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January 22, 2018updated 23 Jan 2018 8:52am

Facebook News Feed changes are a case of ‘keep calm and carry on’ says Trinity Mirror’s digital director

By Freddy Mayhew

Changes to Facebook’s news feed are a case of “keep calm and carry on”, according to Trinity Mirror’s group digital director, as news organisations agree that a diversity of traffic sources is key.

In a move said to be “deeply significant” for publishers who rely on the social network for traffic, Facebook said last week that it intended show less content from publishers in its News Feed as part of a new focus to prioritise “meaningful social interactions”.

Mark Zuckerburg further clarified the announced changes in a post on Friday, saying that he expected news to fall from 5 per cent of Facebook’s News Feed down to 4 per cent.

The founder and chief executive of Facebook said the news that remained visible to users would be “high quality”, adding: “I’ve asked our product teams to make sure we prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local. And we’re starting next week with trusted sources.”

These sources will be determined by feedback from the community of Facebook users, with those familiar with a news source asked to determine its trustworthiness.

Zuckerburg said this was the “most objective” means of determining which sources are “broadly trusted”, adding: “The idea is that some news organizations are only trusted by their readers or watchers, and others are broadly trusted across society even by those who don’t follow them directly.

“(We eliminate from the sample those who aren’t familiar with a source, so the output is a ratio of those who trust the source to those who are familiar with it.)

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“This update will not change the amount of news you see on Facebook. It will only shift the balance of news you see towards sources that are determined to be trusted by the community.”

According to Piers North, group digital director for Trinity Mirror, it is still not entirely clear what exactly the changes will mean for news publishers or indeed exactly what shape they will take.

He said: “Adweek in the US described it as a nuclear bomb – I think that’s slightly overegging it.

“Clearly we don’t know. At the moment it’s too early to say what the changes will mean. From a strategy point of view I don’t think it will change what we do. We have always operated on the basis that you have to diversify your supply-base in terms of traffic.”

He said Facebook made up a “decent minority” of Trinity Mirror’s online traffic, but that the social platform is not the “be all and end all”.

He said the changes “might have a more negative effect on pure digital players” but that for more established publishers it was a “wait and see” situation, adding: “Keep calm and carry on is the mantra”

“There are lots of things that when you run a digital business you have to deal with and this is just one of those,” he said.

“It’s entirely up to Facebook what they want to do to their own product. They are always going to do what they think is right for themselves.

“I personally believe that Facebook needs a mix of professionally-curated content as well as social interactions… I believe they will have to find that balance.”

He said he thought publishers were “all robust enough” to withstand the pressure from Facebook’s changes, but added: “What we don’t know is if it’s a zero sum game. If Facebook decides not to put any [news] content, is all our content going to come back?

“Do people get it through Facebook because they can? But if that goes away, do they go to mirror.co.uk to find it? I’m pretty sure most publishers will be able to find ways to compensate.”

He added: “At the end of the day, it’s about traffic. Traffic is still the lifeblood for publishers. Our job is to maximise our traffic and so our revenue. The importance of Facebook to any business if going to depend on how much traffic is generated on that referral from it. “

In a statement to Press Gazette, Huffpost UK editor Polly Curtis said: “Facebook has been an important platform for us, and will continue to be so, but it’s also true to say that Huffpost has never been overly reliant on any single distribution platform.

“For example Google is a huge referrer of traffic for us and we’re seeing significant growth on Apple News whilst a significant proportion of our traffic is via the Huffpost UK website and app.

“At Huffpost, we’re focused on building long-term engagement with our audiences through quality content and a range of formats, and we are constantly evolving to best serve our audiences.

“Right now, it’s still too early to know quite how these changes will affect us and other publishers.”

Nancy Mendoza, director of communications and membership at The Canary, said: “We’re always looking for new ways to reach people. Our aim is to involve as many people as possible in a conversation about holding power to account and creating a world where people and planet are nurtured.
“While Facebook is an important part of our strategy to reach readers, it is not the only channel we use; becoming reliant on just one channel would be a mistake.

“We use a range of social media and news aggregators, as well as email, live events, multimedia content such as podcasts and videos, and word-of-mouth, to reach new readers.”

Facebook said in a news post today, that it had made reporting “fake news” easier for users and that once its fact-checking partners had labelled a story as “false” it is able to “reduce further impressions” of the story on Facebook by 80 per cent.

Picture: Reuters/Thomas White

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