Facebook launches a newswire so it can help the media — while it competes with them

It seems Facebook (s fb) isn’t happy to just have a News Feed that is designed to be a newspaper, or a mobile app called Paper that is also supposed to be a newspaper. So it has launched a new feature aimed at journalists called FB Newswire, which is just what it sounds like: a real-time feed of content related to news-worthy events. And what would Facebook like media outlets to do with that content? Why, share it and embed it on their news pages, of course.
The new wire-service, which debuted on Thursday, is partially powered by a partnership with Storyful, a social-news verification service that News Corp. acquired in December for $25 million. As a Facebook post by Andy Mitchell describes it, the service will highlight content that has been posted by users and media entities who are reporting on breaking news events around the world, and comes complete with an easy-to-use “embed” function.

“FB Newswire aggregates newsworthy content shared publicly on Facebook by individuals and organizations across the world for journalists to use in their reporting. This will include original photos, videos and status updates posted by people on the front lines of major events like protests, elections and sporting events.”

A goodwill gesture, with a catch

It’s pretty clear that Facebook wants this new feature to be seen as a goodwill gesture towards the media industry — the post by Mitchell, who is the head of media partnerships, mentions that the network has been improving its News Feed and making other changes in order to highlight content from news organizations, and that the company is “excited to deepen our relationship with media organizations and journalists in the days to come.”
Facebook Newswire
It also seems fairly obvious that Facebook is trying to elbow its way into the market that Twitter (s twtr) has mostly dominated for some time now when it comes to being a source of real-time and “user generated” news content. The FB Newswire even has a dedicated Twitter account, which either seems clever or desperate, depending on how you look at it. And using the resources of Storyful to verify all that user-generated content is definitely a smart move.
In one sense at least, Facebook has a leg up on Twitter, because it is going to generate its own collection of worthwhile news content for media organizations (and presumably regular users as well). Twitter, by contrast, leaves it up to the user themselves to curate and aggregate and make sense of the news — and doesn’t really provide many tools for doing so, apart from lackluster efforts like the Discover tab, or its poorly supported list function.
The downside of the Facebook approach, as I’ve tried to point out, is that Facebook and its algorithms are the ones who ultimately decide what content is worthwhile, not you the user — in much the same way that newspapers used to. That can be good and bad, especially when Facebook decides to make certain types of content disappear, such as the reporting about chemical weapon attacks in Syria, which vanished for reasons that remain poorly explained.

Whoever controls the platform wins

Also, look again at the way that FB Newswire is described: It is intended to be “a resource that will make it easier for journalists and newsrooms to find, share and embed newsworthy content from Facebook.” And who ultimately becomes the source of that content, at least as far as viewers or readers are concerned? Facebook. Of course, media outlets don’t have to embed that content the way Facebook wants them to, but the newswire still creates the impression that the news came from Facebook. As Andy Mitchell tells The Verge: “It’s all about thinking of Facebook as a primary source of news content.”
In a recent Atlantic piece on the disruption of the media industry, analyst Ken Doctor said that Facebook and Google (s goog) “have become the mass media, and traditional news organizations have become the niche.” Facebook is taking the idea that Google originally came up with when it launched Google News (a product it has devoted virtually no time and resources to since) and dramatically extending it in ways that Google could only dream of doing.
There’s plenty of co-opetition going on in media, obviously, as traditional outlets try to make use of various tools and platforms without completely losing control. And media organizations clearly benefit from the traffic that Facebook sends them. But the winner in this particular game is the one who distributes the content and captures the attention — and Facebook controls the primary distribution platform.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Janie Alrey and Thinkstock / sculder19