Meta’s layoffs make it official: Facebook is ready to part with the news – Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard | Team Cansler

The mass layoffs at the company formerly known as Facebook over the past week include several positions that have served as a bridge between the news industry and the sprawling tech company.

The MetaJournalism Project Accelerator David Granta program manager and Dorrine Mendoza, who ran local news partnerships for the platform, were both fired. Other related journalistic positions eliminated include head of news partnerships for Southeast Asia, a news program manager, two news integrity program managers and several news communications positions.

Meta declined to comment on the layoffs or confirm how many of the 11,000 jobs eliminated were news jobs. It’s unclear what impact the job cuts will have on Facebook’s various news-related endeavors, including the Meta Journalism Project itself. (Meta spokespersons and Campbell BrownMeta’s Vice President, Global Media Partnerships, did not respond to requests for comment on the future of the Meta Journalism Project.)

The layoffs are another step in Meta’s journey to get away from the news. Meta, which pledged $300 million in support of local journalism in 2019 when it was still Facebook, has shifted resources from its News tab, shut down the bulletin newsletter program, dropped support for Instant Articles, human curation eliminated in favor of algorithms, and stopped paying US publishers to use their news content.

Instead, the company is focused on competing with emerging platforms like TikTok and trying to build a metaverse that people actually want to spend time in. Meta has so far spent $15 billion to become “a Metaverse company” and plans to spend billions more — despite falling stock prices and legless avatars.

Of course, the blockbuster investments of the past rarely arrived as checks paid directly to editors. For example, the $100 million investment in local news announced by Facebook early in the pandemic consisted of $25 million in grants and $75 million in “marketing spend.” In the early days of the Facebook journalism project, training often focused on teaching newsrooms how to use Facebook products to reach readers, or “best practices” for distribution on their own platform. But now grants of all kinds are drying up — and anyone who clicks on the Grants page on the Meta Journalism Project’s website gets a 404 error.

Multiple sources said the Meta Journalism Project’s Global Accelerator Program — which consists of workshops and hands-on training aimed at promoting financial sustainability of news organizations — has been considered dead for some time. A press release issued two days before the layoffs officially took effect said the accelerator had helped 162 American and Canadian news publishers gain more than 166,000 new paid supporters and more than 2 million new registered readers since 2019. Its European counterpart also reported 166,000 new paid supporters, and nearly 1.5 million new registered users across 90 publishers from 17 countries.

The news tech company’s divestment will hit some organizations harder than others. Many programs launched with funding from Facebook and/or Meta will only be funded until 2024.

At Indiegraf — a network of local news organizations that received multiple infusions of meta-funds in 2020 and 2021 — the company’s change of direction “in no way” changes its work, its CEO and co-founder said Erin Millar.

“We’ve always focused on building a sustainable business model that allows Indiegraf to be platform independent, similar to the news companies we support,” Millar said. “Meta’s financial support has allowed us to accelerate our plans to support independent media, but has never been a critical part of our sustainability.”

Millar said Indiegraf has been aware of the upcoming changes for months. Indiegraf doesn’t expect current funding agreements to be revoked — but they don’t anticipate a new partnership with Meta once those run their course.

Meta employees who worked on journalism projects “worked hard to leverage Meta’s resources to make an impact on the news ecosystem for as long as they could,” Millar said. She added, “They also understood that the company’s investments in news were likely to be limited and temporary, and they were as transparent as they could be with partners like Indiegraf.”

A more affected organization will be the Local Media Association, which has worked closely with the Meta Journalism Project and has been selected to run a number of programs across the US.

In total, LMA has distributed more than $16.8 million to “a few hundred” local media organizations through meta-funding since 2019, he said Nancy Lane, CEO of LMA.

She outlined the major programs Facebook-turned-Meta funded through the association:

  • The News Accelerator program, including three sessions focused on reader revenue and one on video. Local media organizations received $4.27 million in grants from the sessions.
  • A local news Covid-19 relief fund that distributed $12 million to local news organizations in 2020. (“Some would have closed without this funding,” Lane said.)
  • The LMA Local News Resource Center, dedicated to helping local media companies with their social media strategies. Meta’s total investment was more than $800,000 and enabled full-time employment.
  • The Crosstown Data Journalism Pilot, which funded a collaboration between a University of Southern California data team and news partners WRAL-TV, Advocate and WBEZ. The grant, which totaled about $400,000, also funded data journalists on each newsroom.
  • The Meta Branded Content Project, operated in partnership with the Local Media Consortium, helping local media companies create revenue streams for branded content. Meta’s investment of more than $3 million will fund two full-time positions.

LMA will seek new contributors for their Branded Content Project and the LMA Local News Resource Center, both of which will cease funding in Meta 2024.

Lane praised Facebook for being one of the first organizations to invest in sustainability efforts in local newsroom businesses and said many funding agencies have followed suit. She also had some harsh words for people on Thursday who have criticized the tech company, which has frankly provided plenty of criticism.

Lane told me she believes color publishers in particular will be affected by the changes at Meta. (“Meta has ensured that 50% of their programs are allocated to BIPOC publishers,” she said. I have not been able to confirm this figure, although at least some Meta programs list half of their participants as black-owned news organizations.)

“As for the LMA, more donors than ever have recently committed and will fill the funding gap left by Meta, but nothing will replace the innovative spirit that defined this partnership,” said Lane. “And that’s a great loss for all of us.”

Chris KrewsonExecutive director of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and founding editor of Billy Penn, said Facebook has “made a tremendous impact on the burgeoning ecosystem of digital-only publishers.”

“There was a call where David Grant asked, “If money were no object, what would you do?” And we never really thought about it like that, you know?” Krewson said. “Meta, at its peak, had the resources to do incredible things. Not just the dollars, but the encouragement to think of the best possible outcome to make the greatest impact.”

LION was funded through Facebook’s Covid Support Programs and the LION-Meta Revenue Growth Fellowship. LION members also participated in the accelerator, which Krewson called “an undeniable asset” for providing millions to educate news organizations worldwide. (The team behind Meta’s accelerator program has specified that they hope to continue the work if they find another source of funding.)

Meta’s retirement will not affect the LION programs or staffing, but Krewson mentioned something else that I had overlooked. It was extremely helpful to have reliable meta contacts when a small news organization needed a review or something went wrong with an organization’s page. Something weird happening to a member’s page is “not uncommon,” Krewson noted, but now all of their contacts are gone.

Has your editorial team received meta funding from Facebook? Have you worked in a bridging role between the news industry and a technology platform? Will these changes affect you? I would like to hear from you.

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