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Facebook Is Changing. So the Monitor Will, Too.

Yesterday, Facebook announced that its users will be seeing fewer posts from publishers. Instead, the social networking website will showcase more posts from friends and family, in an effort to foster greater personal connection within its user base.

This is an unfortunate development for the Bay Area Monitor. We launched our Facebook page in early 2015 in an attempt to attract more readers, and have invested significant time and resources into cultivating our presence on the platform. We post all of our writers’ articles on the page, of course, but that’s a fraction of the content we offer there. Every weekday, we post news from reputable media outlets, like-minded nonprofits, and government agencies, choosing items that reinforce our publication’s goals:

  • Raising awareness about policies, plans, programs, and legislation that affect quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond;
  • Enhancing sustainability, conserving resources, advancing equity, increasing efficiency, and safeguarding people across the region; and
  • Maximizing stakeholder involvement in those efforts.

All the while, we’d been hoping that Facebook users would congregate at our page, and — through the site’s option to like, share, and comment on posts — help us broaden our readership and brand recognition.

We have had moderate success with this strategy, and we believe the platform has helped a little bit in advancing the goals listed above. However, we have always felt ambivalent about Facebook’s efficacy and value.

In the weeks preceding Facebook’s announcement, we have observed an increase in notifications from the company encouraging us to spend money in “boosting” posts (we have not taken them up on this suggestion). The number of post views and instances of reader engagement, on the other hand, has remained level, and may have actually decreased. Evidence indicates that publishers everywhere have been experiencing such a downturn.

Therefore, moving forward, we will be reexamining our online presence and how to promote it. The time and resources that we dedicate to our Facebook page will be reallocated to bolstering the Bay Area Monitor website. We will cease our weekday posts, and will be reevaluating how to use Facebook to promote our writers’ own articles.

We also beseech you to sign up to receive the Bay Area Monitor in print, by mail, for free. Yes, print publications still exist, and we believe we produce one that is stellar.

On a personal note, as editor of the Bay Area Monitor, I have always felt a certain discomfort with Facebook as a means for spreading information. (Or, for that matter, with its stated aim of bringing people closer together. Many years ago, I attended a debate in San Francisco about the merits of online social networking. During the audience participation segment, a Facebook employee extolled the virtues of having been able to use the website to invite a co-worker to the debate, saving him the trouble of walking over to her desk and doing so in a face-to-face conversation.)

However, with the recent introduction of “fake news” into public discourse, and the revelations that this phenomenon has leveraged Facebook as a way to influence our nation’s election results, I thought the Bay Area Monitor was uniquely positioned to stand as a corrective on the social networking site. We are published, after all, by the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, a branch of one of the oldest, most trusted nonprofit organizations in the country when it comes to, as we like to say, “Making Democracy Work.”

This is not to claim that the Bay Area Monitor employs some band of crusading journalists who stomp out corruption and injustice by throwing truth-bombs at every turn. Far from it. The Bay Area Monitor‘s role is much more modest, and limited to reporting on a narrow slice of public policy, and in a very specific way. But as I have said elsewhere, we share with more prominent media outlets an important aspiration: to enhance our readers’ understanding of the world in a way that encourages them to become more engaged participants in their communities and in civic life. I believe this is a noble endeavor, even at the small scale at which we carry it out.

In any case, through a combination of Facebook’s shortcomings and my own, the Bay Area Monitor has thus far not capitalized on a political moment that would appear ripe for us to address in partnership. I hope I can find new and better ways beyond Facebook to promote the work of the publication’s hard-working, knowledgeable, and skilled writers. (Spoiler alert: it ain’t gonna be Twitter.)

I suspect that this little announcement will be largely overlooked, a casualty of the daily news cycle’s vicious churn, agitated to the brink of explosion by disgusting comments the President of the United States made yesterday (described by a Congressional member of his own party as “unkind, divisive, [and] elitist” and by a Senator from the opposing one as “hate-filled, vile, and racist.”)

It is with these political realities in mind that I leave you with a message from a Bay Area Monitor reader, someone who not only was willing to take the time to send us a hand-written note, but who also cares enough to regularly contribute small donations in support of our mission. When I received her note early last year, I had attempted to follow her suggestion to “feel free to share this” by posting it to Facebook. I even threw a few dollars of my own money into boosting it, as I do for every article from the Bay Area Monitor‘s own writers. According to Facebook’s metrics, the note was viewed by 623 people and was engaged 13 times until the promotion was halted prematurely. The company sent me an automatic email that said, “Your ad’s image contains too much text which is preventing delivery of your ad to your audience.” I assume the cantankerous complaint I subsequently submitted to the website was never read by a human being.

No matter. Here is that text (boldface and in full), followed by the note, which fills my heart every time I read it:

Please read this stirring letter that responds to Aleta George’s recent Bay Area Monitor article “The Art of Supporting Open Space.” The letter was sent by longtime reader Elizabeth Brown, in reaction to a quote from Arturo Tello, Artist, who told Aleta that “paintings are an embrace that remind you that the world is good, that there is peace, and that it’s good to be alive.”

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