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Facebook Stages Takeover of Local Media

by | Nov 27, 2018 | Politics

Fake news and poor reportage are major problems today, and obviously the solution is to get a transnational corporation to police the media and educate the next generation of journalistic recruits – right? Facebook apparently thinks so, because the company has just announced a new $6 million scheme to train new reporters in the United Kingdom.  [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=”24″]…the first exploratory steps toward penetrating the establishment media. [/perfectpullquote]

Not satisfied with control over a supersize portion of online communications, the company is setting up the Community News Project – because nothing says “community” like big business stepping in to solve your problems. The scheme proposes to train newspaper journalists in regional locales where print publications have struggled to compete with, yes, social media. That’s right, Facebook stole their business and, not satiated, is now staging a slow takeover of the few traditional outfits still trooping along.

Deal With the Devil

The pilot program, set for launch in 2019, will fund 80 “community journalist” positions in the form of a donation to the U.K. National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) charity. The participants will be posted to work in newsrooms belonging to allotted publishers, as well as receiving training for a diploma in journalism.

According to the NCTJ, “The project aims to increase the creation, consumption, and distribution of reliable and relevant community news …. Journalists will be recruited from a range of backgrounds, with the aim of helping make newsrooms more diverse and inclusive.”

“The NCTJ cares deeply about the number, quality, and diversity of journalists working in our local communities,” said Joanne Butcher, the organization’s chief executive. She continued:

“We are very proud to support the sustainability of quality local journalism by overseeing the recruitment of additional local news journalists from diverse and inclusive backgrounds and by ensuring they are properly trained and qualified.”

While on-the-job training may otherwise be a boon for a profession that increasingly has sought ivory tower qualifications (possibly why much of the media today seems so out of touch) rather than ability, it’s a pity “diversity” is merely a codeword for “progressive identity groups” rather than genuine variety of approaches to the news. After all, Facebook has been no friend to diversity of thought. Besides, how diversity and local interests can be promoted by further submitting to centralized big media is anyone’s guess.

This particular program follows a statement by John Whittingdale, Member of Parliament (MP) in the present government and former culture secretary. In January, he suggested that Facebook and Google should use their massive profits to help out the regional press. “They take content produced by the regional and national press so it is in the interests of Google and Facebook to support local journalism,” he said.

While he may have had good intentions, one wonders what Facebook and Google – known more for privacy invasions and propaganda than for contributing to the goodness of humanity – would want in exchange for their patronage.

Takeover Bid

This isn’t Facebook’s first attempt to buddy up with the traditional media. The Facebook Journalism Project was launched in 2017 “to establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry.”

The project was designed to enable collaboration between media publishers and Facebook, selling this bid for control as a remedy for the “fake news” that supposedly plagues social media. But it’s clear that Facebook wants to be involved in news at the source, no longer happy to just facilitate distribution:

“We’ll begin an even deeper collaboration with news organizations across the spectrum, connecting our product and engineering teams so that we can build together from the early stages of the product development process.”

Other aims of the project include developing “new story formats” and “emerging business models” (enmeshing the company in any new media formats, making Facebook necessary in all future communications). It is also funding journalism conferences, including the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia, Italy; the other main sponsor is Google. Oh yeah, let’s add financially supporting training institutions such as the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and partnering with non-profits such as The News Literacy Project.

Again, there is a focus on local news: “We’re interested in exploring what we can build together with our partners to support local news and promote independent media.” Independent, indeed.

Facebook is working to achieve these lofty goals by providing training and tools to journalists and audiences: “We will also be working on new ways to help give people information so they can make smart choices about the news they read — and have meaningful conversations about what they care about.” Finally, they are “promoting news literacy” and “continuing efforts to curb news hoaxes.”

Reviews of the project have been mixed. One round-up at Digiday.com says, “Privately, though, publishing folk also doubt how much (Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships Campbell) Brown’s agenda is shared with higher-ups inside Facebook, which has many other interests besides helping publishers.” One might suggest that the company has no interest in helping publishers, but that these projects are being carefully watched by the company as the first exploratory steps toward penetrating the establishment media. Just a thought.

Silicon Valley already infiltrates traditional media publishers at ever more localized levels. Social media, originally touted as a world of unlimited freedom to express individual ideas, is becoming a censorship and speech control machine – perhaps a predictable progression, now that providers have had a few years to establish their surveillance web. With press ownership already highly concentrated in the hands of only a few, will we soon have to say goodbye to any semblance of a free and independent media, online or in print?  Not only that, but how far will Silicon Valley go in its mission to control every aspect of our lives – and minds?

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