Mike Hudack, Facebook’s director of product, posted a self-described rant today about the quality of journalism, bemoaning the age of the “28 young couples you know” listicle. Then quality journalists fought back, many placing the blame on Facebook for the diminishing marketplace for serious news.
The crux of the matter? Hudack argues that journalists need to work harder to inform the public about important issues. And journalists respond their organizations depend on drawing an audience, that Facebook is one of the worlds’ top generators of referral traffic and that the Facebook algorithm rewards frivolous content.
Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at the Atlantic, summed up journalists’ point of view well in comments on Hudack’s post:
Hey, Mike, I just sent you a tweetstorm, but let me reproduce it here: My perception is that Facebook is *the* major factor in almost every trend you identified. I’m not saying this as a hater, but if you asked most people in media why we do these stories, they’d say, “They work on Facebook.” And your own CEO has even provided an explanation for the phenomenon with his famed quote, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” This is not to say we (the (digital) media) don’t have our own pathologies, but Google and Facebook’s social and algorithmic influence dominate the ecology of our world.
And we (speaking for ALL THE MEDIA) would love to talk with Facebook about how we can do more substantive stuff and be rewarded. We really would. It’s all we ever talk about when we get together for beers and to complain about our industry and careers.
Hudack, who to his credit has been engaging in comments, responded to Madrigal and others:
I don’t work on Newsfeed or trending topics, so it’s hard for me to speak authoritatively about their role in the decline of media. But I’d argue that 20/20 turned into “OK” before Facebook was really a thing, and CNN stopped being the network reporting live from Baghdad before Facebook became a leading source of referral traffic for the Internet.
Is Facebook helping or hurting? I don’t honestly know. You guys are right to point out that Facebook sends a lot of traffic to shitty listicles. But the relationship is tautological, isn’t it? People produce shitty listicles because they’re able to get people to click on them. People click on them so people produce shitty listicles.
It’s not the listicles I mind so much as the lack of real, ground-breaking and courageous reporting that feels native to the medium. Produce that in a way that people want to read and I’m confident that Facebook and Google and Twitter will send traffic to it.
And, to be clear, there are many people at Facebook who would like to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. I’m sure that we’re all open to ideas for how we could improve the product to encourage the distribution of better quality journalism. I, for one, am all ears.
If you are interested in this issue, I highly recommend reading Hudack’s original post and the full discussion below it: