How–and why–is the duopoly shifting toward local news?

Announcements made by Google and Facebook in January reveal that the duopoly is making a clear shift toward local news. What do those changes look like, and why might they be taking place?

What is Google Bulletin?

Google’s shift comes in the form of Bulletin. This lightweight app offers users a platform to share media-rich, hyperlocal news with their immediate community. Bulletin appears to be infused with Web 2.0 ideals; it has the potential to forge connections between people while emphasizing user-generated content and usability. Google hopes that users will make the most of the platform to share the news that goes under-reported within communities.

Bulletin was revealed at an event in Nashville last week. You can learn more about Google’s vision for the project in the video below:

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The platform appears to be like a more localized version of Medium, allowing users to easily format and post stories from their smartphone devices.

What Did Facebook Change?
This step toward evangelizing local news has not been made alone: Facebook, the other half of the digital duopoly, is walking to the same beat.

The social media giant recently announced two impactful News Feed updates. The first will re-prioritize posts from friends and family members over those of pages and news publishers, while the second will prioritize “local news stories”.

These changes could be seen to reflect the spirit of its five pillars outlined in the “Building Global Community” post that Mark Zuckerberg published last year.

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Why Is There A Shift to Local News?
Google is attempting to empower communities to share updates on local news stories that go unreported, while Facebook is elaborating on its vision to build global communities.

Perhaps the time that both Google and Facebook recently spent under public and governmental scrutiny on Capitol Hill has inspired both companies to reflect on their role and function within society. By placing an emphasis on local communities, both companies are demonstrating a desire to play a deeper and more positive role within communities throughout the world.

Or alternatively, this reorientation of focus is going to open up business opportunities. In sourcing its own content, Google would be in a position where it not only controls how people find content, but the content that they land upon. Naturally, this would open up opportunities for targeted advertising, and hyper-local news could mean hyper-local advertising.

In Facebook’s case, is the platform is trying to ingrain itself more deeply within communities and position itself as a go-to centralized hub for its users? Trying to deepen engagement is a clear priority for Facebook and in its Q4 earnings report, it revealed that for the first time in Q4, its number of users has decreased in the U.S. and Canada. The platform has gone from 185 million users to 184 million, and in the same period users have spent a collective 50 million hours less on the platform.

Both platforms also know that their empires are built upon large swathes of content, and it is real-world action and activity that drives their digital activities. As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff puts it, “they know the real world is where it’s at.”

What Could These Changes Mean?

Helping or hindering Fake News
Debates around Fake News and misinformation campaigns continue to rage on. As the Bulletin project emerges from its Beta it will be intriguing to see the role that the app plays in either helping or hindering the spread of problematic content. Could the cameras on smartphones become collective eyes which make truth objective? Or could the Bulletin platform be abused to spread further misinformation?

Impacts on local publishers
Publishers and users alike will also be watching closely to see how the platform develops: could the huge volume of locally-sourced news items represent a treasure trove of content for local news publishers? Or could they see their important role diminished as readers turn to Bulletin to get their news?

Leveraging latest technologies: Progressive Web Apps
The Bulletin app is built upon exciting Progressive Web App technology. This means that the app will be incredibly lightweight and easy for anyone with a smartphone to access. The use of this cutting-edge tech demonstrates that Google is serious about making a lasting and easy-to-use application, and serious about making Progressive Web Apps a new standard in 2018.

What Questions Do We Have?

These drastic changes raise a lot of questions for publishers, advertisers, and users alike.

Will Bulletin add new risks to user-generated content?
An obvious concern about Bulletin is moderation and editing. Individuals have been able to share their opinions and perspectives online for a long time, but Bulletin would be actively framing those contributions as “news”. This could add a new danger to user-generated content.

How will the platform be monetized?
Could hyper-localized news open up new ad opportunities for Google, which could offer hyper-localized ads? And how might contributions to the Bulletin program be incentivized and compensated? Or could the simplicity of the platform means that the contributor journey is so frictionless, it doesn’t warrant some form of payment?

Who is responsible for citizen journalists?
The concept of citizen journalism is a complex one, laden with questions around ethics. Citizens do not have to abide by the same strict laws of ethics that newspapers and publishing houses do. Social media platforms have been misused in the past (and still are), and Bulletin would present malicious users with new potential methods of causing harm.

How will Bulletin and the News Feed changes affect publishers?
Could the Bulletin platform offer local publishers a wealth of source material, or would their publications be reduced in importance by the large range of hyper-local news? Also, publishers have been receiving mixed messages from Facebook: will their hyper-local content be reduced in prominence as part of the first News Feed change that was announced?

As the answers to these questions become clearer, Marfeel will keep publishers in the loop and explore the potential impacts. Be sure to subscribe to updates from the blog using the form below to stay ahead of the game.

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