By Peter Lauria, contributor
A new Facebook effort aims to help journalists use social media. But other motives may be at work.
FORTUNE -- Vadim Lavrusik, the cherub-cheeked 25-year old who heads up Facebook's new journalist program initiative, has been generating a lot of chatter in media circles, and not just for his thoughtful missives about how ink-stained wretches could better utilize the social network to promote their work or find sources. His arrival, along with a few other moves by the social-media company, suggests Facebook may be looking at ways to turn the site into a distribution -- and money making -- platform for news.
Lavrusik joined Facebook in April in part to help educate reporters, writers and editors on the benefits of using the site as a tool for gathering sources and distributing news. (Lavrusik's outreach shouldn't be confused with Facebook's clumsy effort to get journalists to write negative stories about rival Google.)
Facebook has already proven itself an important distribution outlet for news organizations. Lavrusik says the average news site experienced a more than 300 percent increase in Facebook referrals since the beginning of 2010. And 5 of the top 25 most popular news websites in the U.S. ranked Facebook as the No. 2 or No. 3 driver of traffic to their sites, according to a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"If searching for news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next," notes the study. "Facebook is beginning to join Google (GOOG) as one of the most influential players in driving news audiences." More
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