Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook has ‘a responsibility’ to pay for news

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Facebook Inc. is getting into the news business and paying publishers because it feels it imperative to support a democratic society.

“It’s no secret the internet has really disrupted the new business model. I just think every internet platform has a responsibility to fund and form partnerships for news,” Facebook FB, +0.81%  Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an hour-long fireside chat in New York with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson on Friday.

“I care about giving people a voice,” Zuckerberg said. “At the end of the day in order for that to be valuable, there needs to be a strong and free press… and have that at scale.”

Facebook News Tab, a new section being offered initially in the U.S. to a test group of about 200,000 users, culls content from about 200 news publishers — including News Corp’s Wall Street Journal, Fox News Channel, Bloomberg, NPR, and the New Yorker. Zuckerberg said the deals are structured to pay partners based on the amount and value of the content they provide.

News Tab could reach up to 30 million people in the U.S. over the next several years. Facebook has pledged to spend $300 million over the next three years to support local news providers.

Facebook’s decision to financially support journalism “is a powerful precedent that will echo around editorial departments,” Thomson said.

“I do have one question: What took you so long?” Thomson quipped at the beginning of the conversation. Zuckerberg responded, “After the last few years, I now have an appreciation that that is the nicest thing he could have said, because that means that he thinks we actually did something good.”

The question now is whether the social-networking giant’s digital news rack — featuring content from The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and others — can restore credibility to a company and vast social platform that is viewed skeptically.

Some 62% of American adults say social networks have too much control over the mix of news they see, and 55% said the role social-media companies play results in a worse mix of news, according to a Pew Research Center survey in July.