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Need to Know: Feb. 7, 2018

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


You might have heard: Former Chicago Sun-Times editor Jim Kirk was named editor of the Los Angeles Times last week (New York Times) after the newsroom clashed with previous editor Lewis D’Vorkin (CJR)

But did you know: Tronc is preparing to sell the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to local shareholder Patrick Soon-Shiong (Washington Post)
The troubled relationship between Tronc and the Los Angeles Times may soon be coming to an end, Paul Farhi reports: Tronc is expected to announce its plans to sell the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder of NantHealth and major shareholder in Tronc. “Ever since Tronc’s forerunner company, Tribune Co., acquired the Times in 2000, the newspaper and its parent company have engaged in a cross-country feud about the paper’s management and direction,” Farhi explains on the relationship between the L.A. Times and Tronc. When L.A. Times employees voted to unionize last month, “their immediate concern [was] the company’s nascent plans to establish a network of non-staff contributors to produce stories outside the main newsroom, which some fear would be a ‘scab’ operation designed to undermine the union.”

+ Noted: IBT managing editor Nancy Cooper is named acting editor of Newsweek and Jonathan Davis will return as chief content officer, pending an investigation into previous CCO Dayan Candappa (Splinter) and investigative reporter David Sirota resigns from IBT after Newsweek’s editor and several reporters were fired (Talking Business News); Megan Greenwell is named editor of Deadspin, the first female editor for the sports site (Hollywood Reporter); Recent FCC filings suggest that Sinclair is seeking waivers to own more than one top-four station in a market (Variety); NPR investigative journalist Daniel Zwerdling has left after a sexual harassment investigation (Current); Google suggests that just 1 percent of publishers will be initially affected by the Chrome browser’s ad blocker (Axios); Matter announces a bootcamp for for-profit news outlets, partnering with Google News Lab, News Media Alliance and four journalism schools (Matter, Medium)


How a reporter spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in his stories (The Atlantic)
When Ed Yong started tracking the gender balance of sources in his stories in 2016, just 24 percent of the sources he quoted were women, and 35 percent of the stories include no female sources at all. Surprised by those numbers, Yong has spent the last two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in his stories. Yong explains how he went about this: He doesn’t stop finding sources for a story until his list includes at least several women, and he tracks how he’s doing with a spreadsheet. Four months after he started tracking the gender balance, women were representing 50 percent of the sources in his stories — it “has stayed roughly there ever since,” Yong says.


UK Prime Minister Theresa May is launching an investigation into whether state intervention is needed to preserve local and national newspapers (The Guardian)
The decline of local journalism is a threat to democracy, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said as she announced an investigation into whether state intervention is needed to preserve local and national newspapers. The investigation will examine the rise of “clickbait” news, along with whether the government or industry could do more to undermine the commercial incentives to produce “clickbait.” The investigation will also review whether content creators, rather than platforms, are getting enough of the revenue from digital advertising. “When trusted and credible news sources decline, we can become vulnerable to news which is untrustworthy,” May said. “So to address this challenge to our public debate we will launch a review to examine the sustainability of our national and local press. It will look at the different business models for high-quality journalism.”


‘Russian trolls ran wild on Tumblr and the company refuses to say anything about it’ (BuzzFeed News)
During the 2016 presidential election, Tumblr accounts run by Russian trolls were generating “hundreds of thousands of interactions with anti–Hillary Clinton, pro–Bernie Sanders content,” analysis by researcher Jonathan Albright and BuzzFeed News finds. These trolls posed as black activists, creating interactions with content that ranged from calling Clinton a “monster” to supporting Sanders to “decrying racial injustice and police violence in the U.S.” Albright says on the findings: “The evidence we’ve collected shows a highly engaged and far-reaching Tumblr propaganda-op targeting mostly teenage and twenty-something African Americans. This appears to have been part of an ongoing campaign since early 2015.” Notably, Tumblr and its parent company Oath did not respond to emails with questions from BuzzFeed News — but “tracking software shows the emails were opened more than 290 times, and the included links were clicked more than 70 times,” Craig Silverman writes.


Can BuzzFeed afford to keep funding BuzzFeed News? (CJR)
“BuzzFeed appears to be wrestling with the same issue as many other media companies these days,” Matthew Ingram writes, “Namely, how do you justify continuing to invest in news when it doesn’t make any money?” With the news last week that BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith was in talks with Laurene Powell Jobs about an investment in BuzzFeed’s news unit, Ingram writes that it appears possible that BuzzFeed could be considering a spinoff of its news operations. Given that BuzzFeed missed its revenue targets in 2017 by a “significant amount,” Ingram argues that an investment from Powell Jobs could be one way out: “The larger problem for BuzzFeed, by extension, is that if news isn’t making enough money to fund itself despite the company’s best efforts to integrate with Facebook and other platforms, and if Facebook intends to further decrease the presence of news in the streams of users, how does BuzzFeed justify continuing to invest in it? An acquisition by Laurene Powell Jobs no doubt looks like an attractive way out of the dilemma.”


DNAinfo alums are launching a new local news site in Chicago — and tripled their funding goal in just one day (Robert Feder)
Yesterday, three former DNAinfo Chicago editors announced they would be launching a new local news site in the city, operating as a nonprofit and funded by reader subscriptions. To get the site up and running, Block Club Chicago started a Kickstarter with a funding goal of $25,000 — and less than 24 hours later, they’ve raised triple that amount. Major support for the site will also come from Civil, “a new decentralized, blockchain-based platform that’s helping start up hyperlocal newsrooms across the country.”

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