Social media platform Facebook is investing $100 million to support the news industry as it struggles through the coronavirus pandemic. News organizations are trying to keep up with important COVID-19 coverage, while losing significant advertising revenue during the crisis. Some, like Gannett and BuzzFeed, are facing unpaid furloughs and pay cuts as a result, and this trend is sure to continue. Facebook’s investment includes $25 million in emergency grant funding for local news organizations through the Facebook Journalism Project and $75 million in additional marketing spend to media companies around the world.
$25 million in emergency grant funding
Funded by Facebook, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association, the COVID-19 Community Network grant program will provide direct funding to journalists and publishers in the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first round of funding, Facebook will provide 50 newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada with $5,000 to help cover unexpected costs related to covering the pandemic. The grants are intended to cover unbudgeted costs like increasing the frequency of publishing, fighting misinformation, and serving vulnerable and at-risk groups.
Some of the media outlets to receive the emergency grants include Advocate Media (Dallas, Texas); The Charlotte Ledger (Charlotte, North Carolina); CNY Latino (DeWitt, New York); Entre Hermanos (Seattle, Washington); NotiCel (San Juan, Puerto Rico); WURD Radio (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and Mission Local (San Francisco, California).
News Media Canada and The Independent News Challenge joined Facebook, Lenfest and the Local Media Association to support journalists covering remote areas in Canada. Recipients of grant funding in Canada include Fort Frances Times Ltd. (Fort Frances, Ontario) and Grizzly Gazette (1990) Inc. (Swan Bills, Alberta).
The Post and Courier in South Carolina used its grant to take down its paywall for coronavirus stories, cover travel costs, and provide remote work capabilities to cover more rural parts of the state. The southeast Missourian used its grant to publish email newsletters with coronavirus coverage, beef up its remote work technology, and identify ways to reach elderly readers if their print operations get interrupted.
“This money will not only help keep journalists reporting right now amidst the crisis, the funding will also fuel opportunities for local media to accelerate business transformation toward a more sustainable digital footing,” said Nancy Lane, CEO of Local Media Association, in the announcement.
Janis Ware, publisher of The Atlanta Voice, also commented on the investment.
“Local news organizations, especially hyper-local news organizations including those serving black and other underserved communities, have experienced challenges with the sustainability and distribution of news and information in the current media environment,” said Ware. “COVID-19 has exacerbated an already existing crisis and our jobs have just gotten tougher. With such a sizable infusion from Facebook, local news organizations across the country will benefit as will our readers, our viewers and our listeners.”
$75 million in marketing spend
In addition to the emergency grant funding, Facebook will invest $75 million to help with marketing costs. According to a March 30 tweet by Campbell Brown, vice president of global news partnerships, the increase in marketing spend will go directly to news organizations to compensate for the loss in advertising revenue. Some of the money will be spent on Facebook ads, while some of it will go toward buying ad space in local news publications and donating that space to small businesses who can’t afford to buy ads right now.
“…all $75M will go to and help the bottom line of struggling news orgs,” said Brown in response to a question by Recode’s Kara Swisher on Twitter.
This $100 million investment is in addition to the $300 million Facebook has already committed to journalism and journalism partnerships through the Facebook Journalism Project.
“If people needed more proof that local journalism is a vital public service, they’re getting it now. And while almost all businesses are facing adverse financial effects from this crisis, we recognize we’re in a more privileged position than most, and we want to help,” said Brown.
Whether you love Facebook or hate it, this is a generous donation to an industry that was already struggling to stay afloat. The emergency grants, offered by Facebook and its journalism and media partners, will help smaller news organizations with immediate needs while the marketing spend will help news organizations fill financial gaps with advertising dollars. At the same time, Facebook is supporting small businesses who are also fighting to stay alive right now. This is a much-needed hand up to the industry. It won’t be enough to save all news outlets or fix all of their struggles, but it is a step in the right direction.