After 'stealing our lunch', here comes the munificence

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As the industry waits for an EU ruling on the copyright reform known as Article 13 and Facebook and Google name recipients for more of the $600 million they promise to hand out, there is finally growing concern over the "dangerous co-dependency" between big tech and newsrooms.

North American organisations and their projects benefit by $10 million from a $300 million "commitment" announced by Facebook global news partnerships vice president Campbell Brown, while $6 million has been earmarked for a regional news project in the UK.

America's Local Media Association and Local Media Consortium gets $1 million "to help local newsrooms better understand, develop and implement revenue streams through branded content, both on and off Facebook.

Facebook is also funding initiatives with the Pulitzer Center ($5 million), Report for America ($2 million), Knight-Lenfest Institute Local News Transformation Fund ($1 million), American Journalism Project ($1 million). They also say they will expand their Accelerator pilot, launched last year "to help local newsrooms with subscription and membership models"

Brown says it's all about key areas of "supporting local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs" and "helping local news organisations build sustainable business models, through both our product and partnership work".

"Over time, we think this work can have the added benefit of fostering civic engagement, which research suggests is directly correlated with people's reading of local news," he says.

There's a lot of money at stake here, with side benefits such as the $5 million gift unlocked from Pulitzer chair Emily Rauh Pulitzer. The $5 million Pulitzer Center endowment launches a 'Bringing stories home' project which delivers a dozen reporting grants a year to local newsrooms, while 'Report for America' puts $2 million into a project to place 1000 journalists in local newsrooms over five years.

Facebook is adding $1 million to the $20 million which has already launched the

Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, earmarked for a news innovation hub that is evaluating the use of technology for "newsgathering, product development and sustainable business models". Another US recipient is the American Journalism Project which gets $1 million towards its aim of "growing and sustaining local civic news organisations" through venture philanthropy.

In the UK, the $6 million major regional publishers including Reach, Newsquest, JPI, Archant and Midland News Association, as well as the National Council for the Training of Journalists to recruit 'community journalist' trainees over a two-year period and place them in local newsrooms.

Facebook is partnering Knight Foundation and the Online News Association for a two-day 'Accelerate: Local News' conference, and says it will commit more than $20 million to expanding its Accelerator pilot in the US and globally, which "helps local newsrooms with subscription and membership models".

Who wouldn't like $300 million (or $600 million with Google's contributions announced last year) dropping like manna from heaven. Except that it isn't... and it's not conscience money either. This is the platform giants buying influence with publishers and trying to keep legislators - especially in Europe and the US - off their backs.

UK journalist and author James Bell in the Columbia Journalism Review makes the familiar point that journalism, especially local journalism, is in need of new revenue streams, "as print advertising dwindles and publishers' meagre share of online ad dollars do little to replace it".

Meanwhile, a game of bluff is also set to ensue as Google threatens to drop News in countries in which 'snippet tax' is enacted, no doubt waiting to be told to "go on walking over us, we've grown to like it".

And the tech companies keep growing, collecting online dollars that publishers might have gained, and often living outside the constraints to which they have to adhere.

There are many views on what should be done about that - one is the idea of a levy on technology companies used it to fund public interest journalism - and this is a discussion which we still need to have.

What we don't need is the water muddied by stakeholders - including publishers and the organisations which represent and work for them - becoming dependents of the same companies it is their role to freely assess and criticise.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Facebook picks up the meal tab at a newsmedia conference in Bali, Indonesia

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