Facebook Product Managers Go Looking For More News

Facebook product managers just can't find enough news to use
Facebook product managers just can’t find enough news to use
Image Credit: Megan Trace

The product managers at Facebook are facing a serious challenge. They have to find ways to expand their product development definition and make Facebook more interesting and relevant to their visitors. One great way to make this happen is to provide Facebook visitors with access to current news. This is easy to do on the national and international scale – there are a lot of sources of that news. However, what the product managers are discovering is that getting local news can be a really tough job.

It’s All About Local News

So it turns out that most folks in the U.S. live in a place where Facebook can’t find enough local news to feed its aggregator. Facebook’s local-news shortage comes amid a wave of local newspapers closing. The product managers at Facebook have been looking to boost their local-news offerings since a 2017 survey showed most of its users wanted more. They have run into a problem: There simply isn’t enough local news in vast swaths of the country. One-third of Americans live in a place where the Facebook product managers can’t find enough local news being shared on its service to justify building a localized aggregator for that area.

The tool that the Facebook product managers use to aggregate local-news is called Today In. This tool was launched last year and is currently available in 400 cities through Facebook’s mobile app. The goal of the Facebook product managers is to be able to identify at least five news articles a day related to a city that are shared on the platform to justify building a Today In for that city. The places where this isn’t happening aren’t only in sparsely populated areas, the data shows. Even high-density states such as New Jersey have significant areas where the product managers are unable to find sufficient local-news coverage.

How the Facebook product managers go about managing local news is a big deal. There is currently s great deal of concern about the viability of the U.S. local-news industry, where advertising revenue has collapsed as platforms such as Facebook and Google have taken market share from local sources. More than one in five newspapers have closed in the past decade and a half, leaving half the counties in the nation with just one newspaper, and 200 counties with no newspaper at all. It has been predicted that that as many as half of the country’s local newspapers will no longer be in print by 2021.

Finding News To Feed The Beast

Online-only outlets such as Facebook have managed to fill only a fraction of the void. While nearly 1,800 newspapers have died in the past decade and a half only about 400 local-news sites have been born in those communities. Most of them have been clustered around big cities. One of the problems that the Facebook product managers are facing is that Facebook has played a role in the decline of local news outlets. Together with Google, it has sucked up much of the advertising revenue that had been going to local newspapers. The dominance of the duopoly – which earned 60% of all digital advertising revenue in the U.S. last year and accounted for nearly all of the growth in advertising. Although that would look good on anyone’s product manager resume, it has made it difficult for online-only news sites to build robust advertising businesses.

Competing online publishers have complained that the platforms of Facebook and Google have too much power over who sees their news stories. A change to the Facebook News Feed algorithm last year in order to prioritize posts from friends and family hurt many digital publishers’ traffic and put some out of business. The Facebook product managers are aware that if the company kills local news, it will wound itself in the process. The Facebook product managers do care about local news, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because their users have told them for years that what they want to see is more local news.

Knowing that they have a problem on their hands, the Facebook product managers have donated millions of dollars and organized programs in recent years to bolster the local-news industry. The have also created the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, a grant and mentoring program for local news outlets. The product mangers plan to share their data about local-news “deserts” with leading academics to further their research. The reason that they are doing this is because they believe that the first step to solving this problem is measuring it. The Facebook product managers believe that only after collaboration with academics can the company determine “what kind of intervention” it should take.

What All Of This Means For You

Over at Facebook, the product manager’s product manager job description tells them that they can continue to grow if they listen to what their users tell them that they want. It turns out that one of the things that people want to be able to get when they visit the Facebook website is news. Not only do they want both international and national news, but they would also like to get local news. This poses a problem for the Facebook product managers – there are fewer and fewer sources of local news for them to tap into. This is a problem that needs to be solved.

The Facebook product managers have a problem. They can’t find enough local news to feed the needs of the majority of their visitors. Facebook product managers use a tool called Today In to collect local news. One of the big problems that these product managers are facing is that because of Facebook and Google the advertising revenue for local newspapers has collapsed in the past few years. Both Facebook and Google have captured the majority of the digital ad spending over the past few years. The Facebook product managers are aware that they are in part a cause of the problems that they are facing. In order to try to solve the problems that they have caused, the Facebook product managers are trying to bolster the local news sources. They are including academic resources in order to better study the problem and come up with solutions to it.

The good news is that the Facebook product managers are in tune with their customers – they know what they want. What their site visitors want to see is local news. However, it turns out that because Facebook has done such a good job of capturing local advertising, the newspapers are going out of business. The Facebook product managers are going to have to find ways to keep the local newspapers in business so that they can feed their visitor’s need for local information. We’ll have to keep a careful eye on them and see if they can do this successfully.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can Facebook keep a large number of local newspapers in business?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Advertising product managers are always looking for the next “big thing”. The advertising market has its ups and downs as customer’s needs, wants, and moods change seemingly overnight. These product managers have the responsibility to keep their eyes open all the time searching for the new ways that they can expand their product development definition and help the firms that manufacture goods get their message in front of their next customer. Right now what these product managers are doing is turning their attention to what they hope will be the next new engine of growth for the industry: direct-to-consumer marketers.