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Facebook is testing a new section to emphasize local news

Facebook is currently testing out a new Today In section in six cities. The section displays only local news from vetted sources.

Published onJanuary 11, 2018

  • The “Today In” section displays news from vetted, local sources.
  • A mixture of humans and machine learning algorithms pick stories to display.
  • Facebook is testing the feature in six cities.

Social media has made it really easy to find local, national, and international news. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have already become a place many people get their news. News organizations routinely have entire departments devoted to increasing their reach. Even though the national news typically grabs headlines, finding out what’s going on in your neck of the woods is important too. To help users find local news, Facebook is working on introducing a local news section.

The social media giant is currently testing out the new “Today In” section in six cities: New Orleans, Little Rock, Billings, Peoria, Olympia, and Binghamton. Residents can now visit the section. The social network’s news partnership team vets the news sources using a mixture of human judgement and machine learning to pick content displayed to users.

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The news partnership team is part of Facebook’s Journalism Project Initiative and former NBC News correspondent and CNN host Campbell Brown helms the team. It was established to “help news organizations work more closely and more effectively with Facebook,” Brown said in a Facebook post (which now appears to have been taken down) quoted by the New York Times.

Facebook (and others) came under fire during the 2016 presidential election for facilitating the spread of fake news. It also faced a backlash when its trending topics team was found to be censoring news from conservative sites. This new initiative could be an attempt to avoid future black eyes.

Facebook sees itself as a platform, not a media company. It wants to make sure people can get news as easily as possible, but whether the Today In section will be a hit remains to be seen. For now, Facebook is sticking it in the menu with other less-used features, which is odd, as the company is emphasizing local stories. Local politician’s posts now regularly appear in people’s feeds (even if they’re not following them). Facebook also redesigned its Marketplace section to highlight local sales.

If the feature rolls out to a broader audience, perhaps it’ll get more prominent placement.

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