Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: Feb. 17, 2017

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


You might have heard: Mark Zuckerberg published a letter on the future of Facebook, addressing topics such as artificial intelligence, online safety, “fake news,” and the polarization of society (Facebook)

But did you know: Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto on the future of Facebook emphasizes the importance of a ‘strong news industry’ (Poynter)
“A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community,” Zuckerberg writes in his letter. “Giving people a voice is not enough without having people dedicated to uncovering new information and analyzing it. There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable — from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on.”

+ Zuckerberg tried to distance Facebook as the the cause of fake news, writing “I want to emphasize that the vast majority of conversations on Facebook are social, not ideological,” to which Kara Swisher responds: “In acknowledging that Facebook has a big role to play in fixing the problem, he is also tacitly admitting it has been part of the problem.” (Recode)

+ Noted: 20th Century Fox apologizes for partnering with a fake news site to circulate fake posts to promote a movie (New York Times); Newspaper companies are trying to keep up audience growth from  2016, but Trump’s hostility and a lack of trust are challenging that (Reuters); Financial Times launches a dashboard to help editors surface relevant articles from its archives that are popular with readers again (


The week in fact-checking
As part of our fact-checking journalism project, Jane Elizabeth and Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. This week’s round-up includes why claims of voter fraud defy logic, why fact-checking these days is “life-sucking tedium,” and whether Obama is really good at kite-surfing.

+ If you subscribe to our weekly fact-checking newsletter, please take our survey and let us know what you like, don’t like and want more of; If you don’t already subscribe to the newsletter, you can sign up here


How to use design thinking to engage with your community (Ghita Benslimane, Medium)
“The process of design thinking is as follows: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Ideally, this is how one would go about creating anything, right? But us journalists often skip the first two steps,” CUNY grad student Ghita Benslimane writes. “Empathizing with and defining a community’s problems and goals are crucial parts in any successful design endeavor. Before the NY Times developed its Spanish edition, it did intensive fieldwork in Mexico. It didn’t merely rely on data (which is also important). It talked to people. It asked them about their habits, their needs. … We need to stop thinking of journalism as a journalist-centric process, but rather as a community-centric process.”


Proposal for a European ‘link tax’ on Google is the target of criticism from smaller digital publishers (Politico Europe)
Last year, the European Commission started pushing to require platforms like Google and Facebook to compensate digital publishers for the use of their content. But less than six months later, Matthew Karnitschnig and Chris Spillane report that it’s becoming unlikely that the reform will have enough support in European Parliament to become law. And the some of the very web publishers the reform is intended to help are becoming more critical of the idea: “Opponents of the plan, including some small web publishers, worry it could choke traffic to their sites by creating a thicket of regulations that will dissuade Google and other platforms from driving users to them. These critics also argue that a publisher’s right will create a ‘link tax’ but won’t achieve its backers’ main aim: to save the news sector’s broken business model.”


Snapchat’s user growth is stalling, but it’s pointing to a new trend in digital: Engagement is more important than pure growth (Digiday)
As Snapchat’s parent Snap Inc. prepares for an IPO, data from mobile analytics firm Apptopia shows that Snapchat’s user base has essentially stopped growing.“But before anyone freaks out, it’s important to note that digital media as a whole seems focused principally on engagement, rather than raw audience size,” Max Willens writes. “[Snap Inc. CEO Evan] Spiegel’s selling points could be pointing to a new paradigm in social media: In a world where groundbreaking ideas can become commoditized within months, something Snapchat has experienced not just with Stories, but also with video chat, maybe the most important thing is remaining important to users.”


‘The fatal flaw in subscription models’: Digital subscriptions now require readers to pay for each publication separately (TheMediaBriefing)
“Paywalls rely on publishers assuming that an individual will only have one or two subscriptions, and therefore that theirs is the only content worth paying for. Yes, on a publisher-by-publisher basis, it is critical that the content they produce is valued and paid for. But on an industry level, it isn’t sustainable,” Esther Kezia Harding argues. “Imagine 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros each charged users a monthly fee to access their films. Very quickly, the model would fall over, and smaller film studios would be unable to compete. Instead, these studios all come together in an aggregator, like Netflix. Paying a monthly fee becomes a lot more valuable for film fanatics, as they can watch as much as they like from different sources.”

+ Axios co-founders Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen argue that “the media is the opposition party” under Trump (Axios); “The media is doing what it was doing and always has been doing,” Erik Wemple argues in response. “It has been investigating, covering events, asking questions and placing the results before the public. The idea that an entity as wide-ranging and sprawling as ‘the media’ did hack work in the campaign and transition but is now following a glorious path is unambiguously laughable. There’s been no media pivot, as a cable news pundit might describe it.” (Washington Post)


A Vermont newspaper couldn’t give itself away in an essay contest, but it still found a buyer (Poynter)
When its owner tried to give the paper away through an essay contest, The Hardwick Gazette couldn’t bring in enough entries. But the paper has still found a new buyer through the essay contest. Small and his wife, Kim, will officially become the Hardwick Gazette’s 11th owners on Friday. And while their background is in business rather than journalism, Connelly said Small “conveyed a passion for community journalism” in his essay.


+ Better journalism starts in small towns, NPR reporter Sarah McCammon writes: “A lot of my job became explaining to liberals why on earth anyone would vote for Trump, and explaining to conservatives why on earth anyone would vote for Clinton. Sometimes it felt like translating between people from two different cultures. … That fluency is best learned and maintained through time spent meeting and talking with people from a range of perspectives. Just as journalists embed ourselves in wars or political campaigns, we should be ‘embedding’ ourselves in communities that revolve around agriculture, or insurance, or the military — rather than media or government.” (Nieman Reports)

+ Wired takes a deep dive into The New York Times’ reinvention and how it’s adopting the strategies of Netflix and Spotify: “Invest heavily in a core offering (which, for the Times, is journalism) while continuously adding new online services and features (from personalized fitness advice and interactive newsbots to virtual reality films) so that a subscription becomes indispensable to the lives of its existing subscribers and more attractive to future ones” (Wired)

+ “The breathless pace of events reminds me of O. J. and Monica days. The way both journalists and consumers feel kind of overwhelmed by the pace of developments. This feeling of, ‘Well, can’t it just stop for a while?’” Jeffrey Toobin, who covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial and Monica Lewinsky scandal for The New Yorker, says about covering the White House now (New York Times); “How Condé Nast Learned to Love Tangling With Trump” (Bloomberg)

+ Edward Snowden has a new job in protecting reporters and their sources from spies, Andy Greenberg writes (Wired)

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

The American Press Institute

Our mission

We help transform news organizations for an audience-centered future.

Our programs for publishers focus on four things:

  • 1. Understand your audience
  • 2. Get your audience to pay
  • 3. Transform your culture
  • 4. Do your best journalism
  • Find out more about API »

API solutions for publishers

What we can do for you

API offers a suite of original tools and services for solving the biggest challenges in news:

  • Decide what beats to cover and how
  • Identify and develop the skills you need
  • Assess and improve your culture
  • Drive more reader revenue
  • Drive loyalty through accountability journalism
  • Make analytics work for you
  • Contact us to find out how »