Last week, Facebook announced that the company is expanding its commitment to news publishers, investing $3.5 million in a three-month Membership Accelerator pilot program to help news organizations maximize the their membership programs. In addition, Facebook will extend its Local News Subscription Accelerator pilot that launched earlier this year and contribute $1 million to the 2018 NewsMatch campaign which matches individual donations to more than 100 nonprofit newsrooms, said Campbell Brown, global head of news for Facebook in an August 2 blog post.
Facebook Membership Accelerator Pilot: The goal of this program is to help nonprofit news publishers and local, independent publishers with membership models create sustainable businesses by giving readers and supporters access to exclusive content and experiences through memberships. Facebook says its curriculum is “bootcamp-style” and will focus on customer acquisition marketing to convert readers into paying members.
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Similar to the Subscription Accelerator Program, publishers will collaborate with coaches in person once a month, work one-on-one regularly and participate in weekly training, documenting their efforts for sharing with other publishers. Publishers will also receive grants to try projects tailored to their unique needs. Tim Griggs, formerly of The New York Times and Texas Tribune, will head up the curriculum, and Lenfest Institute for Journalism will handle the grant program, provide coaching to publishers, and track and report results.
“We see this work as complementing the important ongoing efforts by leaders like the Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Publishers and the News Revenue Hub and will work with them and other stakeholders to identify a representative group of nonprofit news organizations and local publishers that will best represent the needs of this cohort,” said Brown, a former journalist.
Local News Subscriptions Accelerator: Designed to test strategies focused on digital subscription acquisitions, this initiative offered a 12-week intensive pilot program with 14 metro newspapers who tested digital subscription strategies, both on and off Facebook. Though the program is complete, the metro news publishers will continue to receive coaching through the end of the year and, through grant funding, work on goals they set during the program. In 2019, the program will focus on subscriber retention.
“We’re encouraged by the early successes of this program, and proud of the tangible business results that publishers have accomplished so far,” Brown said.
Donation to NewsMatch: Facebook will donate $1 million to NewsMatch, a national campaign that matches donations to nonprofit newsrooms and promotes giving to journalism in the U.S. Launched by the Knight Foundation in 2016, NewsMatch is housed at The Miami Foundation and is now the largest grassroots funding effort for nonprofit news. In 2017, NewsMatch raised more than $4.8 million in three months.
Brown also provided an update on the subscription test in Instant Articles. In May, Facebook users who read Instant Articles from various publishers were 17 percent more likely, on average, to subscribe to a publication directly through Facebook.
“As always, the suite of Accelerator pilot programs is borne out of our commitment to trusted, informative and local journalism,” said Brown. “We look forward to these next steps in ensuring our platform connects people to the news and information that is most important to them as part of the Facebook Journalism Project. We will continue to make investments to support newsrooms and journalists around the world.”
Earlier this year Google announced its own Google News Initiative to fight fake news and support local journalism. In June, Google announced that part of this program would include a partnership with the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) and expert trainers providing up to 20 free workshops in the U.K., designed to help newsroom and freelance journalists to sharpen their digital newsgathering and research skills.
Whether you love big technology or hate it, Facebook and Google seem to be trying to be good corporate citizens, fighting fake news and providing journalists with (technology-based) tools and training to improve their work. There is likely an element of competition between the two, and both are trying to overcome scandals (Facebook and data privacy and Google and antitrust issues), but these initiatives are a step in the right direction.
We love that they want to partner with news organizations – particularly those with subscription or membership models – to provide them with the tools they need to become sustainable as their business models shift. In the case of Facebook, we also love that they are focused on nonprofit and independent news organizations, not the large, corporate media behemoths who have the resources to fund their own transformations.