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Behind Facebook's New Local News Grants

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The coronavirus has been a wake-up call for all of us, including Facebook. The tech company says it is investing $100 million to prop up local newsrooms that have been hit hard by the financial fallout from the pandemic. To talk about what this says about Facebook's priorities, Campbell Brown joins us now. She is vice president of global news partnerships.

Campbell Brown, welcome.

CAMPBELL BROWN: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So the hundred million dollars to local news - how are you prioritizing which outlets will get the money?

BROWN: Well, this started as a smaller pilot project with about $2 million. What we realized is that local newsrooms were pretty desperate in this moment. They were being impacted by the economic slowdown in the way that everybody is being impacted. But it was also happening at a moment when we're incredibly reliant on local news.

KELLY: But - so $100 million to local news - I mean, you are a longtime journalist, a former anchor - CNN and elsewhere. Is that enough money to have a significant impact?

BROWN: I think it is, and we're seeing examples of that with the grants that we've already given out. The Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico, for example, was able to use that grant money to do extra reporting that was focused on the Navajo Nation, finding that four times more cases of coronavirus existed within that community than the rest of the country.

I mean, different newsrooms need different things in this moment. Some newsrooms may just have a piece of equipment broken they need to fix. Others want to expand their reporting. In some cases, newsrooms that we've given grants to have hired translators so that they can do some of their reporting in Spanish, for example.

KELLY: Fair to say that local news has declined, in part because of digital giants, including Facebook, that have peeled away a lot of their readers and their viewers and their advertisers. Is this money on one level an acknowledgement that Facebook needs news providers and needs local news to thrive?

BROWN: Well, we're doing this 'cause we care deeply about journalism. We're not going to uninvent the Internet. We want to adapt and look forward and try to figure out what the new business model is that's going to help local news not only survive this moment but thrive over the long term.

KELLY: We interviewed on NPR Nick Clegg recently, a fellow Facebook vice president, about Facebook's decision to remove misleading coronavirus posts. He talked about changes so that people will see information from the WHO or other credible scientific sources first. Is that a step towards Facebook wanting to be more aggressive about misleading news on the platform overall?

BROWN: Well, I think it's easier when you're dealing with a health crisis where there is information that could potentially cause real harm to people - for example, a rumor flying around that if you drink bleach, that will cure coronavirus. Well, we don't want people drinking bleach. We have to get that content off the platform.

KELLY: How much harder does it make your job of trying to keep misleading information off the platform when the president at the White House is frequently making statements that are at odds with his scientific advisers? - meaning that somebody could post on Facebook just directly quoting the president, and they are amplifying inaccurate information.

BROWN: This is where I believe as a former journalist that we need to rely on journalism, and this is why we have brought in a small team of journalists to do curation of the important stories that are being written.

KELLY: And how big is that team?

BROWN: So it's a small team. It's run by Anne Kornblut, who was a longtime Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The Washington Post. You know, we're a tech company. Facebook loves algorithms, but when it comes to news, especially at a critical moment like this, there needs to be human intervention sometimes. And so we're using both algorithms and journalists to ensure that at the top of people's feed in Facebook news, they're seeing the most important stories by journalists, analyzing what's going on that day and what's been said.

KELLY: Campbell Brown - she is head of news partnerships at Facebook.

Campbell Brown, thank you.

BROWN: Thanks so much for having me. It was great talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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