Social media giant Facebook is talking with newspapers and several other top news organizations about hosting their content directly on Facebook, according to the New York Times. While news stories from a wide range of publishers already appear on Facebook, they currently require readers to follow links back to the original sites.
Facebook is floating the new approach because "milliseconds matter," as the Times article noted on Monday. Opening such linked news stories takes time, especially for users on mobile devices, and Facebook doesn't want to lose users who find themselves waiting for external pages to load.
In addition to the New York Times, Facebook has reportedly also been looking at partnering with BuzzFeed and the National Geographic. Other sites that have been approached for such content-sharing, include The Guardian, The Huffington Post and Quartz, according to the Times.
The Pursuit of 'Eyeballs'
The proposal to share news content from other sites directly from Facebook raises a number of issues for an already struggling news industry. Traditional print newspapers have been bleeding readers for decades, and their online news sites typically haven't been able to capture enough paid subscribers to make up for such losses.
A newer generation of online publishers -- BuzzFeed, for example -- has had greater success at attracting enough "eyeballs" to generate healthy ad revenues. However, that success often entails publishing viral content rather than investigative journalism or hard news.
Some news publishers have found other solutions to that challenge. The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., for instance, is owned by a limited company (once The Scott Trust) that covers the publication's ongoing financial losses to "secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity." First Look Media's The Intercept -- which publishes investigative pieces by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and other journalists -- is financially backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
As part of its proposal to host other publishers' news content directly on its site, Facebook is also looking at "other technical ways to hasten delivery of their articles," the Times reported. It is also suggesting that news publishers could earn revenues from online ads accompanying their stories on Facebook.
Facebook's existing content -- including personal updates, photos and videos shared by friends and family members, as well as games, advertisements and other content -- already features a News Feed stream, and the social media site is continually tweaking its content to attract and keep users online. However, it faces a challenge in growing its base of monthly active users beyond the 1.4 billion reported in December.
While more onsite news from recognized publishers could help Facebook with that issue, regular readers from those other sites might not see much benefit. The comments posted alongside the New York Times article, for instance, were overwhelmingly negative. "The day this happens will be the first day that I stop subscribing and reading the Times," one commenter noted. "A deal with Facebook would mark the end of the NYT credibility with me."