WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Facebook, one of the tech giants blamed for sinking traditional newspapers, is having trouble finding stories for a new feature that promotes news in local communities.
Facebook launched its "Today In" service one year ago with the intention of offering users the ability to see what is going on in their hometowns. But in order to provide that information, the company needs to aggregate local news stories. The problem is, there aren't enough organizations putting out local news to meet the requirement.
"It affirms the fact that we have a real lack of original local reporting," said Penelope Abernathy, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies news deserts.
To qualify for "Today In," Facebook must be able to find a single day in a 28-day time span where at least five news stories were available to be shared. This disqualifies just over 40 percent of the country, according to the company. There is a slight disparity in the numbers, with the Northeast and Midwest at 43 percent, versus 38 percent in the South and West.
The digital era has not been kind to local news, as the industry has failed to find a way to adjust its business model. Approximately 1,800 local papers have been shuttered in the past 15 years, according to UNC, while newsroom employment has dropped 45 percent. Facebook announced a $300 million grant program in January aimed at funding local news coverage.
The remarkable decline of local news is largely due to the rapid change in ad revenue sales. Facebook and Google take in roughly half of all ad dollars, and are expected to take 83 percent of every new ad dollar, according to an Axios report. Facebook's ad revenue alone accounts for nearly all radio ad revenue across the globe.
This leaves little market share for the nation's many newspapers, which have traditionally relied on ad revenue to stay in business. Many news outlets have attempted to go digital in an effort to keep up, but even then, they are beholden to the tech giants. Digital outlets rely heavily on Facebook referrals for web traffic, so much so that changes to the Facebook Newsfeed algorithm can have detrimental effects.
Facebook changed how users see news content last year after receiving significant criticism for the fake news that flooded the site during the 2016 election. The new algorithm prioritizes content that sparks conversations among users, prioritizing posts from family and friends over that of businesses and brands. The change took a major toll on digital publishers, leading to the closure of some.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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