The announcement on Monday has been dubbed an “additional investment to support the news industry” and local newsroom coverage of the Coronavirus pandemic. The investment, according to a media release, will focus “on helping newsrooms navigate the economic impact of the outbreak by channeling Facebook marketing spend to news publishers and offering grants to local publishers”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said $25 million will be made available as emergency grant funding to local newsrooms through the Facebook Journalism Project, and $75 million in additional marketing spend to move money over to news organisations around the world.
Zuckerberg said the news industry is working “under very difficult conditions to keep their communities informed (about the COVID-19 pandemic), and many news organisations are struggling due to the economic impact of the outbreak… at a time when journalism is needed more than ever, ad revenues are declining due to the economic impact of the virus. Local journalists are being hit especially hard, even as people turn to them for critical information to keep their friends, families and communities safe”.
He said local news is especially hard hit, hence the $25 million for emergency grant funding.
This new emergency programme is in addition to the $300 million Facebook committed to supporting news, and local news in particular, over the next few years. “We’re hoping this will support many journalists through this period so they can continue doing their critical work of keeping all of us informed,” said Zuckerberg in a Facebook post on his news feed.
The social network also said it intends to, through the COVID-19 Community Network grant programme, assist journalists to cover important stories when they need them most. “We’re building on this work and will direct a portion of these funds to publishers most in need in the hardest hit countries.”
The first round of grants went to 50 local newsrooms in the US and Canada. These include:
– The Post and Courier in South Carolina who took down its paywall for coronavirus stories. The paper will use the grant to cover travel costs and remote work capabilities to extend coverage to rural, news desert portions of the state.;
– The Southeast Missourian in Missouri which is publishing email newsletters highlighting coronavirus coverage. The newspaper will use the grant to bolster remote work technology and on contingency plans for reaching elderly readers should print distribution be disrupted; and
– The El Paso Matters in Texas, a new local online news organization launched earlier this year by former El Paso Times editor Bob Moore. The team will use their grant to hire freelance reporters and translators to expand coverage of coronavirus in El Paso and across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Responding to the announcement, publisher of The Atlanta Voice Janis Ware said “local news organisations, especially hyper-local news organisations 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. COVID-19 has exacerbated an already existing crisis and our jobs have just gotten tougher. With such a sizable infusion from Facebook, local news organisations across the country will benefit as will our readers, our viewers and our listeners”.
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