Thoughts on journalists using Facebook

First, Brian Boyer wrote: “Craigslist takes the classifieds, fool me once. Groupon takes the coupons, fool me twice. Good thing nobody else is selling display ads!”

Then, Nieman Journalism let Vadim Lavrusik publish essentially marketing copy about how journalists can use Facebook’s Pages product. For free. In exchange for the ability to run ads against your content.

To this, I said: “I’m sorry, but journalists getting in bed with Facebook is the mother of all bad ideas. See:¬†http://db.ly/103 Shame on you @niemanlab

And: “Newspapers sell display ads, last I checked. Facebook has a many billion $ valuation from its display ad biz. Therefore = ?”

And: “‘Here’s the problem: journalists just don’t understand their business.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

And: “Yo journos: How much cash will Facebook give you when it goes public with a $50+ billion valuation? My bet: a lot less than Arianna did.”

Now Paul Bradshaw, a prominent journo-blogger in the UK, has decided to use Facebook’s Notes product exclusively for a month. Vadim, under the Facebook for Journalists moniker, explains:

But to answer your question, you should reference the terms. You own your content. Facebook gets a license so that we can put ads next to it. Not dissimilar from other companies.

Ah, referencing ever-changing terms of service. If you aren’t the customer, you’re the product.¬†Writing these points out on territory I control so I can point to it later.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on journalists using Facebook

    • A couple months back, Adam Davidson of the NPR Planet Money fame gave a great talk at the J-School where he argued the importance of business and economics reporting to the journalism profession. He’s a very personable speaker, and his points are dead on. I think they’re relevant to this context as well.

  1. Thanks Daniel – the ownership of the content is a big issue for me. The control of it is an even bigger one. I am backing up all posts during this experiment elsewhere, of course.

    There is that quote about only idiots writing for free, but if a journalist thinks the only value their content has is financial then I find that pretty sad. What I’m trying to explore is how a Facebook page differs from other platforms in terms of what people want and what you can get out of it. Some content will only have value on a Facebook page, for example, just as other content will only have value on Twitter, or Flickr, or a blog, or a newspaper website, or a printed newspaper article. Some will attract useful contributions or sources or leads, or increase traffic to the final article. Those are the benefits that Facebook has to offer in order for people to exchange their content (it will be interesting – and not at all surprising – if in future they pay journalists or news orgs a cut to use the platform). These are all part of what I’m trying to explore.

    • Thanks, Paul. I don’t disagree with your sentiment at all; there’s value in exploration, and platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr currently offer alternative ways to engage with an audience that are proving valuable for journalism. In my mind, that’s exactly the problem: news organizations are technology companies too. They aren’t experimenting (and innovating) with technology at the same pace as their competition. Journalists investing an increasing amount of time in platforms other than their own means the dividends aren’t going to be theirs.

  2. Indeed. I’ve just finished a large report revisiting the ‘Model for a 21st Century Newsroom’ I first proposed in 2007, and it seems that the ‘Connect and Comment’ stage of news is still not well served by MSM – the likes of Conde Nast’s Reddit, HuffPo, Mashable Connect and others are, however, doing better.

  3. I tried to makesimilar points after attending Facebook’s “Meetup” for journalists earlier this month.

    It’s a complex set of choices, because part of the work of journalism is to serve the public where the public is. So if you publish a newspaper and the best place to sell the newspaper is a booth in a mall, maybe you pay the mall owner for that spot. Media companies might have owned the mall, but I think it’s too late for that now.

    Control of the content is sort of a baseline requirement for me, which is why I’ll continue to campaign for the value of the open Web.

  4. Was saying the same thing at a talk at the Globe a few weeks ago, in regards to posting data on (and only on) tools like Tableau, Fusion Tables, etc., and was almost glared right out of the room.

    Experimenting is great, and I think the project teams (particularly Tableau and Fusion Tables, and probably Facebook at heart) are very well intentioned, but the look back at Craigslist and GroupOn could not be more telling: What you don’t control, you can’t sell. When you can’t sell, you can’t eat.

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