This article was published on February 25, 2011

Could Facebook become a better news reporting tool than Twitter?

Could Facebook become a better news reporting tool than Twitter?
Martin SFP Bryant
Story by

Martin SFP Bryant


Martin SFP Bryant is the founder of UK startup newsletter PreSeed Now and technology and media consultancy Big Revolution. He was previously Martin SFP Bryant is the founder of UK startup newsletter PreSeed Now and technology and media consultancy Big Revolution. He was previously Editor-in-Chief at TNW.

Twitter has transformed the way journalists work, allowing them to source and report on stories much faster than in the past. How about Facebook though? Could it ever become just as important a journalistic tool?

The Atlantic yesterday picked up on an interesting job vacancy at Facebook – Journalist Program Manager. This person, who must have “Proven experience using Facebook in progressive ways as a journalist” will fly the flag for the social network in journalistic circles and train individual reporters in best practice.

Facebook Pages can be a highly effective way of promoting news stories, with Likes and comments helping to spread news widely. Gawker Media’s Nick Denton is so impressed by traffic gained from Facebook that the network’s recently launched new design prioritizes its Facebook social sharing button over all others, including Twitter.

Facebook has been keen to promote its network as a traffic driver via the Facebook + Media page, but its new Journalist Program is more than that – it appears to be aiming at the actual reporting happening primarily on Facebook.

What does Facebook Journalism look like?

Twitter makes perfect sense as a medium for news reporters. While information can only be published in short bursts, it’s perfect for real-time updates about breaking stories and encourages fast and effective public sharing of that information. Facebook, with its complex mesh of public and private sharing permissions, makes social sharing more reliant on individual users’ privacy permissions to determine just how far a piece of news can spread.

That said, Facebook can’t, and shouldn’t, compete directly with Twitter as a reporting tool – it should play to its own strengths. Just look at how one New York Times columnist found Facebook status updates to be an effective way of reporting from Egypt recently, gaining hundreds of Likes and comments in the process. Those comments helped shape the story in a much more easy-to-follow way than Twitter could enable.

We’re likely to see far more of this kind of reporting in future. Indeed, Facebook is rumoured to be launching its own commenting system soon, which publishers can post onto their sites, potentially synchronizing comments made on Facebook links to a post with those made natively on their own sites.

Going ‘all Facebook’

Taking the idea even further, one small US local news site has opted to be entirely Facebook based. “There are always two different conversations going on,” the site’s editor told Nieman Journalism Lab referring to Rockville Central’s own website and its Facebook Page. “Why force the two to compete with each other, when they’re actually manifestations of the same community? Facebook is where the people are. Everyone’s always trying to get people out of Facebook,and we’re like, ‘Well, we’re already here.”

The huge downside of going ‘all Facebook’, however, is that there’s no way for publishers to profit directly from their Facebook Pages. In the case of Rockville Central, a part-time project not motivated by money, that’s not a problem – but if Facebook really wanted to attract a vast number of journalists to use its platform exclusively, the ability to directly profit from pages would be a must.

Whether many journalists do end up relying entirely on Facebook or simply integrate it into their workflows, its large audience and inherent social nature are well placed to help news organisations to build a close relationship with readers. Will reporters ever sing its praises the same way that they do Twitter? Watch this space, but if Facebook has its way, it’s a dead cert.

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