Facebook says lack of outlets has held up local news service

Facebook says lack of outlets has held up local news service

Facebook on Monday said it has struggled to launch a service aimed at giving users access to local news due to a lack of local reporting in many parts of the country.

According to research released by the social media giant on Monday, 1 in 3 U.S. users lives in places where there is not enough local news to launch the service, called “Today In.”

“Today In,” launched last year and currently in 400 cities, aggregates information from local media outlets, government, community organizations and first responders. Users can either check their “Today In” page directly or allow the feature to promote local news on their main newsfeed.

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But Facebook said it has been unable to find local news stories directly about many towns in the U.S., hindering the service’s full rollout.

“Today In” has been unable to find news stories for 58 percent of users in New Jersey and 31 percent in Ohio. The company’s research has found that there is not much variation by region, with so-called news deserts emerging across the Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

The tech powerhouse said it is sharing its research with leading academics studying the loss of local news.

The University of North Carolina recently found that over 1,800 newspapers have closed in the U.S. over the last 15 years.

“It affirms the fact that we have a real lack of original local reporting,” Penelope Muse Abernathy, a professor at the University of North Carolina, told The Associated Press.

Critics have accused Facebook of contributing to the decline of local news as advertisers turn to the social media platform instead of small newspapers. Users around the world have started to use Facebook as their main method of consuming news.

In response to criticism from journalists and experts, Facebook has launched a series of local news initiatives, including efforts to alter its newsfeed to promote local sources and expand its "Today In" feature

Facebook on Monday also announced that it plans to award grants to people hoping to help out with local news initiatives.

“Whether a publisher is trying to build a new business around memberships, report in an underserved community, or build a tool that helps local storytellers find and engage news audiences — we want to provide runway for them to serve their community,” the company wrote in the announcement.

The AP reported the company hopes to award around 100 grants at $5,000 to $25,000 each, on top of the $300 million in grants to boost local news partnerships it announced in January.