Should news publishers trust Facebook? If you have to ask…

Here’s a little story called “Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook may pay publishers to put their stuff in a dedicated news section.

Pull quotes:

  • More than a year after announcing Facebook would feature less news, Mark Zuckerberg says he has a new idea: He wants to create a section of his social network that would be devoted to “high-quality news,” and may pay publishers that share their stuff there.
  • “We talked about the role quality journalism plays in building informed communities and the principles Facebook should use for building a news tab to surface more high-quality news, including the business model and ecosystem to support it,” Zuckerberg writes in the introduction to the chat [with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner].
  • In his discussion with Döpfner, Zuckerberg talks about building a Facebook feature so that “users who want more news content can do that,” and says his company could “potentially have a direct relationship with publishers to make sure that their content is available, if it’s really high-quality content.”

I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because it’s hard to trust Facebook’s motives when it comes to dealing fairly with publishers. Its interests are its own, and publishers have suffered the consequences when Facebook makes product changes or tweaks to its news feed algorithm. To be fair, Facebook is trying to solve a hard problem, which is to get out of being an arbiter of what is “real” versus “fake” news while at the same time figuring out how to prioritize “news” versus “friend/family updates” within individual update feeds. 
Zuck and company’s move here may be to create a “sandbox” for “high quality” publishers that’s in its own dedicated news section. There are still tons of questions, of course, including: what does “high quality” mean? Will publishers get compensated fairly? Will Facebook users be interested in visiting this dedicated news section that’s outside of the feed they’ve become accustomed to consuming news, in addition to updates from friends and family? 
And as for the “feed” itself, would a dedicated news section allow Facebook to contemplate shutting down “news”-related updates entirely? That latter bit is a critical question here.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

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