Facebook is opening up Instant Articles. What does that mean for journalism?

A few instant thoughts on the future of freelancing and media

Robert Colvile
Feb 18, 2016 · 2 min read

Facebook’s Instant Articles, previously only available to the big beasts of the media jungle, are being opened up to freelancers, amateurs and everyone else with a Facebook ‘page’, according to my old friends at BuzzFeed (whose tech coverage is, btw, getting very good indeed). Which prompts the following thoughts:

  1. How much will this level the playing field? It’s great news that the little guy can dress up their pieces to look as nice and load as quickly (vital in an age of ever-decreasing patience). But the big guys will still have far larger follower counts to promote their stories: John Q. Freelancer isn’t going to be beating the BBC in terms of click counts for a while.
  2. Does this mean Facebook will become Medium? Why would you, as a freelancer, write stuff on here for free when you can post it to a far larger audience there, and get paid in the process?
  3. Does Medium’s value then become the quality and engagement of its audience, rather than its size? Or the nature of the conversation it allows? Will certain types of content just seem not very Facebook-y?
  4. Yes, it’s great that journalists will be able to make more money from their writing — but will Facebook (deliberately or accidentally) set the basic rate for journalism? And how low will that rate be? If the platform is becoming the publisher, as John Herrman has written so convincingly, won’t the going rate for a piece, whether freelance or commissioned, become what it can generate in revenue from Facebook, as that’s where the audience is?
  5. On which note, given rock-bottom online ad rates, how easy will it be for any journalists — freelancers or paid employees — to make decent money in future? This isn’t Facebook’s fault, or its problem. But it’s long been clear that it’s impossible to justify the salaries paid to (most) print journalists in terms of the online revenue they generate. (Trust me: I used to be the guy crunching the numbers.) That’s not a problem if you’re using a subscription model, or able to sell ads at a higher rate because of the quality of your prose and audience. But for all the stuff competing for clicks on Facebook, the rate those clicks pay will surely, inexorably, become the same thing as those pieces’ economic value.

On which cheery note, I’ll get back to the freelance piece I’m actually being paid for. But I’d be keen to get other people’s thoughts, especially once they’ve had a chance to think about this…

Robert Colvile ran comment for the Telegraph and news for BuzzFeed UK, though not at the same time. His new book is ‘The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster’ (Bloomsbury, April 2016)

Robert Colvile

Written by

Author, The Great Acceleration’ (Bloomsbury) & Editor at CapX (www.capx.co).

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