Facebook has come under fire over the past year for its role in the proliferation of “fake news”—a phenomenon some believe may have helped Donald Trump be elected president—and its reluctance to address its responsibilities as a giant media outlet. But it seems that the company’s newly hired “Head of News” won’t be involved in any of the actual decisions about such things.
On Friday, former NBC and CNN anchor Campbell Brown announced that she has been named to the new position of head of news partnerships at the giant social network, a job that has been the subject of much speculation since it was opened in mid-December.
The fact that Facebook chose a former TV journalist isn’t surprising, given the network’s interest in expanding its video operations. It has been busy rolling out its Facebook Live streaming service, which was launched last year, and in some cases has been paying publishers including Fortune owner Time Inc. to produce live video.
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A number of media veterans, including New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen and Washington Post columnist and former New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, have argued that the company could use a senior editor to help advise it about how to behave as a media outlet, and how to negotiate tricky editorial judgments about things like fake news.
However, a report in the New York Times, which appears to have been briefed on the new hire before the announcement was made, made it clear that Brown’s job “will not be not to act as the sort of editor-in-chief that some commentators… have said it needs.” Facebook executives emphasized that Brown will “not be involved in content decisions.”
This job description makes it unlikely that Brown would be asked to advise on whether Facebook should remove certain types of content—something that is clearly an editorial decision—as it did when it took down a historic Vietnam War photo multiple times, even removing it at one point from the Facebook page of Norway’s prime minister.
Brown’s editorial judgment would also presumably not be needed to decide whether to leave the live-streaming video of a fatal police shooting up, or for how long. Nor would the company need her to determine whether to leave the live stream of a group of Chicago youths holding a mentally challenged boy hostage and torturing him for hours, something that occurred on Facebook Live on Wednesday in Chicago.
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So what is the job that the former NBC correspondent has been hired to do? Executives told the Times that she will work as a liaison with news organizations “so that Facebook can better meet their journalistic and business imperatives and lessen some of their suspicion” about the company.
In other words, Brown’s job will be to play nice with large media outlets that see Facebook (quite rightly) as a giant competitor, both for their audiences and for the advertising revenue that comes along with those audiences. Facebook is already in control of a significant amount of the digital ad revenue in the media industry, but it would definitely like more.
For much of the past year, the network has been trying to convince media companies to distribute more of their content through its platform, including through its mobile-centric feature Instant Articles, which helps stories load faster. Last year, it was revealed that the company is paying a number of outlets such as the Times and BuzzFeed to produce Facebook Live clips.
There have also been reports that the social-networking giant is planning to finance, acquire or license its own TV-style shows, something that might make a number of companies nervous. Presumably part of Brown’s job will be to convince them that Facebook is their friend and partner, even as it competes with them.