Okay, I know. Facebook is every scholar’s least favorite social media platform. “It’s a breeding ground for ignorance! Its algorithms change the news people receive! And worst of all, it steals your information at the same time!” I get it, I get it. These are all valid criticisms. But the reality is, new Facebook accounts are made every day. Not just by bots, but by real people. People who want to connect with family, classmates, or just engage in group discussion. Facebook has always been a goldmine for marketers, but what about journalists?
In their article, “As Local News Goes, So Does Citizen Engagement…” Hayes & Lawless argue that, although there is not much evidence to back up the theory that civic engagement declines as local news outlets die out, people detach from local politics on a national scale – this means that patterns that have been occurring on a local level come as a surprise once they receive national media attention. Concentrated national media, like CNN and the FCC regulated news services, only give attention to larger political happenings – like national elections. When the national map lights up red and a Republican candidate wins, there’s no one the ground reporting explaining to us why that happens in the first place. The country does not get an idea of the psyche of a community, what they have gone through, and what lead them to support a certain candidate. But I feel like there’s something missing.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that a staggering 45% of Americans receive their news from Facebook. This was definitely a nightmare statistic for journalists, especially during the “fake news on Facebook” crisis before and after the 2016 election. I see this as an untapped market – especially since so many people genuinely want to receive information that relates to those nearby them. Take, for example, community Facebook pages like The Arlington List, which has 12,000 members (the Town of Arlington has a population of 42,000 as of 2010) all of whom claim an “association with Arlington.” This page sees approximately 60 posts per day from folks young and old – what’s missing from this page? Perhaps a reliable news source. What if people included in these pages were “subscribed” or had articles prioritized for them from their local news? The Patch could target these populations specifically. I think it would be amazing for the revival of local news, especially since these people are already engaged in their community enough to join a Facebook page. What do we think? Is a littleee bit of information theft, for journalism’s sake, fair?