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  • Jim Townsend

Opinion: Use Caution Not to Rely Too Much on Facebook for Your News

This piece is not about fake news. Don't get me wrong, fake news is something worth writing about, but this opinion piece is about Facebook as a channel for news delivery.

I enjoy Facebook. I probably check it 10-20 times a day on my iPhone. Since the platform has about 2 billion users globally, I am far from alone.

I like how Facebook allows me to stay updated on friends and family both near and far. How I can do some friendly trash talking with old friends over sports. How I can keep up on the milestones in the lives of people I cherish. I also find some pretty entertaining videos and other posts.

I have found Facebook to be very helpful in keeping me informed on regional, state, national and international news and current events. I follow trustworthy news sources, and over the course of the day, I see news that conveniently populates into my feed. Stories from NPR, CNN, the Associated Press, MLive, The Detroit Free Press, and others, directly to my phone.

Please don’t think Facebook is my only source of news. I also watch the news on television, at least until my wife changes the channel. I regularly listen to the news in the car, despite my kids protests. And I also go directly to reputable news web sites. But in the big picture, Facebook does play a vital role in my news mix… or at least it did.

Last week, Facebook announced that is making some major changes. These changes may significantly impact the way that I receive news. If you use Facebook, the changes will likely impact you as well. I want to take some time to share this with you, and hopefully provide you with some ideas to make sure you get the news you want and need.

In a post on January 11th, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced some changes. You can find his complete post HERE, but here are a few key parts.

Zuckerberg said, “We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content -- posts from businesses, brands and media -- is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

He went on to say, “I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.” He also said, “As we roll this out, you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

In other words, Facebook will now be giving lower priority to posts from non-profits, businesses, and news media, and giving higher priority to friends and family.

While I agree with the intent of this decision, I personally worry that many people may miss out on a lot of news as a result of it. Not just The Portland Beacon, but news as a whole. I feel quite a few people, at least those in their 30’s and 40’s, get a lot of news from social media, especially Facebook.

As the publisher of The Portland Beacon, I have found Facebook to be a valuable tool in sharing news in our community, and building the Beacon into what it is today. With reader shares along with likes and comments, some Beacon posts have reached upwards of 5,000 people. Facebook can be a very popular channel to reach readers.

With the changes I worry that readers may grow less informed on current events, and potentially less engaged in the community.

To offset these changes to Facebook, I strongly encourage you to look at other channels for getting your news online. To reevaluate your news mix.

In the last few months I have subscribed to several email newsletters. A couple of them I quickly unsubscribed from as I found far too many ads or stories that I just didn’t find interesting. But many of these newsletters have been a nice, clean, and efficient delivery method for news. Some are daily and others are weekly, and as a reader I have found them to be incredibly helpful in allowing me to quickly catch up on the news from that source.

If there are news sources you follow, please consider subscribing to their email newsletters. They are almost always free of charge, and you can always unsubscribe if you don’t find value in them.

Here at The Portland Beacon, we do offer a weekly newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking HERE.

If you have a smart phone, many news sources also offer push alerts for breaking news stories. Please consider those as well.

Whatever you decide to do, please take a moment to reevaluate where you are getting your news from, and make sure you are not relying on Facebook alone.

While media companies can pay for advertising or boosting content on Facebook, this is not a practical option financially on a regular basis, especially for small operations like The Portland Beacon. We paid to boost a post in the past and it was successful, but we can’t afford it regularly.

Pay to play when it comes to news distribution of information is actually quite terrifying if you think about it. Readers seeing more posts from large corporations with deep pockets. I mean what could go wrong with that, right?

For now, after you have reevaluated your news mix, I do have one other suggestion. When you do see a post on Facebook from The Portland Beacon, or from any other local news source, that you think your neighbors should see, please consider liking it, commenting on it, and/or sharing it. This type of reader engagement will still help extend the reach of that post… at least for now.

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