Newspapers v. Facebook

While in Sweden…. The new editor of Aftonbladet says they learned in a focus group with 20somethings that their major competition for time is Facebook.

I had a somewhat related conversation with my entrepreneurial students yesterday as we debated what properly can be defined as a journalistic enterprise, or part of one. This is a business variant on the who-is-a-journalist debate. But I argued that the real question is, what is the role of the journalistic institution in its community? Is it merely to inform or is it also to organize (which, not coincidentally, is the advice of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: bring your community elegant organization)?

Is a social service that helps local sports players organize properly part of a journalistic organization? For that matter, I’d argue, is a sports section? If we define journalism merely as reported content, then perhaps not. But if we define the larger role of the news organization to help its community organize itself, then social applications — even about sports — are properly part of the mission. I think we need to define the role of the news organization broadly, especially until we figure out what works.

So should Aftonbladet view Facebook as competition for attention — or its mission? I’m not suggesting that Aftonbladet should start its own social network; that would be the reflex of most media companies (we do it all ourselves). Instead, the question should be how to help the community where it is, doing what it does.

If I were making Facebook applications for news organizations now, I wouldn’t be making quizzes and such fripperies. I’d be figuring out how to get news that matters to you in your news feed. I’d be finding ways to tie you with other people who share your interest and know what you want to know. I’d find ways to enable you to recommend more news to your friends.

Seen this way, Facebook isn’t a competitor for a newspaper. It’s just another place to help your community.

(Aftonbladet news found via Media Culpa — which, by the way, is a great name for a blog.)

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  • Colin Kerr

    Newspapers are commercial enterprises and if they don’t make money they close.

    Sometimes this happens even with community support because of bad management, rising costs, economic downturns.

    This means that a lot of very good newspaper journalists are unemployed or underemployed.

    They may not want to go to Facebook but is it possible for journalists who write to get an income and not just for fun (full-time or freelance) to get a regular income online?

  • “…is it merely to inform or is it also to organize…a social service that helps local sports players organize…to help its community organize itself…social applications…how to help the community where it is, doing what it does…ways to tie you with other people who share your interest…”

    Jarvis, get a hold of yourself. These are delusions of grandeur, civic journalism turned megalomaniacal.

    Isn’t providing news difficult enough for journalists to do? Now you suggest that journalists also take on community organizing too?

    Surely the advantage of the networks that the Internet offers is that it allows each of us to specialize in what we do best, secure in the knowledge that there are political organizers and dating services and youth clubs and community outreach and sports leagues and organized religion and tax-funded municipalities trying to do all that other stuff.

    Journalists should be reporting on how well all those institutions perform their tasks and the innovations and controversies that arise from those efforts — not trying to muscle in and take over their worlds.

  • I think there’s a huge potential for newspapers to leverage the Facebook to build communities. Besides the “share” feature that has been integrated on a ton of sites, I think newspapers should look at ways to integrate their content into Facebook apps. I believe there may be some technical limits on what Facebook allows you to do right now, but wouldn’t it be great to opt-in to receive local newspaper alerts in your “News Feed”. For newspapers that don’t already have comments, they could probably fairly easily build a “wall” for every story. Suffice to say there is a lot of potential for newspaper Facebook apps than news quizzes and political compasses. I hope someone will take the time to build these innovations.

  • Jeff, I think that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville got this right about 200 years ago in his book Democracy in America. He said that newspapers make associations (i.e. communities of the like-minded), and associations make newspapers. That’s what we lost with mass media offering us fewer and fewer choices of communities since then. That’s what we are getting back with the Internet. (Steve Boriss, The Future of News)

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  • Interesting post, at the least, a newspaper should have a Fan Page on Facebook, by now. Some (NYT, RoanokeTimes) do, more to follow?

  • Mary Specht

    The Des Moines Register also has a Product/Fan Page.

  • Tim

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve grown to hate Facebook. Beacon controversy aside, the profusion of tacky third-party apps has turned the site into a mess, and most of my so-called friends have become unpaid pains-in-the-butt. No, I don’t want to send Mary a crantini or put a present under Marc’s tree. Uurgh. Deleted my account, and now I feel freeeeeee…. =)

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  • Hey very true Facebook can’t be newspaper cause in newspaper only whats happening around, only news around is given. But its definitely a good idea if Facebook comes with an application which has latest news & all those stuff, it will a good added benefit for Facebook for sure. Well there’s one concept i came across in 1 of the blog called buzzuka.blogspot. Which says you can access facebook on mobile through sms without internet, no GPRS, no EDGE.
    Check this:

  • All the web options are changing the way we all get news and communicate. One just has to be sure that what is read is credible. The availability of personal blogs and websites offer a whole new perspective on how we see other Americans. I think this will continue and evetually the daily newspaper will be replaced by some RSS feed device.

  • David Millikin

    “… I wouldn’t be making quizzes and such fripperies.”

    Jeff, As usual a thought-provoking post. But I don’t think your dismissal of ‘quizzes and such fripperies’ is necessarily fair.
    We (Fuel by AFP, a SF-based subsidiary of Agence France-Presse) have recently put a news quiz app on Facebook called Deadline, which we see as a first step in just the process you say would be your approach: “figuring out how to get news that matters to you in your news feed (and)… finding ways to tie you with other people who share your interest and know what you want to know….”
    Deadline (still in a very early form) entices people to learn more about the news items they find interesting (via the quiz), and will allow them to bookmark, share, post to their news feed and comment on news stories related to the quiz questions.
    The data we gather through the app shows us which news areas people know well, or don’t know at all, which topics they choose to read more about, and share, etc. We can adjust subsequent questions to both suit people’s expressed interests and provide more information on areas they know less about.
    The quiz is just a starting point, the spark for beginning conversations and debate around world events through features we will be adding in the weeks and months to come.
    As you have long argued, people, and particularly younger people, have little interest or trust in “The News” as handed down by traditional media. And yet they clearly care about world events — witness the big FB groups around the tragedy in Darfur, climate change, even the recent crisis in Myanmar.
    Our hope is that we can help bridge that disconnect by providing a way into the news that is both entertaining and engaging — engaging in the social sense where news is active, part of a community of conversation and debate.
    If we can make headway in that direction, we think Deadline will be more than a frippery. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

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