Facebook says service hindered by lack of local news

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook’s effort to establish a service that provides its users with local news and information is being hindered by the lack of outlets where the company’s technicians can find original reporting.

The service, launched last year, is currently available in some 400 cities in the United States (US). But the social media giant said it has found that 40 per cent of Americans live in places where there weren’t enough local news stories to support it.

Facebook announced on Monday it would share its research with academics at Duke, Harvard, Minnesota and North Carolina who are studying the extent of news deserts created by newspaper closures and staff downsizing .

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

The Facebook service, called Today In, collects news stories from various local outlets, along with government and community groups. The company deems a community unsuitable for Today In if it cannot find a single day in a month with at least five news items available to share.

There’s not a wide geographical disparity. For example, the percentage of news deserts is higher in the Northeast and Midwest, at 43 per cent, Facebook said. In the South and West, the figure is 38 per cent.

“It affirms the fact that we have a real lack of original local reporting,” said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the topic. She said she hopes the data helps pinpoint areas where the need is greatest, eventually leading to some ideas for solutions.

The logo for Facebook appears on screens in New York’s Times Square. – AP