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Need to Know: Dec. 6, 2017

Fresh useful insights for people advancing quality, innovative and sustainable journalism


You might have heard: In June 2016, theSkimm raised $8 million in a funding round that valued the company at $55 million: Investors in that round of funding included The New York Times, 21st Century Fox and actress Mariska Hargitay (Recode)

But did you know: theSkimm is exploring a possible sale after being contacted by an interested buyer (Wall Street Journal)
After it was contacted by an interested buyer, WSJ reports that theSkimm has been “holding preliminary discussions with media companies to gauge their interest in investing or acquiring it outright.” Founded in 2012, theSkimm is considered a success story in how to reach younger audiences and keep them engaged: theSkimm says that 40 percent of its more than 6 million subscribers open its newsletters five times per week. “There is some precedent for the sale of a newsletter startup,” WSJ’s Suzanne Vranica writes. “In 2008, Comcast Corp. bought DailyCandy, an email newsletter company focused on fashion and culture, for $125 million,” but DailyCandy was closed by Comcast in 2014.

+ Noted: After its branded content and video efforts failed to take off, The Street will focus on consumer revenue in 2018: The website laid off 10 editorial staff members last week, its third round of layoffs in the last 14 months (Digiday); Ziff Davis purchases Mashable for less than $50 million: 50 people will be laid off from Mashable and other Mashable employees will be offered jobs at other Ziff Davis publications (Recode); Pulitzer Prizes changes the rules for the breaking news category, allowing state or national news organizations to enter (Poynter); Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Abrams Foundation announce the creation of Abrams Nieman Fellowship in Local Investigative Journalism, a fellowship for “U.S. journalists who cover news in areas of the United States where resources are scarce” (Nieman Foundation); Joanne Lipman, chief content officer and editor in chief of USA Today, is stepping down at the end of the year (USA Today); Marketing tech company Zeta Global acquires popular commenting platform Disqus (TechCrunch)


What the Membership Puzzle Project has learned so far: The availability of journalism to the public at large is a reason why people become members (Poynter)
“Subscription is — you pay your money and you get a product and it’s a product relationship, and membership is — you join the cause because you believe in the work,” Jay Rosen, who’s leading the Membership Puzzle Project, defines as the difference between subscriptions and memberships. Within that definition, memberships exist on a scale, Rosen says: “Thinner models are just basically – donate your money and that’s all we need from you, versus thick models, where you do support the site with money, but there are also other forms of participation,” such as events or advisory groups. “One of biggest discoveries is that members don’t want a gate around the journalism they’re supporting,” Rosen says on what the Membership Puzzle Project has learned so far. “But we find that in strong membership sites, the availability of the journalism to the public at large is part of why people are members.”


After ending its partnerships with The Times of India, HuffPost is reshaping its Indian edition (LiveMint)
Earlier this year, HuffPost ended its partnership with The Times of India. HuffPost editor in chief Lydia Polgreen explains that was part of a larger reexamination of HuffPost’s efforts in India: “This was a place where we felt like we wanted to invest and to go in a different direction. We very much plan to remain in India as a publisher and continue to do journalism here. We plan to expand our team here,” Polgreen says. Polgreen also noted that more than 50 percent of HuffPost’s audience is outside the United States.

+ “India offers a massive potential audience for mobile-friendly publishers such as HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Quartz, and Vice: Indian smartphone users’ monthly data consumption is on track to nearly quintuple by 2023, and the country’s media and entertainment industry is expected to add between 140,000 and 160,000 jobs each year for the next five years” (Nieman Lab)


More than half of partisans see the other party’s policies as a threat to the country, showing how polarized American politics has become (Washington Post)
New research from PRRI sheds some light on the growing partisan divides in American politics. Among Republicans, two-thirds see Trump’s policies as moving the country in the right direction, while more than half see Democrats’ policies as posing a threat to the country. Among Democrats, three-quarters see Trump’s policies as a threat to the country, and more than half say Republicans’ policies pose a threat to the country. PRRI also asked survey respondents whether their opinion of Trump might change: 6 in 10 of those who disapprove of Trump said they wouldn’t change their minds.

+ New research models the process of sharing political information as a game of telephone: “People farther removed from the initial source of information — farther down an information diffusion chain — not only will receive less information but that information will also be distorted, particularly from the introduction of information external to the initial source and a dramatic loss of specificity” (University of Chicago Press Journals)


‘Is the digital content bubble about to burst? For some of the publishers chasing the broadest scale, maybe’ (Nieman Lab)
A new study from the Reuters Institute suggests that the “content bubble will eventually burst unless more robust business models are found,” Rasmus Kleis Nielsen writes. Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of seven global, online news companies, the Reuters Institute report finds that these outlets have tended to pursue audience growth first, expecting to make money from advertising later. But not all outlets will be able to sustain themselves on advertising revenue alone, Nielsen writes: “The most successful internationally oriented digital-born news publishers have used a combination of on-site and off-site distribution, aggressive search engine optimization, and social media promotion — coupled with content that is free at the point of consumption — to build large audiences across multiple countries, generally on the basis of a much leaner organization than most legacy outlets and a much more aggressive willingness to experiment with and use new tools and technologies.”

+ “With the scale era waning and increased focus on subscriber revenue, many publishers are taking a team-of-team approach to pursuing goals beyond pageviews and uniques, often zeroing in on loyalty and propensity to subscribe” (Digiday)


The new era of LA Weekly is starting off with backlash: After laying off most of its staff, advertisers are pulling back (Los Angeles Times)
“Since LA Weekly laid off most of its journalists last week and its new owners revealed their identities Friday, backlash has been swift and fierce,” Lauren Raab writes. “There has been outcry over the new owners’ political backgrounds and their plan to use articles by unpaid contributors. Former writers for the alternative weekly are spearheading a call for a boycott. A few advertisers have taken a step back.” Semanal Media bought LA Weekly from Voice Media Group last week, and says that the backlash, which has mostly centered on the identities of Semanal’s financial backers, is unfair and many of the allegations against them are untrue.

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