Last month, Vadim Lavrusik, the coordinator of Facebook's new journalism program, called Facebook a "newspaper of the people". His speech at Columbia's Social Media Weekend came a few weeks after the launch of Facebook's Journalist page, and media sites have been buzzing about Facebook's potential as a journalistic resource since.
Lavrusik attempted to explain Facebook's advantages as a social media resource. Twitter remains the preferred social media site for journalists, but all communication is limited to 140-character posts.
Lavrusik emphasized Facebook's 430-character limit, which allows for richer content. Beyond length of posts, Facebook's comment feature allows for real dialogue between readers and journalists, and Facebook's user base is ten times larger than that of Twitter.
The establishment of the page has been especially timely, as the Arab Spring proved that Facebook could be a serious tool for spreading news. Riyaad Minty, the head of social media at Al-Jazeera English explained that Al-Jazeera used Facebook while covering the unrest in order to track protests and connect with people involved.
Furthermore, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study that placed Facebook firmly on the media map. For five of the top news websites, Facebook was the second or third most popular referral to their content. The New York Times derived 6% of its traffic from Facebook, and the Huffington Post topped the chart with 8% of traffic coming from links posted on Facebook.
As users have begun using Facebook to share news stories, it seems only logical that journalists seize the opportunity to communicate with users. Some journalists, like Nicholas Kristof, an op-ed contributer for the New York Times, have large followings on Facebook and are showcased on the Journalist page as successful examples. Kristof's page was one of the pioneering journalists page, and has over 200,000 followers. He uses to the page to post his articles, but also shares articles or blogs that he finds interesting. A link to a New York Times article he wrote typically attracts over 100 comments.
His page may be the exception, but it is also a useful example of the power of Facebook. In the digital age, consumers of news are no longer passive readers, but have platforms for active participation. According to Journalism.org, 37% of Internet users have contributed to the "creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook". Journalists with Facebook pages add a new interactive dimension between the reader and the reporter.
Facebook's Journalism page is marked as a service. While it does give tips to journalists, it is more of a how-to site to start a page than anything else. It provides step-by-step instructions on how to brand and direct posts to specific readers. The main page is updated with new tools, links to other journalists, and even job postings.
Although Facebook shapes how readers consume news, it is not yet a staple of digital journalism. An article in the Dead Dinosaur, a media blog, details the downsides of using Facebook over Twitter. According to the article, fans consider too many updates intrusive, and may hide journalistic posts from their newsfeed, as Facebook is considered to be for "pleasure not business".
Facebook is a long ways off from becoming people's first source for news, but it has become an undeniable heavy weight in media and social networking. Journalists would do well not to ignore it. The creation of Facebook's Journalist page is another step forward in exploiting social media's potential for interactive reporting.