Tomorrow morning, in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant, a source with direct knowledge of the talks told me. According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook’s news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others.
The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times. How many articles will Facebook get to publish per day? What is the revenue sharing breakdown? How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism, say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook? And what happens when the Times allows Facebook to insert itself between its journalism and its readers?
Not surprisingly, the prospect of a Facebook partnership is generating palpable anxiety inside the Times newsroom, with some Times journalists casting it as an end-of-the-Times-as-we-know-it inflection point. When rumors of a deal surfaced last October, the Times’ late media columnist David Carr articulated this view, writing “the wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.”
Many will say that this is the final nail in the coffin of what we used to call journalism. Just as many will probably posit that leftist bias buried it so long ago the coffin has already begun rotting.
Whatever the actual case may be, one thing is for certain, that air of exclusivity and swagger is gone now. Every displaced New Yorker’s favorite Sunday affection in Los Angeles is now slumming it alongside BuzzFeed and sponsored ads for a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It’s just now adopting a distribution channel that drunk college girls made famous ten years ago.
While this may very well breathe new financial life into the Times, it certainly can’t be a good sign for newspapers or journalism in general. What was once a news destination is now arm-wrestling NatGeo for the attention of people who just want to see if they’re missing any friends’ birthdays.
The Times‘ management wants to keep its digital subscriber base and somehow thinks it will protect the content that lures them all the while throwing Facebook enough “news” to keep Zuckerberg and company happy.
Good luck with that.