Death by a billion clicks?

Many have been sounding the death knell for print and television news since the worldwide embrace of the Internet. Legacy media have been losing eyes and bleeding red ink as more and more readers get their news online, whether it’s from their tablets and computers or, increasingly, their smartphones.

So why, one might ask, would such iconic outlets as NBC News, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and BBC, to name a few, turn their content over to Facebook to direct publish their stories. After all, letting readers take in stories on Facebook will cost the news outlets traffic and ad dollars at their own websites. It’s a good question, and the answer varies depending upon the outlet.

Starting today, Facebook will begin a test of publishing news articles on its site rather than linking to them on the websites of the news organizations. The initiative, called Instant Articles, is fraught with danger while at the same time providing the news outlets with a previously untapped and potentially lucrative source of revenue.

Both Facebook and the news organizations had tried to keep a lid on the deal because of the ongoing negotiations that required not only give-and-take but a build-up of trust – or at the least a suspension of distrust – that the new world order can be a boon for both.

Under the agreement, Facebook will initially publish one story selected by each outlet. The final carrot was an agreement to allow the content providers to keep the advertising dollars, either by embedding their own ads in the story and keeping all the money or letting Facebook sell ads for the story and retain 30 percent of the revenue.

The difference for the reader between reading a story on Facebook versus clicking on a link to the story is a matter of seconds, which in the online world to the current generation is, like, forever. Facebook has created an attractive platform that allows video to play instantly. But for many readers who get their news on their smartphones – and that now accounts for as many as 68 percent of users – the platform is optimized so that the stories and video load up instantly on their devices. It can be as much as 10 times faster to see the story directly on Facebook rather than waiting for a connection when clicking on a link.

The upside is way too obvious. Facebook has more than 1.4 billion members who use the site every month, with more than 930 million visits every day. The users hit all demographics and ages, but especially people under 35 who are increasingly shying away from the sources of news used by their parents and grandparents. Nearly half of millennials say they get their news on Facebook. Just a fraction of those Facebook users viewing a story from, say, The Guardian, dwarfs whatever the circulation is on the newspaper site and through street purchases together.

“The look and feel of this feels more like an app,” says Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed, one of the nine outlets in the initial agreement. “I think that our bundle of content will get even more compelling when it loads faster.”

The downside, though, is just as apparent: reduced traffic for the news websites, coupled with the very real possibility of the playing field will tilt in favor of Facebook. Right now, the Times, for instance, is one of the few media outlets with a financial foothold online, with both a robust digital subscription base and a growing pot of online ad revenue.

Some purists are also concerned that Facebook may insert itself into the editorial decisions somewhere down the line. But Facebook officials say their role is simply to help keep the world informed.

“We’re starting with something that we think is going to work for some publishers for some articles and for some business models,” says Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer. “We’re not trying to go, like, suck in and devour everything.”

But the action is also an acknowledgement that the social media giant is the new bigfoot in the world of media. “That’s where the audience is,” says Vivian Schiller, a former executive at NBC, the Times, and Twitter. “It’s too massive to ignore.”




The Senate rolls out a $38 billion budget plan that gives the governor more authority over the MBTA — but not the fiscal control board he is seeking. (Boston Globe)

More than 1,800 activists with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization packed Trinity Church in Boston and sought commitments from Gov. Charlie Baker, Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, on a range of issues from health care cost containment to education and criminal justice reform. (Boston Globe)

Employers want to slow down implementation of new mandatory sick leave regulations. (Gloucester Times)

Hacks meet hacks: Pols mingled with tech executives — some of whom had never been to the State House — at a gathering under the Golden Dome to discuss ways they can work together to promote the tech sector. (Boston Herald)


The Haverhill City Council approves a proposal from a local businessman to build a four-unit condo building in one of the roughest sections of town. (Eagle-Tribune)

Mattapoisett voters approve a “right to farm” bylaw at Town Meeting, a measure designed to encourage farming and preserve agricultural land in town. (Standard-Times)


Brockton voters narrowly approved the casino referendum, making it the first community in the Southeast region to back gaming. (The Enterprise)


Chicago’s bond rating falls to junk status after a court ruling undercuts Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to address the city’s pension problems. (Governing)

Democrats led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren killed a test vote that would have moved President Obama‘s Pacific trade agreement forward. (U.S. News & World Report)

A second major earthquake rattles Nepal, killing dozens more people. (Boston Globe)


The MetroWest Daily News ponders what might happen when robots take over middle-class jobs.


The Boston Business Journal talks to Margaret McKenna, the new president of Suffolk University.

Old Sturbridge Village explores opening a charter school at the living village museum (Telegram & Gazette)

Jeff Jacoby says all the warnings about what a bad idea it was for UMass to take over the struggling former Southern New England School of Law have been borne out.

Saida Grundy, an incoming sociology professor at Boston University, takes flak for tweets about white college males. (WBUR)


NFL investigator Ted Wells fires back at Robert Kraft and Tom Brady’s agent, accusing them of impugning his integrity without offering any evidence that he carried out his task in anything other than an independent fashion. (Boston Globe)


A treatment for cystic fibrosis developed by Vertex cleared a key regulatory hurdle. (Boston Globe)


“When it comes to pitting the wants of the unions against against the needs of the state’s tax-paying commuters, you don’t need a program to tell you which side lawmakers are on,” the Eagle-Tribune writes in an editorial on the Senate’s opposition to Gov. Charlie Baker’s T reform plan. The Boston Herald’s Howie Carr adopts a similar stance, but he suggests Baker would come out a winner by losing.

At least five people were killed and more than 60 injured when an Amtrak train bound for New York derailed in Philadelphia, shutting down service in the Northeast Corridor. (New York Times)

The Braintree licensing board voted to order ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to cease operating in town unless they adhere to the standards and regulations that taxicabs must meet. (Patriot Ledger)


A special prosecutor has cleared former Fall River mayor Will Flanagan of charges he intimidated a city councilor and brandished a gun during a midnight waterfront meeting in Flanagan’s car. (Herald News)

The medical examiner who ruled the 2009 death of a patient at Bridgewater State Hospital a homicide says the Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz misrepresented her views when he explained his decision not to seek charges related to the death. (Boston Globe)

A Quincy man has been charged with extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Sharon rabbi, who himself has been charged with embezzling the funds from his congregation to try to keep allegations of his sexual relationship with a teenage boy quiet. (Patriot Ledger)

A black Boston police sergeant is crying foul and challenging the department’s commitment to increased diversity in its upper ranks after being passed over for promotion to lieutenant despite scoring the same on a civil service test as a white officer who did get such a promotion. (Boston Herald)

A police body camera bill is signed into law in Maryland. (Governing)


The Boston Globe is suing the Boston and North Andover police departments as well as several state agencies over their refusal to turn over police reports, mug shots, and other information that the paper contends are public records. (Boston Globe)

Filmmakers interview UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan for their documentary about Arthur T. DeMoulas and the amazing story of workers supporting him at the Market Basket stores. (Lowell Sun)