Journalism is journalism, even if it's Facebook doing it
Monday, May 9, 2016 by Dave Winer

Today there was a leak through Gawker from reporters who were formerly employed by Facebook whose job it was to place items in the Trending Stories section on the Facebook home page.

"Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users."

There's a chorus of criticism from reporters who object to Facebook deciding what stories readers see. 

I tweeted: "Reporters are concerned that employees of Facebook, a company, decide what we see. But this is the way news has worked for decades."

Who decides what goes on the front page of a newspaper, and what goes on the inner pages, and what isn't newsworthy enough to get reported on? Is there a non-subjective way to determine this? No, of course not. And on individual stories, who decides which points of view are repped and which are omitted? The very same people Facebook hired. But if Facebook hires them that's worse than the NY Daily News or MSNBC? 

The reporters' complaint really is they used to be the gatekeepers and now they aren't. I understand that must be frustrating, but it's something we all have to deal with. It's the competitive market. This is why I've been saying for many years, over and over, that the news industry had to compete with Facebook, Twitter, etc. They couldn't assume the tech industry would manage the news flow the way they want them to. Instead, they thought they would appeal to the government for protection. I heard this said out loud on a panel at the UC-Berkeley journalism school in 2009

The moderator, Susan Rasky, asked the panelists, if they were god what would they do. Hire lots of reporters, one panelist said. Get the new President to pay our salaries, said another. Tax these things, Rasky said, holding up a Macintosh laptop. And the batteries. One panelist said things aren't so bad and the Chronicle will continue to print for the indefinite future. Others said Bill Gates should pay, or Google

The same ideas are repeated again and again after future-of-news conferences around the world. It's ridiculous. You don't even try to compete, and you expect the rest of us to stand up for you, when the service you offer is exactly equivalent to the one being offered by Facebook? Did you think you had a monopoly? Why would taxpayers support that? 

I don't like that Facebook controls this. But also don't like that reporters are aloof and condescending, and only listen to big companies, and rich investors, and other journalists, when it comes to tech, and to insiders and other journalists when it comes to politics. When you bet heavy on the established way things work in a time of great change, you have to expect to be obviated. Well now it's happened. It was totally foreseeable. That's the way it goes. 

For sure, Facebook swore that it was all algorithmic. So they lied, or maybe the leaking ex-employees lied. Doesn't change the fact that journalism can be practiced by tech companies. Even if they said they wouldn't. There's no requirement that competitors have to tell you everything they're doing.