If the Facebook Deal Means a Longer Life for the NYT, Then I’m In

A guest post by Tracey Cassidy of RoseComm.

This is a guest post by Tracey Cassidy of RoseComm.

The late great David Carr was among the first to report about the possible partnership between Facebook and other publishers including The New York Times in the fall of 2014. I must admit that I glanced over that story last year and didn’t want to pay attention to it. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Looking back, I didn’t honestly think it would happen–at least not so quickly. I wanted to believe the predictions from Slate’s Will Oremus because I thought they were more closely aligned with reality. He predicted we’d eventually see Facebook nudge media outlets to post full news stories directly to Facebook – perhaps by late 2016. As with most major changes, having more time to digest the news before change actually occurs helps alleviate anxiety.

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This past Tuesday, I felt the gushing onslaught of emotions that Carr wrote about so poignantly back when he first broke the news of such content distribution partnerships. He wrote:

“The wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.”

I’m a PR pro – not a publisher – but I get it and my immediate gut reaction was visceral. I don’t think I’m alone.

New York magazine described the deal as a “tectonic shift” in publishing. Who wouldn’t freak out after reading that line?

Change is difficult. It’s even more frightening when such change suggests the unraveling of a more than a century-old traditional institution. But after I thought about it for a while, my mood about the news shifted to a more hopeful place.

When I started in the PR business–nearly two decades ago–The New York Times was the gold standard in journalism. Despite its more recent business challenges and subscriber struggles, I firmly believe that the organization behind the tagline “all the news that’s fit to print” is still among the best of the best in journalism. The home delivery of the sleekly wrapped newspaper on the doorstep of my first apartment signified adulthood and entree into the professional world. It also signified the best in journalism and the gold star example of keeping separation between “church and state” (i.e. editorial and publishing).

In his Slate piece a few months ago, Oremus wrote:

“Skeptics are howling that this is a Faustian bargain – that the media are mortgaging their long-term futures for short-term gain.”

But if we minimize panic and emotion and look at this rationally, isn’t this good news for The New York Times and the other publishers contributing content to Facebook’s Instant Articles? Doesn’t it mean a brighter future for The New York Times and other publishers? Increased readership as a result of expanded distribution infuses new life into this news organization as well as other traditional outlets (e.g. NBC News, The Atlantic, and National Geographic).

From what we know at this moment, the sky is not falling; it’s simply changing. Skeptics say The New York Times is losing control, but I don’t see it that way. As long as Facebook stays focused on distributing content rather than creating it and news organizations can firmly walk the line of editorial integrity, then this can work. I trust that more than a century of journalistic ethics can be upheld despite changes with distribution. I’m moving away from the Faustian critics’ camp and will not run around wringing my hands over the end of journalism as we know it.

James Bennett, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic (another great news organization) told NPR that he expects the deal will also get his publication more eyeballs. And he’s not worried about leaning too hard on the Silicon Valley giant and then suddenly losing editorial control. Bravo!

Research proves that people are increasingly turning to social media for their news, and publishers are going where audiences want to receive their content. I embrace this tectonic shift it and hope others will as well. If this deal means I can keep reading my copy of The New York Times (which I now access on my iPad) long into the second half of my career, then I’m on board.

Tracey Cassidy is Senior Vice President and Director of Client Services at RoseComm, a strategic communications firm that helps clients uncover and share their stories with the people who matter most.