If Facebook stops putting news in front of readers, will readers bother to go looking for it?


Joshua Benton asks: Will many Facebook users even miss the news that’s gone from their feed?

My strong suspicion is that the overwhelming majority of users will barely notice a difference, and that an even more overwhelming majority will do nothing to change their off-Facebook news habits to make up for the loss. People who relied on the vagaries of the Facebook News Feed to get their news were never strong candidates to become assertive, forward-leaning, money-paying news consumers. They were the instantiation of that famous line from an old Brian Stelter story: If the news is that important, it will find me. If the news stops finding them, I doubt many will start hunting for it.
I don’t think publishers or journalists have ever fully internalized the degree to which, for a majority of people, friends and family content is a perfectly-acceptable-to-excellent substitute for traditional news. As Horace Greeley put it in 1860 describing what a good local newspaper should be, “the subject of greatest interest to an average human being is himself; next to that he is most concerned about his neighbors. Asia and the Tongo Islands stand a long way after these in his regard…Do not let a new church be organized, or new members be added to one already existing, a farm be sold, a new house be raised, a mill be set in motion, a store be opened, nor anything of interest to a dozen families occur, without having the fact duly though briefly chronicled in your columns. If a farmer cuts a big tree, or grows a mammoth beet, or harvests a bounteous yield of wheat or corn, set forth the fact as concisely and unexceptionally as possible.”


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