Facebook jumpstarts newsletter ambitions with $5 million for indie writers

Kris Holt
·Contributing Writer
·2-min read

Substack is luring high-profile journalists and bloggers with significant upfront payments to cover their first year on the newsletter platform, but Facebook is taking a different approach to recruiting writers as it moves into the newsletter market. The company has set up a $5 million fund to pay local journalists multi-year licensing fees to help them build an audience and make a living from its self-publishing platform. The company told Reuters it’s focusing on local journalists "who are often the lone voice covering a given community.”

Facebook announced the platform, which allows journalists to create individual websites as well as newsletters, last month. It ties into Facebook Pages, giving writers a way to tap into their existing audience on the social network with a free self-publishing tool. They’ll be able to set their own prices for subscriptions, and there may be other ways for them to earn income.

The company plans to open up access to the tool gradually, first with a “small subset of independent writers.” Journalists in the US can apply starting today. Facebook says it will give priority to those who seek to cover "Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian or other audiences of color” and writers in areas that aren't being covered by media companies.

The International Center for Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists will help Facebook review the applications. The company has also pledged to provide writers with access to experts and services to help them build their business.

Many advertisers have moved away from promoting their businesses in newspapers over the last couple of decades in favor of running ads on Facebook, Google and other online platforms. The cratering print ad market has caused many newspapers to close, causing a drought of local news in some markets. Facebook and Google have taken some steps to address that issue. They’re paying news outlets in Australia (and elsewhere in Google’s case) for their content. Facebook has also promised to invest $1 billion in the news industry over the next three years.

Meanwhile, Substack announced its own initiative for local reporters this month. It earmarked $1 million to help as many as 30 journalists turn their newsletters into sustainable businesses. Many other companies have leapt into the newsletter space in recent months, including Twitter.