As Facebook continues to attempt to be all things to all people and essentially take over the planet, a new chapter is beginning. Starting this week, the New York Times (along with several other digital news outlets) will be feeding content directly to the social network. Reading the responses from media analysts, this is either the return of the Jedi or the end of the world.
Tomorrow morning, in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant, a source with direct knowledge of the talks told me. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook’s news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others…
Not surprisingly, the prospect of a Facebook partnership is generating palpable anxiety inside the Times newsroom, with some Times journalists casting it as an end-of-the-Times-as-we-know-it inflection point. When rumors of a deal surfaced last October, the Times’ late media columnist David Carr articulated this view, writing “the wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.”
I still haven’t returned to Facebook since my friend Tami jacked me over on that trade for a cow in Farmville four years ago, so I’m not sure what this looks like. But the real question for me is… why? The Times needs revenue and they’ve not made any secret of that since the internet began destroying the fish wrap business model, so if Facebook wants to hand off some of their bags of cash to the Gray Lady I’m sure they will gladly take it. But aside from a little bit of extra revenue for Arthur Sulzberger it’s hard to see what this deal really does for either partner.
For Facebook users, is this some segment of content they couldn’t see already? One of the alleged advantages of the social network is that your friends and family – presumably knowing what sorts of things you like – can share links to interesting content including news items. If you are a consumer of news yourself already, there’s a good chance you’re looking at the Times. What does this packaging deal do for the reader beyond saving them the stressful activity of clicking on a link?
As for the Times themselves, this feed apparently doesn’t apply to their exclusive digital subscriber content, so it’s pretty much the same articles anyone can see on their site already. The difference here is that the reader will get to consume the content without going to the Times page, expanding their click count, seeing the ads there or possibly seeing links to other articles and reading more. Aside from the direct revenue from Facebook it’s difficult to see how this is a win.
There’s also a question of which content the Facebook users will see. It’s obviously not the entire paper, so somebody has to be selecting the specific articles to feed over. Is this a system similar to the “Editor’s Picks” on the Google News page? If so, at least the paper gets to determine what it shares. But as the linked article above notes, what if the Gray Lady does an investigative or editorial piece which is critical of Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg? Will that get pushed over to the social network or will it be conveniently filtered out of the selections?
This is a curious case of strange bedfellows to say the least. But after considering the details released so far, if there is a winner in this deal it’s still probably the coffers of the New York Times. I can’t see how Facebook or their users are getting much out of it.