Facebook expands new tool aiming to shrink 'news deserts'

ABC News | 9/12/2019 | Staff
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Facebook is trying to coax "news deserts" into bloom with the second major expansion of a tool that exposes people to more local news and information. But the social network confesses that it still has a lot to learn.

The social media giant said Thursday it is expanding its "Today In" service to 6,000 cities and towns across the U.S., up from 400 in its previous iteration . Launched in early 2018, the service lets Facebook users opt into local news and information from local organizations. Such news can include missing-person alerts, local election updates, road closures and crime reports.

Tool - Facebook - App - Updates - User

The tool lives within the Facebook app; turning it on adds local updates to a user's regular news feed. In areas with scant local news, Facebook will add relevant articles from surrounding areas.

The service won't automatically turn on for people even in the areas it serves, which could limit its reach. So far, Facebook says, 1.6 million people have activated Today In. They receive news from some 1,200 publishers every week.

Facebook - Editors - Today - Algorithm - Stories

Facebook employs no human editors for Today In, so tweaking its algorithm to find such good local stories has been a complicated process. Does a road closure matter if it's 100 miles away? How about a murder?

Some 1,800 newspapers have closed in the United States over the last 15 years, according to research out of the University of North Carolina . Newsroom employment has declined by 45 percent as the industry struggles with a broken business model partly caused by the success of companies on the internet, including Facebook.

Bullet - Campbell - Brown - Head - News

"There is no silver bullet," said Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships at Facebook, in an interview. "We really want to help publishers address challenges in local markets."

Brown, a former news anchor and host at NBC and CNN, said local reporting remains the...
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