Opinion

Our Newsroom’s Troubled Relationship with Facebook

As many of you probably know, we extended our break from Facebook through July as we contemplate a permanent split from the platform.

Yesterday, we received an email from GoLocalProv asking us to square our decision to leave Facebook with our receipt on April 1 of a $5,000 COVID-19 emergency grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, which we applied for in March. Unfortunately, GoLocalProv refused to have a phone conversation and instead insisted on written responses to their emailed questions, a one-way format that doesn’t allow for a nuanced and thoughtful conversation.

Internally, we have been discussing leaving Facebook for some time. Several years ago, we stopped paying to boost our posts on Facebook; withholding advertising money seemed like enough at the time. Over the years, it became more and more difficult to continue our relationship with Facebook for a myriad reasons — from the practical (the algorithm was changed to favor personal posts over news) to the existential (racial and political divisions were being amplified and personal data was being harvested, leaked, and/or sold).

Things changed materially with the murder of George Floyd in May, and we could no longer stand on the sideline.

One of the questions posed by GoLocalProv was: Will you return the grant money? The grant we received in April went toward reporting on the links between the coronavirus and the environment, which our staff did. Facebook’s money didn’t silence us into submission. We took a stand against Facebook in spite of its funding. There is always a clear, bright line between funders and editorial. Going forward, our leadership team will be working on a firm policy regarding funders so that we and our community have more clarity on which funders and vendors we will choose to work with.

The funding model for journalism is broken, and this leaves news organizations to piece together funding from a variety of sources. For example, ecoRI News received a $29,000 Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government under the CARES Act; we have advertisers and sponsors and receive foundation funding. We have donors, large and small. In the end, we are beholden to our nonprofit mission and not to any one of these entities. That has always been the case, and it will continue to be.

Joanna Detz is the publisher of ecoRI News.

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