Can Facebook help news outlets grow subscribers?

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Facebook is in early talks with publishers about how it can help media outlets grow their subscribers, including the possibility of releasing a feature this year that asks users to pay for news articles.

“We’re working with partners to understand their business and explore ways we can help them drive more value from Facebook. We are taking the time to deeply understand their different goals and needs,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to SiliconBeat.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said details have not been ironed out yet. The tech firm is leaning toward a model in which readers would read a certain number of articles before getting prompted to pay. The feature may only be available on Instant Articles, a tool that lets media outlets directly publish stories on the social network.

Facebook and news organizations have a complicated relationship. On one hand, social media companies can help drive traffic to news stories and reach a broader audience. But on the other hand, tech firms are competing with news outlets for ad dollars and have been criticized for not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation.

In 2015, five technology and social media companies made up 65 percent of revenue from digital advertising, according to the Pew Research Center. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter accounted for $38.5 billion out of $59.6 billion spent on digital ads.

Facebook has been making a greater effort to partner with news organizations, which have included launching a journalism project and hiring a former journalist to lead its news partnership team.

But should tech firms do more to help news outlets, which have continually been hit with layoffs, make money?

Some say that’s what companies like Facebook owe to journalism.

“While training, technology and innovation are critical, what journalism needs most now is money, and lots of it — to fund full-time local journalists,” wrote author and entrepreneur Steven Waldman in an op-ed for The New York Times.  “What these companies have donated so far is too little given how wealthy they are, how much harm they’re (inadvertently) doing — and how much good they could do.”

Photo Credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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