Facebook Teams With News Media to Publish Stories on App

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Facebook Inc. reached a deal with New York Times Co. and eight other media outlets to post stories directly to the social network’s mobile news feeds, as publishers strive for new ways to expand their reach.

Under a program called Instant Articles, Facebook will allow media partners to publish stories directly to its site. The media partners will get the revenue from ads they place within the articles or split sales on ads placed by Facebook.

The partners include BuzzFeed Inc., National Geographic, NBC News, the Atlantic and, from Europe, the Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild, Facebook said on its website.

The world’s largest social network is working to increase the quality of news that appears on its feeds. By publishing articles directly on Facebook, rather than as links to the original sites, Instant Articles delivers stories faster, improving the experience for many of Facebook’s 1.44 billion active users.

Meanwhile, media companies’ own sites are struggling to stay relevant as readers increasingly discover and share stories through Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

“Not having to go to the New York Times site to get a story is part of a significant change in the world of digital media,” said Mitchell Stephens, a journalism professor at New York University. “Journalism comes from many directions. News organizations have got to allow themselves to be driven by different winds.”

‘Meeting Readers’

For the New York Times, the partnership builds on what already is a source of readership.

“We have a long tradition of meeting readers where they are, and that means being available not just on our own sites, but on the social platforms frequented by many current and potential Times users,” Times Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson said in the Facebook statement, released Wednesday in New York. “We’re participating in Instant Articles to explore ways of growing the number of Times users on Facebook.”

News sites over the years have been forced to change their social-media strategies as Facebook made tweaks to its news-feed algorithm. Instant Articles gives media partners some additional control over how their stories appear.

The Atlantic posted one article Wednesday, as did the other publishers, and expects that future activity partly will depend on Facebook testing of customer response, Emily Lenzner, a spokeswoman for Atlantic Media, wrote in an e-mail.

“It could be one article or everything on TheAtlantic.com. The point is that it will be up to us to choose,” she wrote.

Ad Relevance

Facebook in the past year has been weeding out click-bait posts and supporting more content uploaded directly to its site, such as videos to compete more directly with Google Inc.’s YouTube.

The social network stands to gain by publishing directly on its app under Instant Articles.

“This means the traffic stays on Facebook rather than links taking you off to a third-party site, from which you might not return to Facebook,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research in Provo, Utah.

For news companies, the arrangement may bring additional ad revenue, since Facebook knows more about its users than the publishers do, he said.

“The Times can serve up more relevant and targeted ads to readers on the Facebook platform than they currently can on their own site, which should help ad rates and revenues,” Dawson said.

‘Odd Deals’

BuzzFeed said Instant Articles will make it easier to generate revenue from content and explain to advertisers how their ads are distributed across its website and Facebook.

“We are excited for the value this product can bring to our advertisers who get the full benefit of our platform and technology,” BuzzFeed said.

As publishers gain greater control over Facebook, the possibility of conflicts rises, though such issues aren’t new, said Stephens, the NYU professor.

“Journalists have always made odd deals with truck-driver unions and unpleasant publishers to get their work out,” he said. “It seems unlikely that Facebook will be picking fights with the New York Times or NBC News.”