NPR, Facebook Live, And Disclosure
Those who follow NPR on Facebook will likely have noticed a marked increase in the number of "Facebook Live" livestream videos from NPR on the platform. They started out as experiments from the newsroom on primary election and caucus nights. Now, NPR is feeding a daily midday news update, dubbed "Cereal," among other live feeds from the politics team, NPR Music and more. (The videos, which are being referred to as "NPR Live" to reflect that NPR is producing them, are also archived on the platform.)
Like other news outlets, NPR is being paid by Facebook to produce these livestreams, a business arrangement that NPR has disclosed in only the broadest of terms. I've since heard pointed questions wondering what kind of further disclosure NPR needs to make about the arrangement, including what disclaimers, if any, NPR needs to make, either within the context of the videos themselves or when NPR covers Facebook as a corporate and cultural entity. Since Facebook is in the news, the issue seems particularly timely.
NPR announced the new live video effort on May 3. The post noted, "Facebook will provide some technical and financial support, but the company will have no role in the content of the videos." Internally, NPR's newsroom staff was told the arrangement is a "collaboration." A publicly posted memo from NPR's training team does not mention a financial arrangement (although perhaps it should not, since, as NPR's standards editor Mark Memmott notes, that guidance is there for NPR journalists).
From NPR's point of view (and mine), there is a lot to like about Facebook Live. Reporters can take the audience along as they report, show off behind-the-scenes goings-on (is disclosing reporters' pizza toppings on primary night a form of transparency?) and answer questions in real time. NPR already has a robust presence on Facebook, but as the social media platform, and video, capture more and more attention from news consumers, NPR will want to be there, even if live video seems a bit far afield from its origins in radio.
Quoting from the NPR announcement on May 3: "As Mike Oreskes, NPR's Senior Vice President for News and Editorial Director, told the staff today, we feel this is the next natural step in our role as public media — to make our content and our people more accessible and responsive to you — our audience. And in the process, we are excited about the creative challenge of showing the world what NPR looks like on video."
From Facebook's point of view, the stakes are potentially much higher; as many journalists have noted, the platform sees live video as the future and is helping drive rapid adoption by paying news organizations to embrace it. Nothing wrong there, as long as NPR is upfront about the arrangement, as it is when an entity such as the Gates Foundation sponsors a particular coverage area that NPR has deemed important but does not necessarily have independent resources to pursue. (The difference here is that there is no link between the "NPR Live" content, per se, and Facebook's aims.)
I don't know any specifics about the financial arrangements between NPR and Facebook that are supporting this push into video, including how much NPR is being paid. But if the financial and technical support is substantial, I'd argue that the archived videos themselves should likely carry some sort of disclosure about Facebook's financial support. Meanwhile, Memmott said, NPR stories about Facebook's corporate interests will disclose that NPR is receiving financial support, as did this afternoon's piece from David Folkenflik.
The arrangement is in its early days, so it makes sense that not everything is sorted out. When I hear more from the newsroom on this issue, I will update this post.
Update: Standards and practices editor Mark Memmott issued this note of guidance to the newsroom advising reporters to "err on the side of disclosure" when reporting on stories involving Facebook.
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