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Facebook made a $300 million pledge to help journalists — just like Google did last year

The internet giants make billions from ads. They want news publishers to sell subscriptions instead.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looking at his cellphone.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Facebook says it is going to spend $300 million over the next three years to support journalism.

Does that sound familiar?

Here’s why: Ten months ago, Google said it was going to spend $300 million over three years to support journalism.

Facebook says it’s just a coincidence that it landed on the same dollar amount that its primary competitor landed on last year. But I’m not complaining. In part because I want Google and Facebook to spend money supporting journalism. And also because it means I don’t have to rewrite this piece, from March 2018: “Google and Facebook can’t help publishers because they’re built to defeat publishers.”

I’m assuming that some people at Facebook will be as disappointed with that headline as some Googlers were last year.

But for the record, let me spell out the thesis: Facebook and Google dominate the online ad market, which makes it very, very difficult for most digital publishers to make meaningful money from their own online ads. So unless Google and Facebook are willing to spend much more than the $200 million a year they have collectively pledged to subsidize news outlets, they are likely to take more money from publishers than they are routing back to publishers.

Then again, it can’t be worse than nothing. (Right?) So let’s spell out exactly what Facebook says it’s going to do:

  • Facebook has earmarked at least $16 million to support a series of journalism initiatives and funds, like the Pulitzer Center and Report for America, aimed at what appears to be an existential problem facing local news outlets.
  • Facebook will also spend money on projects like a Facebook-led effort to help small publishers sell subscriptions.
  • Facebook will keep spending money on its previously announced program to bring news videos to its Facebook Watch hub, which launched last year. Facebook is paying news outlets like Fox, ABC, and the BBC to produce programming for its site — but those payments aren’t guaranteed, as Mic learned late last year.

All of that sounds fine, but not needle-moving. Facebook says the needle will move once publishers learn how to sell subscriptions, and that Facebook is working hard to help them.

If you are an optimist, you will argue that moving publications away from an ad-supported model and toward one supported by their consumers is the best way for publishers to survive. If you are a cynic, you will argue that if the news subscription business was truly promising, Facebook and Google would be pursuing it themselves. Both answers can be true!

In any case, I’m all for Google and Facebook redistributing any part of their enormous profits (Facebook estimated 2018 earnings: $21.2 billion; Google: $29.5 billion) to people who make journalism. So bring it on, regardless of intent or results. Some money is better than none.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.