Facebook Taps Journalists Again

Facebook grabbed headlines last year when it cut its “trending topics” editorial team. Now, it’s back in editor hiring mode. 

Recently, the social media leader announced plans to hire what it is describing as a “small team” of veteran journalists – likely 10 or fewer – to choose content that will be featured in a section of the news tab, a much-discussed product Facebook will begin testing on portions of its U.S. user base toward the end of October.

The journalists will help select the content that users see in a section of the news tab called Top News. Contents of the other sections of the news tab, which will focus on different topics relevant to each specific user, will be chosen algorithmically, Facebook said.

Unlike the independent contractors who worked on Facebook’s “trending topics” module or who moderate the contents of News Feed, these journalists will be full-time Facebook employees, spread across the U.S. with one in London, according to Digiday.

While the team may get larger, it will be significantly smaller than the curation team that works on Apple News, which had a team of “roughly 30” former journalists stretched from Sydney to New York curating that app’s contents, according to The New York Times.

Facebook decided to add the team after numerous conversations with publishers. Those conversations convinced Facebook that it needed to have human curators with news judgment selecting at least some of the news tab’s contents.

Defining the “right stories” will be challenging for Facebook. In 2016, the   “trending topics” feature was plagued by scandal when a Gizmodo story revealed that the module’s contents, instead of being surfaced algorithmically, were regularly altered by a small team of independent contractors, who were frequently asked to suppress stories about conservative news, as well as news about Facebook itself.

After months of awkward pivoting, apologies and intense scrutiny from conservative lawmakers, Facebook announced it was getting rid of the module last year.

The addition of human curators is the latest detail to emerge about the news feed. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this summer that Facebook intends to pay some publishers up to $3 million in licensing fees to include their content in the news feed.

It’s good to see Facebook adding journalists – and editorial credibility!

Todd Smith is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Smith is a former staff writer for The Washington Times, past president of the Public Relations Society of America | Nashville Chapter and a columnist for The Mississippi Business Journal, where he pens The Spin Cycle, a weekly take on all things branding. He is a former speechwriter for the George H.W. Bush for President Campaign. 

Deane | Smith is the Tennessee affiliate of PRConsultants Group.


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