What If There Just Isn’t Enough Local News for Facebook to Help Share?

The social network’s Today In feature led it to discover news deserts

One-third of Facebook users in the U.S. live in places without enough local news to support Today In Facebook

Facebook made local news a significant priority over the past year, but what are the next steps when local news to share is scarce or nonexistent?

The social network began testing Today In, a separate destination for local news within its flagship mobile applications, in January 2018, in six U.S. cities.

Facebook added 25 more U.S. cities to the test last March and began experimenting with alerts from first responders.

And last November, Facebook said Today In was available in over 400 U.S. cities.

Deploying Today In was what led Facebook to discover what it calls news deserts, or communities with little or no local reporting.


Facebook Journalism Project said in a blog post by Today In product marketing manager Jimmy O’Keefe and local news partnerships lead Josh Mabry that it found that some one-third of users in the U.S. live in places without enough local news to support Today In, meaning that during the past 28 days, there was not a single day where five or more recent news articles directly related to those communities could be found.

Region was not a big factor, as Facebook found that roughly 35 percent of users in the Midwest, Northeast and South, along with 26 percent in the West, lived in places with little or no local news.

The social network used three states as examples: In Arizona, only 13 percent of people live in places with little local news, while that figure jumps to 58 percent in New Jersey. Meanwhile, at 31 percent, Ohio was more representative of the national average.


Aside from Today In, Facebook tweaked its News Feed algorithm last January to prioritize posts from local news publishers in the U.S. That change was expanded worldwide last March.

The following month, Facebook Journalism Project kicked off a $3 million, three-month Local News Subscriptions Accelerator, led by New York Times and Texas Tribune veteran Tim Griggs and aimed at helping several metropolitan news organizations build their digital customer acquisitions on and off the social network.

Last August, Facebook put $3.5 million toward the Facebook Membership Accelerator pilot program, which is geared toward nonprofit news organizations and local, independent publishers that rely on membership models, as well as $1 million into the 2018 NewsMatch campaign, a national matching campaign that doubles donations to nonprofit newsrooms and promotes giving to journalism among potential U.S. donors.

More Facebook funds flowed toward local news initiatives in January: a $5 million endowment (matched by Pulitzer Center chair Emily Rauh Pulitzer) for a new program from the center, Bringing Stories Home, to provide grants to newsrooms for local reporting; $2 million to Report for America to put journalists in local U.S. newsrooms; and $1 million to the American Journalism Project, a philanthropic effort to support local journalism.

And more help for local news organizations and publishers is on the way.

In early May, an open call for applications will begin for the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, an initiative in partnership with The Lenfest Institute for Journalism to offer grants and partnerships for expert support.

O’Keefe and Mabry wrote, “Whether a publisher is trying to build a new business around memberships, report in an underserved community or build a tool that helps local storytellers find and engage news audiences, we want to provide runway for them to serve their community. Grant recipients will be connected to Facebook’s community of Accelerator alumni, as well as to fellow grant awardees, establishing a network of experts and resources for continued support.”

Updates on the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network will be available here.

O’Keefe and Mabry concluded, “We learn faster when we’re learning together, so we also plan to document and share the work from key grants, making projects and results available publicly to help fuel innovation and transformation, particularly where resources are most scarce, and local journalism is most at risk.”

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