Facebook taps CNN and Fox as news partners, dumps trending news

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Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Facebook is trying to create balance with its upcoming news programs, set to launch next week.

The social network tapped CNN and Fox News as two of its showcase media partners for a news initiative it has been working on for months under Campbell Brown, Facebook's head of news partnerships, according to people familiar with the deals. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that CNN and Fox News were joining Facebook to create news programs, and that Shepard Smith would be the face of Fox's new digital news program.

On Friday, Facebook also announced it would reconfigure how news spreads across the social network by eliminating "trending," a feature that often caused head scratching by users and media watchers who found it hard to understand why certain topics and issues rose to the top above others. There will also be new "breaking news" alerts on certain posts and a section inside Facebook called "Today In" to highlight local news.

Facebook also pointed to the news section it was creating for Watch, which is the video service that is similar to YouTube.

"We will soon have a dedicated section on Facebook Watch in the U.S. where people can view live coverage, daily news briefings and weekly deep dives," the company said in a blog post attributed to Alex Hardiman, head of news products

The inclusion of Fox News and CNN is a sign that Facebook was trying to walk a fine line of building a media product from scratch while maintaining impartiality over political leanings (CNN often described as leaning left while Fox News has a reputation as being more conservative leaning).

"There has been so much talk about 'fake news' and questions about Facebook's role in deciding who are the good and bad actors," says a person close to one of the media companies involved in Facebook's news push. "Facebook was worried about how all this would be portrayed and really tried to lean into the heavy hitters, so they can step back and say this is the news product with trusted news companies."

Facebook has been in talks with a number of legacy media companies and digital publishers to create a news section inside Watch, a video service that resembles YouTube and lives inside the social network. Facebook wants to curate shows from established media partners—some daily and some weekly—a place where it has some control over quality of news that disseminates over its platform.

Facebook is paying television networks and digital publishers to create shows in deals that can amount to millions of dollars over the course of a year, and it is able to run ads during the programs, revenue it splits with the media partners, according to people familiar with the deal structure.

Not all the media participants were finalized as of late this week, and Facebook had talked to all the major networks, including NBC, CBS and ABC, according to people familiar with the process. It has also been talking to digital publishers BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media's NowThis and ATTN.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

Facebook is set to announce the first round of media partners next week, and shows are expected to premiere in July.

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