Mark Zuckerberg Celebrates the Launch of Facebook News With a Longtime Critic

Mark Zuckerberg and News Corp CEO Robert Thomson - Split=- Getty-H 2019
Taylor Hill/Getty Images; Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Zuckerberg talked with News Corp C.E.O. Robert Thomson about Facebook's long-awaited News tab.

On Friday afternoon, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson kicked off an event celebrating the launch of Facebook News with a straight-forward question for Mark Zuckerberg: "What took you so long?"

Thomson, along with Rupert Murdoch, has long criticized Facebook for not adequately compensating news publishers for their content, which he said makes the platform's launch of a dedicated News tab — and a commitment to pay some publishers — all the more significant.

"Mark deserves genuine credit for this," Thomson told a packed room at the Paley Center in Manhattan. "There has been a bit of banter between our companies. We've had occasional disagreements, but he has been consistently thoughtful on the subject of journalism."

Zuckerberg responded to Thomson's opening foray by saying, "I can understand to some degree why it's frustrating that it took a while."

But, the Facebook CEO said his company has been thinking about and tweaking the concept of Facebook News for three or four years now. Over that time, he said he's been informed by conversations with industry leaders like Washington Post editor Marty Baron and BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti. "The conversations that we've had have helped educate me on the parts of the business model that are really important in the news industry," he added.

Zuckerberg attributed the delay in part to an "odd dynamic" in which Facebook users have consistently expressed their preference for "more from friends and family and less other stuff" in their news feed, hence a changed announced in January 2018 that reduced news content and had consequences for publishers.

What's changed, he said, is the company's development of "secondary tabs" that aren't widely used but provide value for those who engage with them, which is how News will appear.

For the first time, Facebook has entered into multi-year, high-dollar "partnerships" with some news organizations for their content, though not all publishers will be paid as part of the News tab.

"This is going to be the first time that we're forming long-standing and stable relationships with publishers," Zuckerberg said. "I wanted to make sure this was a going to be a positive experience and one we could commit to for the long-term. I'm really excited about this."

Thomson said that Facebook News "begins to change the terms of trade for quality journalism," which he said is "imperative" for the future of digital journalism.

He talked about the existential threat facing local news publishers, financially, and pressed Zuckerberg to make a difference. "You have to move as quickly as you can on local papers," he said.

Zuckerberg said the platform's next round of paid news partnerships will be with local news organizations and international news organizations. For now, the News tab is only launching in the United States.