with dedicated technical and business resources to build out media solutions on Facebook and Instagram; FB Newswire, a project with social content discovery outfit Storyful to aggregate publicly shared content on Facebook, by media organizations and individual users, to aid journalists in their reporting; and the four new media-centric application-programming interfaces it announced at its F8 global developer conference in San Francisco last month — but the media industry took a shot across the bow in the form of a long rant posted on the social network by Director of Product Management for Ads and Pages Mike Hudack.
Hudack tore into the media in his post (also embedded below), and some Facebook users issued sharp rebuttals in their comments on the post.
Hudack wrote (unedited):
Please allow me to rant for a moment about the state of the media.
It’s well known that CNN has gone from the network of Bernie Shaw, John Holliman, and Peter Arnett reporting live from Baghdad in 1991 to the network of kidnapped white girls. Our nation’s newspapers have, with the exception of The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal been almost entirely hollowed out. They are ghosts in a shell.
Evening newscasts are jokes, and copycat television newsmagazines have turned into tabloids — “OK” rather than Time. 60 Minutes lives on, suffering only the occasional scandal. More young Americans get their news from The Daily Show than from Brokaw’s replacement. Can you even name Brokaw’s replacement? I don’t think I can.
Meet the Press has become a joke since David Gregory took over. We’ll probably never get another Tim Russert. And of course Fox News and msnbc care more about telling their viewers what they want to hear than informing the national conversation in any meaningful way.
And so we turn to the Internet for our salvation. We could have gotten it in The Huffington Post but we didn’t. We could have gotten it in BuzzFeed, but it turns out that BuzzFeed’s homepage is like CNN’s but only more so. Listicles of the “28 young couples you know” replace the kidnapped white girl. Same thing, different demographics.
We kind of get it from VICE. In between the salacious articles about Atlanta strip clubs we get the occasional real reporting from North Korea or Donetsk. We celebrate these acts of journalistic bravery specifically because they are today so rare. VICE is so gonzo that it’s willing to do real journalism in actually dangerous areas! VICE is the savior of news!
And we come to Ezra Klein. The great Ezra Klein of Wapo and msnbc. The man who, while a partisan, does not try to keep his own set of facts. He founded Vox. Personally I hoped that we would find a new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native and natural to people who grew up interacting with screens instead of just watching them from couches with bags of popcorn and a beer to keep their hands busy.
And instead they write stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them. To be fair their top headline right now is “How a bill made it through the worst Congress ever.” Which is better than “you can’t clean your jeans by freezing them.”
The jeans story is their most read story today. Followed by “What microsoft doesn’t get about tablets” and “Is ’17 People’ really the best West Wing episode?”
It’s hard to tell who’s to blame. But someone should fix this shit.
Many of the comments on Hudack’s post pointed to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm and the role it plays in shaping the news people see on the social network. Some of the better ones follow (all unedited).
Margarita Noriega wrote:
Mike Hudack — we need your help to promote access to high quality information. Facebook is an incredible network. How can Facebook help journalists share information on its platform especially given that posts by pages are now being hidden on the homepage feed, regardless of whether or not it’s high quality information?
Aram Zucker-Scharff wrote:
You want to know who can fix it? Facebook. Twitter. Google. Any service that is the primary driver of traffic can provide two things to improve on this issue:
- Support of metadata that matters. Not just the content, not just the backlinks, not just the photo. We need to have a discussion of how we can identify articles with metadata that have import beyond your front lawn and, for the good of all, should show up at the top of the feed.
- Better verbs. Like is stupid. Dislike is just as stupid. Voting up or down is ludicrously binary. Lets discuss what we really want to say about stories and make those how we promote them. Let’s interact with the web on a spectrum, not just Yes or No.
- Integration with trusted aggregators. If I trust fastFT, or Ezra Kein, or whomever to aggregate meaningful news across the web, then I should be able to select them to influence my Twitter streams, or search results, or Facebook home page. My selection of these platforms to influence my stream should give them additional authority. That should then drive algorithmic selection across the board. Liking one person’s post on Facebook shouldn’t then subject me to their influence on my algorithm, unless I say so.
The entirety of this problem, Mike, can be traced directly back to your product. By highlighting and rewarding dumb quizzes, lists that let users express how much of an only child they are and uplifting stories about cats saved by fire-fighters (grab a tissue!), while burying “serious journalism” in an ever-evolving NewsFeed, you’ve set media organizations on a race to the bottom trying to please the ever-finicky algorithms that drive traffic on news websites. It’s you who needs to do better, Mike. Stop highlighting the bullshit (see Sara‘s screenshot of the trending news) and start shining a spotlight on the real-journalism you seem to seek. That would be a great start.
And Sam Biddle wrote:
Great. You’ve tapped into a lot of frustration here, as you can see! But nothing is going to get even the slightest bit better until we know more about how the News Feed algorithm works, and (I hope) that algorithm changes. Until then, it’s just going to be wave after wave of aping BuzzFeed.
I’ve been using Facebook almost every day since… 2006 I guess? I want it to be better as a user, not just because it affects my job.
To his credit, Hudack responded to some of the comments with a comment of his own:
This thread is awesome. Really awesome.
I don’t work on Newsfeed or trending topics, so it’s hard for me to speak authoritatively about their role in the decline of media. But I’d argue that 20/20 turned into “OK” before Facebook was really a thing, and CNN stopped being the network reporting live from Baghdad before Facebook became a leading source of referral traffic for the Internet.
Is Facebook helping or hurting? I don’t honestly know. You guys are right to point out that Facebook sends a lot of traffic to shitty listicles. But the relationship is tautological, isn’t it? People produce shitty listicles because they’re able to get people to click on them. People click on them so people produce shitty listicles.
It’s not the listicles I mind so much as the lack of real, ground-breaking and courageous reporting that feels native to the medium. Produce that in a way that people want to read and I’m confident that Facebook and Google and Twitter will send traffic to it.
And, to be clear, there are many people at Facebook who would like to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. I’m sure that we’re all open to ideas for how we could improve the product to encourage the distribution of better quality journalism. I, for one, am all ears.
Readers: What did you think of Hudack’s rant, the comments it inspired, and his response?