Reports of Facebook’s News Reader Prompt Discussions on Social Media & the News

With the upcoming launch of its news reader, Paper, Facebook is yet again stirring up conversations on social media and the news. While social news consumption, the practice of consuming news and current events on social media networks, benefits the news industry in certain ways, it may negatively impact it in the long run. Furthermore, many experts wonder how users will react to Facebook’s push to become a news hub, questioning whether or not Facebook’s goals for itself align with the way users view and use Facebook.

The Pew Report on Social News Consumption

Back in December, we discussed a new study conducted by the Pew Research Center on the way users are consuming news via social media. This report reaffirmed the results of a previous study, finding that Facebook is dominating social news consumption with the highest percentage of the U.S. population (30%) consuming news through its network. This study proved not only that social media users prefer to get their news on Facebook than on other networks, but also that a growing percentage of the population is seeking news on social media rather than from traditional news outlets.

Facebook’s News Reader: Paper

Following along with its push to become a hub for news, Facebook is set to launch its news reader, “Paper,” potentially by the end of January. Paper will operate similarly to Flipboard, an app that aggregates news and social updates configured toward the user’s interests and selections (pictured below).

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While Facebook officials have declined to comment on Paper, sources state that this service will consist of both news stories and Facebook posts, all arranged in a news-like format. It is uncertain whether or not Paper will be a standalone app.

Paper is a part of a much longer project, undertaken by Chris Cox, the VP of Product at Facebook, called Project Reader. Essentially, the goal of Project Reader is to overhaul Facebook to create a more “useful” user experience. This means that Facebook is looking to curate higher quality content in the News Feed, such as in-depth articles. Project Reader was ultimately split into multiple parts, and one of those parts resulted in a redesigned News Feed in March. Pictured below is an example of a news post in my feed:

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With Facebook’s mission in mind, All Things D questions whether or not these goals align with user expectations of how Facebook should be used. In fact, users appear to be using Facebook in the opposite way, with short, viral content such as articles from BuzzFeed gaining the highest level of engagement and the most clicks. Despite the fact that users prefer this type of content, the executives at Facebook are still pushing for a News Feed filled with top quality content.

Social News Consumption & the News Industry

As Facebook treads further and further into the territory of the news industry, experts wonder how the phenomenon of social news consumption will affect the future of that industry. A recent article by Slate even questions whether or not Facebook is “becoming the USA Today of the 21st century.” Slate cites both the impending launch of Paper and the recent addition of a “Trending” box in the upper right corner of the News Feed, which offers a selection of currently popular news topics geared toward the interests of the user (pictured below).

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According to Business Insider, Facebook’s “obsession” with the news means that the industry “should be both grateful and afraid.” First, why should the news business be grateful? News consumption on Facebook is beneficial for the news business because of the amount of referral traffic that is being directed toward news sites. Since Facebook updated its News Feed to be more conducive to news, it has become the source of 5% of referral traffic across the web. Many publishers, including Business Insider, also reported record levels of referral traffic in the last two months of 2013, after these changes were implemented.

Second, why should the news business be afraid? Unfortunately, Facebook’s ability to control this referral traffic means that the social network is finding ways to profit at the expense of traditional news sources. Facebook has changed the reach of Brand Pages, ensuring that a much smaller portion of their audience sees posts from brands. Instead, brands must pay to promote their posts, which they are certainly doing – Facebook reported a 59% increase in revenue in the third quarter of 2013.

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One newspaper is meeting these changes head on. The San Francisco Chronicle is planning to put its journalists through a “digital and social media boot camp” in order to prepare them for the way social news consumption is changing the face of the news industry. Reporters will have to learn how to utilize analytics dashboards and “new digital metrics, such as engagement time, to judge whether their stories have reached our core audience,” according to managing editor Audrey Cooper. While their website, SFGate (Facebook page pictured above) has helped the Chronicle gain more readers, Cooper hopes that enacting this new training will enable the newspaper to make a lasting comeback from its serious decline during the most recent recession.

What This Means for Facebook

While we’ve discussed what social news consumption means for the news industry, what do these changes mean for Facebook? MemeBurn argues that Facebook is becoming the new Yahoo – while Yahoo was known as the “grand aggregator” of the 1990s, Facebook is now the aggregator of our social lives. Although Yahoo has made a comeback in recent years, it still suffered a fate similar to that of Myspace, becoming largely irrelevant after it had run its course. Furthermore, as I discussed above, the push to become a hub of high quality news articles seems to run contrary to the way that many people want to use Facebook. If Facebook continues to push back against the will of its user base, will it remain the most popular social network? Only time will tell.

Do you enjoy getting your news on Facebook? How do you think Paper will affect the way we consume news?

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Elizabeth K

Elizabeth Kent is a recent graduate with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Brandeis University. She earned her B.A. from Smith College with a major in the Study of Women and Gender and a minor in Jewish Studies. Elizabeth recently relocated from the Boston area back to Western Massachusetts, where she spends her free time volunteering with a local non-profit organization. Elizabeth has worked as a writing tutor, archival intern, research assistant, and retail associate. Her interests include studying pop culture, kittens, and making meals with as little cooking as possible.

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