SCOOP: Meta/Facebook is shuttering its Bulletin newsletter subscription service. It plans to wind it down by early next year. I’m told all writers will be paid out their full contracts. Statement from Meta: pic.twitter.com/qEgpnpS6tc
— Katie Robertson (@katie_robertson) October 4, 2022
Bulletin was launched as Facebook’s answer to Substack in 2021, not long after Twitter jumped into the paid newsletter game by acquiring Revue. The first featured authors were folks like Malcolm Gladwell and Malala Yousafzai.
“What’s weird about Bulletin…and perhaps shines a bit of a light on how much faith Facebook actually has in this product long-term, none of the creators they’ve launched with are people who I would think actually need Facebook’s monetization features,” noted Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick at the time. “I have an extremely hard time believing that Tan France needs a monetized newsletter hosted on Facebook.”
I imagine the celebrities recruited by Facebook to write for Bulletin will be okay! But Bulletin had started to extend support to a subset of writers who could really use the Facebook cash: local news reporters.
We know the local news writers had been promised “licensing fees” as part of a “multi-year commitment” that would provide them “time to build a relationship” with their audience but when we wrote about the program last year, Facebook declined to put a dollar value on the support or specify exactly how long writers could expect the payments to last. (Facebook did not immediately respond to an email about the closure of Bulletin.)
Roughly half of the 25 local news writers selected to join Bulletin are journalists of color. They’ve been publishing from communities in Iowa, North Carolina, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut, Texas, Michigan, California, Hawaii, Wisconsin, George, Washington, Arizona, and Washington, D.C.
The financial support from Facebook was likely not life-changing for the local news writers. (Some boldface names reportedly inked deals with Bulletin in the six figures, but several of the local news reporters were planning to keep other jobs to make ends meet.) Facebook also provided legal resources, design help, newsletter strategy, and coaching to the group.
Soon after the local news partnership was announced, Kerr County Lead writer Louis Amestoy told Nieman Lab he saw a chance for Facebook to shape its information ecosystem of many local communities into something better.
“I think it’s important for Facebook to recognize this opportunity and say, ‘Okay, what do we really want to be?’” Amestoy said. “You see in certain communities that Facebook has come to fill a hole left by news deserts. Who becomes your local authority? The messaging group that’s there? Is there really someone there to curate that — someone who is objective and can differentiate the good stuff from the bad stuff? I certainly hope that they take some of the lessons that they’re going to learn from this, and make some more investments, because I think that there are a lot of opportunities. There’s so many talented journalists out there who really want an opportunity to do kind of thing that I want to do.”
With Tuesday’s abrupt announcement, it seems a little less likely those important questions will get answered.