Facebook announced in June its intention to build a mobile product code-named "Reader," which would aggregate news from a variety of online sources, especially news stories shared by the user's own family and friends on Facebook.
Facebook's "Reader" is clearly designed to replace the newspaper. The idea is that instead of sitting down with the morning paper with your coffee in the morning, you instead pick up a tablet and read news stories delivered by Facebook.
The career-centric social network Linkedin acquired the news aggregation app Pulse in April. The app enables users to follow a wide variety of news sources, then read them like a newspaper in a constantly updated feed.
The big question is: Can we trust social media companies to own newspaper journalism?
I think we can, and here's why.
The integrity of newspapers is governed by the ethical standards maintained by the editors and reporters who work there. Every news organization has a "Chinese wall" between the business side that sells ads and the editorial side that shields itself from the influence of ad sales. Financially successful news outfits are in the best position to maintain this integrity. The financially desperate ones -- a description that can apply to an increasing number of news organizations -- are the ones most likely to break down the boundary and start milking the editorial product for ad dollars.
One very good example of how this can work is the well-established success story of Slate Magazine, a publication launched by Microsoft in 1996. Slate was later acquired by The Washington Post and now is managed independently.
Microsoft did the right thing and behaved like any great publisher -- they hired a great editor (Michael Kinsley) and let him run it with editorial independence.
There's no reason why companies like Twitter, Google or even Facebook couldn't pay for well-funded newspaper organizations to do serious journalism, complete with investigative journalism, serious reporting and independent commentary.
While many people might cringe at the thought of entrusting these companies with journalism, the hard reality is that our antiquated system of leaving it up to publishing companies is killing off journalism. Major papers are laying off photographers, editors and reporters. Investigative reporting is being scaled back. Editorials are being dumbed down.
Brilliant, ethical journalists are leaving the business and entering other fields. It's a disaster for democracy.
Editors and reports have the ethics. What the newspaper lacks is nothing more than money.
Meanwhile, social networks have both the money and the eyeballs. What they need is the vision to establish truly independent news organizations.
And why not? We're getting our news from social media anyway. We might as well use the money being made by social media to restore high-quality journalism.
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