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Facebook expands new tool aiming to shrink 'news deserts'

Facebook expands new tool aiming to shrink 'news deserts'
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Facebook is expanding a feature that it says will help users in areas with low densities of local news coverage better see articles that are relevant to their areas.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Facebook's head of news partnerships Campbell Brown said that the "Today In" service, which aggregates local news articles for users that opt in to the feature, will be expanded from its original launch in about 400 cities to include more than 6,000.

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The service, launched early last year, receives news from about 1,200 local news outlets every day and aggregates them by area for users of the feature. The company says the feature is designed to help publishers struggling to drive traffic to hyperlocal sites.

“There is no silver bullet,” Brown told the AP. “We really want to help publishers address challenges in local markets.”

Use of the feature is reportedly more effective than simply having stories pop up in a user's regular news feed, according to Facebook, which says that tests of the feature show that the service is effective in increasing traffic for local outlets.

The service is driven by artificial intelligence and does not use human curators, according to the AP. It also knows to avoid politically charged local content, which Facebook says performs poorly compared to other news stories. Its newest iteration also excludes postings from real estate firms and funeral homes, Facebook said.

The 6,000 cities included in Facebook's expansion do not include major metropolises including Los Angeles and New York, according to the AP, due to the challenges of aggregating relevant hyperlocal content for users in larger cities.

It was reported earlier this year that Facebook was exploring the possibility of striking deals with major media publishers for use of their content in a yet-to-be-launched "News" section that would include parts or entire stories from major outlets.