Over my last several month’s worth of presentations, I’ve been telling a lot of journalists they should join (or at least try to understand) Facebook.
This week’s cover story in Newsweek is a great overview of Facebook by Steven Levy. If you still haven’t joined Facebook, at least read this story.
Newspapers should be concerned with how the people in their communities communicate and stay informed. That’s just one of the reasons why I think newspaper folks should try to understand and appreciate Facebook.
I would bet that in nearly every city in the United States, the fastest growing “local” site is Facebook. And, trust me, Facebook is as local as it gets. It may not always be “news” but it’s local.
Here are a couple of short excerpts from Levy’s story:
“… the Facebook experience is built around people you know, and the center of the page is a News Feed where the stories largely consist of the activities, brief status reports, photo and video postings, and comments from those you have earmarked as friends.”
“But even more extraordinary was the way people used it. Facebook, as it became after a name change, was permeating every aspect of campus social life. Students even came to use its messaging function instead of e-mail.”
I see the points being made in these paragraphs all of the time. More importantly, I know I personally read a lot of the links/stories/blogs that my friends post on Facebook. I’m typically interested in the things my friends are interested in.
And, as lazy as this might sound, I love that everyday when I log on to Facebook, I see if any of my friends are having birthdays. Then I send them a quick e-mail to wish them well.
I know this is simple stuff. But it’s informative and I like it. I like knowing when a friend of mine has done something cool over the weekend and posts photos of it.
I like seeing what Don Graham is reading this week.
And, obviously, a ton of other people enjoy Facebook for the same reasons.
As Levy points also out in his article, “1 million people a week are flocking to Facebook.” The article says the site grows at a rate of 3 percent a week.
Those are insane numbers. Massively huge.
Early on in the article, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says the site “is not a social-networking site but a ‘utility,’ a tool to facilitate the information flow between users and their compatriots, family members and professional connections.”
I love that very-rehearsed sounding answer. And as a fairly regular Facebook user, I would agree with him.
There are a ton of reasons journalists should understand Facebook that have nothing to do with knowing if one of your friends is feeling well today.
Back in April, I blogged about how the Washington City Paper documented how Washington Post journalists used Facebook to find sources during the horrible Virginia Tech shootings. Here is a link to the City Paper story.
Look, if you’re a journalist and you’re really serious about the future of our industry, you at least need to be informed about how people get their information.
Read Steven Levy’s primer on Facebook and you’ll get a glimpse of how a lot of people now stay connected and informed … the things many people used to turn to newspapers to do.
UPDATE: Last night, I got an e-mail from Phil Cauthon — who is the editor at lawrence.com — about Newsweek’s article on Facebook.
Phil is a really thoughtful and perceptive guy, and I loved working with him both in Lawrence and in Topeka. He’s sharp and a damn-fine editor, so even when we disagree on things I always respect where Phil is coming from because I know that he’s thought a lot about it.
Phil said he had tried to post a reponse to the story on Newsweek’s site, but that it hadn’t shown up yet. I asked him if I could post it on here, and he said that was fine.
It definitely gives a different point of view on the Newsweek article, but also on Facebook.
Is this Journalism or an advertorial? Aside from the article’s toneâ€”which reads more like boosterism than a critical look at the Facebook phenomenonâ€”it not-so-deftly brushes aside perhaps the most fundamental concern of any social networking site in the third to last graf: Privacy.
A red herring (having more to do with usability than privacy) is offered in place of, say, a critical look at what is done (or expressly not done) with all this data stored in Facebook’s databases: all the demographic info, personal info, deepest secrets, private photos and videos, etc. etc.â€”all of which is likely posted with only the users’ friends and family in mind, not in this spirit:
“We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.” (from Facebook’s “privacy” policy)
Instead of practicing Journalism, Newsweek has published a feel-good fluff piece that Facebook ownership couldn’t have paid enough for were it presented as it should have been: Advertising.
Fact is, social networking is a savvy means of identifying and selling data on consumers. No doubt Zuckerberg did not enter this venture for that reason, but that does not change the reality of why (to a significant degree, at least) his creation is worth billions to investors. Zuckerberg may well rigidly adhere to the highest code of responsibility to the internet community his work fostered, but inevitably, some day, all the data Facebook has collected will be owned by a Murdochâ€”and all the people who use this site with the same spirit that this article cheerleads will likewise be owned. The direct marketing fallout is potentially just a mere annoyance compared to much more grave implications (Patriot Act anyone?).
One has to wonder: Is Newsweek primarily concerned with riding the coattails of the next big trend or going beyond the hype to inform its readers about the potential pitfalls of jumping in head-first? This article suggests the former …
Phil Cauthon, editor
645 New Hampshire
Lawrence, KS 66044