Inside Facebook’s plans for local Canadian news

Representatives from 11 different outlets will take part in a program to help better understand their places in the digital and social ecosystem.

Facebook is bringing a program which originated in the U.S. to Canada.

Today, Facebook Canada pressed play on its Local News Accelerator program. The initiative, which will represent a $2.5 million investment in the news ecosystem, will bring participants from 11 different outlets (including The Discourse, Village Media, Glacier Media, London Free Press, The Tyee and others) together for a 12-week program focused on understanding resources and undergoing training in digital audience development.

Three in-person sessions (in Toronto, Montreal and at Facebook’s California headquarters) will see publishers share their needs and concerns as they design projects. Coaches and experts from outlets such as the New York Times will serve as mentors throughout the program. Following the conclusion, publishers will be awarded a grant to assist in their digital transformation (Marc Dinsdale, head of media partnerships at Facebook Canada, tells MiC the amount is still being determined, but the publishers will receive at least $75,000 each).

Dinsdale says besides the educational aspect, the program is largely centered around feedback. “The goal isn’t to talk about Facebook. The goal is to convene people together into a program where they’ll be physically together and can accelerate their business. Some want to focus on newsletter acquisition, some are looking at building recurring revenue programs, subscriptions, learning better AB testing.”

This is a crucial program, says Dinsdale, because as much as quality local news is crucial for healthy democracies, it helps Facebook as well. “High-quality, fact-based content helps us,” he says.

But how does Facebook reconcile its position in that digital ecosystem when many have pointed to as a contributing factor in the many struggles faced by numerous publishers?

It’s one half of the at-times-mythified digital duopoly (the other half being Google) that takes up the majority of digital ad dollars, which even companies as large as Postmedia admit to struggling against. Over the years, Facebook’s various home feed algorithm changes have also affected traffic to many of these publishers.

But when asked about that issue, Dinsdale explained that it’s actually a large part of the point of this program – for Facebook to understand how it can help. “We really need to think how we can play the most relevant role. This is part of our effort to better understand where we can be of best use for publishers and have the greatest impact for them.”

He adds that the challenges and changes that press publishers “have been occurring throughout the evolution of the internet.” Now, he says, the focus is in understanding the reality of the current digital age.

The publishers included in the program are:

  • Brunswick News
  • Daily Hive
  • Winnipeg Free Press
  • Glacier Media
  • Le Solei
  • London Free Press
  • Northern News Services
  • The Discourse
  • The Tyee
  • Vancouver Observer
  • Village Media