In case you missed it: Today In, a Facebook section that features local news and community information, is now available in more than 6,000 cities and towns across the U.S. and ten in Australia. The expansion includes bringing Today In to many “news deserts,” or places that have a low supply of local news. Jimmy O’Keefe, Facebook’s product marketing manager for Today In, sat down with the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP) to explain how Today In works, what it means for your newsroom’s goals, and how it can help your community.
First, tell us: what is Today In? What does it look like and where do we see it on Facebook?
Today In is a new(ish) place on Facebook for local news, community information, and conversations between neighbors. We launched a small test of Today In to six U.S. cities and towns in early 2018, and we’ve since rolled it out to more than 6,000. We started with smaller cities — and still haven’t launched in the largest cities in the U.S. — both because it’s technically easier for us to select the right news stories in less populous cities and also because we know demand for local news and community information is very high in smaller towns. We’re hoping to expand across the U.S. (and to more countries, beyond Australia) but it will take time, and we want to make sure that we’re able to provide a good experience for people before we do that.
If you live in one of the cities where Today In is available, you can find this section in the Facebook app by tapping the menu (☰) and then tapping on “Today In.” For some people who consume a lot of local news, we’re adding the Today In tab at the bottom of your Facebook home screen. We’re working on expanding that, too.
How is this going to help newsrooms do their work?
Local news publishers benefit from Today In in a few important ways. The first is greater engagement. We’ve carved out an entirely separate place on Facebook for local news and community information so that people can spend more time on each individual piece of journalism. We’ve seen that people do engage deeply with the content we’re featuring on Today In.
If you take a look at the trends report that CrowdTangle released today, you’ll see that U.S. local news Pages have seen a +26% increase in interactions per post year over year. Previous research published by Facebook in 2018 found that interactions on links show a positive and significant relationship to outbound clicks.
Finally, for publishers, Today In represents a brand new way to acquire new readers. Facebook News Feed primarily shows people news they’re “connected” to, i.e., from news Pages they follow, or that their friends or family have shared. On the other hand, Today In is a “common ground” news surface — we show everyone in a town or city the exact same news articles (because people have told us it’s important to have a shared understanding with their neighbors), whether or not people are “connected” to those publishers in some way.
What, if anything, can publishers do to get involved or to feature their stories on Today In?
The first and most important thing is for you to do is register with the news Page index and post all the stories you’d like us to feature to your Facebook Page.
Beyond that, we know that there are lots of competing demands for your time, so we built Today In specifically to require no additional effort on the part of local news publishers. In other words, so long as your news Page is registered in the news Page index and you’re posting your stories to Facebook, you’ll be eligible to be featured on Today In.
We’re testing a new feature that’s now available for around 100 publishers (but hope to roll out to everyone soon): the Today In Publisher Dashboard. This dashboard will allow publishers to see which of their articles are appearing on Today In, in reverse chronological order, along with a list of the communities where each article is appearing. It’s interesting and fun to watch this — many articles are being featured in literally dozens of cities and towns.
In addition, publishers will have the ability to ensure that their content is relevant and up-to-date by removing articles they no longer want to appear on Today In or refreshing articles that have been updated since they were originally published. We’re also working on sending daily notifications to Page admins and editors as articles appear on Today In, so publishers will be alerted when their content is featured on Facebook.
We know that you’re looking for more transparency, visibility, and control over how your content appears on Today In. Building this dashboard is our first step toward providing that for you.
Is there a way to use Today In, in collaboration with other organizations in a newsroom’s town?
As a part of Today In, we are working on two tools to help “creators” of local information connect directly with people in their cities and towns: the local breaking news indicator (now testing with 150 local news publishers across the U.S.) and local alerts (expanding nationally to all local governments and first responders starting at the end of the year).
The local breaking news indicator allows publishers to communicate breaking news to people in their community. Local alerts, for local governments and first responders, keeps people on Facebook updated on local emergencies. While these tools distribute different types of information from different sources, they work in similar ways. Specifically, they trigger notifications that are sent to Page followers immediately upon posting, and posts are “pinned” to the top of Today In.
We’ve been so excited about the response we’ve seen to these tools. Publishers and first responders have shared with us that they see a sizable increase in engagement, right away, on the urgent local information they post. It helps them stand out from the noise on Facebook and gives them more control. People have told us they find this information relevant and valuable…and they want more of it. We’re working as fast as we can to open up access to more folks around the country.
How have other newsrooms used these tools to help their communities?
I’ll give you a few examples. In early August, CBS 2 Boise used the local breaking news indicator on a story about a brush fire. Via the indicator, Facebook notifications were sent to Page followers and the breaking post was featured on the top of Today In. The post was shared by over 400 people in the community and the community weighed in through comments, voicing their concern and their support of the first responders who were at the scene battling the blaze. As one resident wrote: “Firefighters be safe and we are all sending prayers.”
The Mt. Juliet Police Department used local alerts to ask people in Tennessee for help locating a 64-year-old man who had gone missing suddenly and was potentially in danger. The community rallied around this effort and they found him within a few hours. They wrote: “Our local alert posts have garnered more reach than typical posts, which allows more of our community members to see the very important, need-to-know information we post.”
It gives us so much pride to be able to support local journalists and first responders. I like to say that these people are my boss. I do everything in my power to support and elevate their work on Facebook.
What are some roadblocks newsrooms might hit while using Today In, and how can they avoid them?
I don’t know about “roadblocks” — but we’ve heard lots of really helpful feedback. I know that it drives publishers crazy when their stories are featured alongside non-news publishers in the “In the News” section of Today In. I’m talking local funeral homes, businesses, governments, politicians, nonprofits. It may be local, but it’s not all news.
I won’t make excuses for this but I will say that this problem has been largely fixed and will be totally fixed by the end of this year. We have started to limit access to the news section of Today In to publishers who are registered with our news Page index to ensure that the content that’s being shown is from relevant news sources.
You’ll be able to feel much better about the company you’re keeping in Today In.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about Today In?
One last point from me — we’ve gotten lots of questions about the News Tab we’re building and how that will play with Today In. They’ll remain separate tabs, but soon after testing begins this fall, we’ll include local news from Today In in the News Tab (with a link back to Today In to see more local information). This will allow us to feature content from local news publishers in even more places on Facebook.
We know people want to see more local news on Facebook, and we’re on a mission to provide that for them.