Facebook Journalism Project Grants Nearly $16M to Local News Publishers

It also teamed up with CrowdTangle to study 2,700 pages during the Covid-19 crisis

The top 50 words mentioned by total count from the top 100,000 overperforming posts in March CrowdTangle

Facebook continues to take steps to help local news publishers during the coronavirus pandemic, naming over 200 recipients of Covid-19 Relief Fund grants in the U.S., totaling nearly $16 million, and releasing a report by the Facebook Journalism Project and CrowdTangle on local news industry trends during the Covid-19 crisis.

The grants come from the $25 million in local news relief funding that was included in plans revealed by Facebook in late March to invest $100 million in the news industry globally.

Over 200 local news publishers across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam will receive grants. The complete list is available here.

Facebook Journalism Project said $10.3 million of the total is going to 143 local newsrooms in the U.S., adding on those recipients that nearly four out of five are family-owned or independently owned; one-half are published by or four communities of color; almost 40% are digitally native; and more than one-third are nonprofits.

A total of 59 North American newsrooms that have participated in Facebook Local News Accelerator programs focused on subscriptions and memberships will get $5.4 million in grants.

And the remaining funds will be used throughout the year to support projects focused on longer-term sustainability, such as $2.5 million going to Report for America to help it place 225 journalists in 160 local news organizations.

Facebook vice president of global news partnerships Campbell Brown said in a blog post, “We’re proud to support this diverse group of publishers—many of which are family- or independently owned. Not only are these journalists working tirelessly to serve people right now: They’re focused on transformation, building innovative local news businesses that can continue to serve communities beyond the current pandemic.”

Institute for Nonprofit News chief network officer Jonathan Kealing added, “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role local news plays in our communities, while simultaneously threatening their very existence. Reviewing hundreds of applications on a tight timeline both illustrated the depth of need, but also highlighted the innovation that these small, independent publishers can provide for their communities when given the resources. I’m excited to see new news products and more critical original reporting in these communities, thanks to Facebook’s support.”

Facebook’s local news partnership team also partnered with the company’s CrowdTangle unit to analyze the Facebook pages of some 2,700 local news publishers in the U.S. during March and the first half of April.

They wrote, “The CrowdTangle team looked at all posts during this time to spot patterns in what types of posts overperformed (compared to each page’s benchmark post performance) and received a high number of interactions. Not only did Covid-19 dominate coverage, but it led to significant spikes in engagement and Page growth.”

They also shared four key findings.

Local news pages doubled growth in the second half of March: The spike in traffic and engagement began simultaneously with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a rise in Covid-19 cases in the U.S., around mid-March.

In the second half of that month, the Facebook pages of local news organizations saw growth of 150% in page likes and 33% in interactions per post (shares, Reactions), comments) compared with the first half of March.

The upward trends continued in the first two weeks of April, albeit at a slower pace, with page growth up 30% and interactions per post up 15% compared with the first two weeks of March.

Facebook Live is overperforming: Interactions per post in the second half of March versus the first half of the month rose 60% on Facebook Live videos, 60% on photos, 50% on text-only status updates and 30% on links.

Links were posted at the highest frequency, followed by native video, Facebook Live video, photos and status posts.

People are sharing more local content: Posts from local publishers in the U.S. were shared 40% more and received the Love Reaction 46% more in the second half of March compared with the first half.

Shares of photo posts were up 93% over that same time period, while comments per live video soared 114% and shares per link post increased 40%.

U.S. local news publishers posted 30% more live videos, with views per post climbing 41%.

All interaction types except the Haha Reaction rose on the pages of local news publishers in the U.S. during that time period.

People are interacting with neighborhood stories the most: Clear, updated community information fared well among the top 100,000 overperforming posts for March, and the top 50 common keywords mentioned in those posts included city, county, governor, local, schools, state and stores.

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.