You could almost hear the trumpets blaring in the background of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement last week that Facebook would now promote local news stories in its news feed.
“People who know what’s happening around them are more likely to get involved and help make a difference,” the Facebook chief wrote, espousing an eat-your-vegetables view of local news that jibes with his new effort to turn Facebook into a force for global good.
There’s little reason to doubt Mr. Zuckerberg’s noble-sounding intentions. The internet has decimated the business model for large and small metropolitan newspapers, and Facebook, like other tech giants before it, just wants to help.
Still, when it comes to the news business, hasn’t Facebook already done enough? Just last month, the social network said it would play down national news in its feed. Considering all that has gone wrong with Facebook’s half-decade dalliance with news — the rise of filter bubbles, clickbait, rampant misinformation and propaganda, and in some places the very unmooring of democratic society — the new embrace of local news arouses instant suspicion. Picture Godzilla, having thoroughly savaged Tokyo and New York, now turning a hungry eye toward Peoria and Palo Alto.
There may be another way to save local news. Over the last few weeks, I chatted with Jessica Lessin of The Information and Ben Thompson of Stratechery, two of my favorite sites for understanding what’s going on in the technology business. In different ways, both talked through a new way of thinking about local news, and a novel business model for funding it, one that doesn’t depend on the beneficence of Facebook or Google (which also has a new plan for local coverage).