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Facebook will start paying UK publishers for news stories

Steve Dent
·Associate Editor
·2 min read

Facebook’s dedicated News tab, first seen in the US, will launch in the UK with a promise to pay UK news sites to license articles, the social media giant announced. It’ll arrive in January 2021 with partner sites including The Guardian, The Economist and The Mirror, along with lifestyle sites owned by Conde Nast, Hearst and others.

“With Facebook News, we will pay publishers for content that is not already on the platform, help publishers reach new audiences and bring more advertising and subscription opportunities,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.

As with the US News section, the UK tab will offer a mix of personalized and curated top stories. Facebook will normally show top headlines and stories, but will add news digests with original and “authoritative” reporting during major news cycles. The tab will build on the success of the US site, Facebook said, “where we’ve found more than 95 percent of the traffic Facebook News delivers to publishers is new audiences that have not interacted with those news outlets in the past.”

Facebook didn’t say how much it would pay publishers, but some expect millions of pounds each year from multi-year details, The Guardian reported. That means Facebook could be paying tens of millions in the UK alone, much-needed revenue for struggling news outlets. It may also feature smaller local sites that have not struck deals, provided they meet certain standards, and Facebook plans to add more major news providers down the road.

Along with Google, Facebook has been heavily criticized for drawing ad dollars away from dedicated news sites. That has contributed to the failure of a quarter of US news sites over the last 15 years, according to Poynter. In the UK, 198 local newspapers have shuttered since 2005, the Press Gazette reported in 2016. Meanwhile, the professional journalism vacuum has often been filled by false or misleading news on Facebook.

Facebook has attempted to stem that criticism in the UK and ward off potential government regulation with several measures. For instance, it spent £4.5 million ($6 million) training 80 journalists to cover smaller communities and recently extended that program for a year with an additional £2.3 million ($3.1 million).

Last month, Google also pledged $1 billion for publishers to curate content for a new product called the Google News Showcase. Google has taken even more heat than Facebook, with publishers in Australia, France and elsewhere saying it has contributed to the decline of local journalism and should be forced to pay to show news “snippets.”

However, both sites will be under further pressure and scrutiny in the UK from a new regulatory agency called the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). That body will set new limits on tech’s biggest platforms and create rules that level the playing field for smaller rivals.