In a move that is definitely not intended to make the UK media see Facebook more sympathetically, the social networking giant has pledged $6m (about £4,675,000) to train up local journalists in the UK.
The money, which is apparently a world first, will be used to train about 80 journalists for two years. That's about £58k per journalist, or £29k ish per journalist per year, but that won't be their salary: The Guardian reports that'll be around £17.5k, with the rest presumably paying for education and training.
Facebook says "The goal is to encourage more reporting from towns which have lost their local newspaper and beat reporters," a large part of which was due to the shift to digital over print. But while Facebook has played a large part in the digitisation of news, it would have happened anyway, so it's uncynically nice to see them doing something to rectify the situation.
The money will be donated to the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), Newsquest, JPIMedia, Reach, Archant and the Midland News Association. Those organisations "will focus on finding trainees from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, designed to reflect the rich diversity of the local communities they’ll serve," says Facebook.
The scheme is called the Community News Project and will open up for trainee applications in January. Those chosen will get full-time work from the relevant news organisation with access to training from the NCTJ, either towards the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism, or if they already have that, a new qualification called the National Qualification in Journalism for community journalists. They will also get training on digital newsgathering techniques from Facebook.
Currently, it seems the jury is out on whether this move by Facebook is a good thing, or a worrying step closer to the total enmeshing of social networks and news.
While Facebook will of course claim total objectivity around the news produced with its money, close relationships between newsrooms and Facebook employees could nonetheless lead to social pressure around what's covered and how. A journalist whose salary and training costs are being funded fully for two years by Facebook might not feel comfortable pursuing a story that paints the company in a bad light, for instance.
The organisations being funded are unsurprisingly very positive about the initiative, meanwhile. Karyn Fleeting, head of audience at Reach PLC, comments:
"As publishers, we already work closely with Facebook, so this collaboration is a logical next step.
Community news is shared widely on Facebook, on pages and in community groups, and this collaboration will help us reach communities which don't currently benefit from in-depth community news.
We think it will be good for journalism, good for our newsrooms and good for the local communities we serve."
Chief exec Joanne Butcher of the NCTJ adds:
"The NCTJ cares deeply about the number, quality and diversity of journalists working in our local communities.
We are very proud to support the sustainability of quality local journalism by overseeing the recruitment of additional local news journalists from diverse and inclusive backgrounds and by ensuring they are properly trained and qualified."
What do you think: good news for local journalism, or a concerning overstep from an organisation that's already in hot water for its role in fake news proliferation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.