Facebook launches a news section – and will pay publishers

AP – Over the course of its 15 year history, Facebook has variously ignored news organisations while eating their advertising revenue, courted them for video projects it subsequently abandoned, and then largely cut their stories out of its newsfeeds .

Now it plans to pay them for news headlines — reportedly millions of dollars in some cases.

Enter the ‘News Tab’, a new section in the Facebook mobile app that will display headlines — and nothing else — from the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, NBC, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Breitbart, a conservative news outlet that has been accused of running racist stories, will also be part of the news tab, as will local stories from several of the largest United States (US) cities. Headlines from smaller towns are on their way, Facebook said.

Tapping on those headlines will take you directly to publisher websites or apps, if you have any installed. Which is one thing publishers have been requesting from Facebook’s news efforts for years.

It’s potentially a big step for a platform that has long struggled with both stamping out misinformation and making nice with struggling purveyors of news. Though media watchers remain sceptical that Facebook is really committed to helping sustain the news industry.

Facebook declined to say who is getting paid and how much, saying only that it will be paying “a range of publishers for access to all of their content”. Just last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wasn’t sure it “makes sense ” to pay news outlets for their material.

But now, as Zuckerberg told The Associated Press in an interview, “there’s an opportunity to set up new long term, stable financial relationships with publishers”.

The Associated Press is not participating in the initiative. News executives have long been unhappy about the extent to which digital giants like Facebook make use of their stories — mostly by displaying headlines and short summaries when users post news links. A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress this year would grant an antitrust exemption to news companies, letting them band together to negotiate payments from the big tech platforms.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks about ‘News Tab’ at the Paley Center in New York. PHOTO: AP