Need to Know: Feb. 8, 2018

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


You might have heard: Tronc announced on Wednesday that it is selling the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to billionaire investor Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million in cash (Reuters)

But did you know: Tronc’s sale of the Los Angeles Times is happening now due to high share prices, internal turmoil and tax cuts (Nieman Lab)
Ken Doctor asks, why is Tronc selling the Los Angeles Times now? “A little less than two years ago, [Michael] Ferro assumed a pose of moral outrage as Gannett attempted a hostile takeover of the company he had seized control of just months earlier,” he writes. There’s four driving forces, Doctor says: Tronc shares reached an all-time high of $20.90 on Jan. 22; the L.A. Times was in turmoil in January as its publisher was placed on leave, staff voted to unionize and staff suspected Tronc was building a “shadow newsroom”; rumors were circulating that more L.A. Times executives would be brought under investigation; and the Republican tax cut means Tronc stands to make more money off the sale.

+ Tronc is forming a new division called Tribune Interactive with former L.A. Times publisher Ross Levinsohn as CEO and former L.A. Times editor Lewis D’Vorkin as its EIC: Levinsohn was recently cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation into sexual harassment allegations, while D’Vorkin was removed as editor in chief last week (Los Angeles Times)

+ Noted: Newsweek Media Group’s head of sales Ed Hannigan resigns, and the company says it’s lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in ad commitments since reports emerged that it bought traffic (NBC News); Newseum executives are planning to meet with a real estate firm on Thursday to explore options including selling its downtown D.C. building or moving locations (Washington Post); Snapchat says it paid out $100 million to its Discover publisher partners in 2017 (Axios); Vice Media missed its 2017 revenue target of $805 million by $100 million, mostly due to its struggling cable TV channel (Wall Street Journal); Democracy Fund announces two new funds in New Jersey and North Carolina totaling $2 million to support local news and “[push] forward changes that improve how journalism serves the public and makes news and information more resilient over the long term” (Local News Lab)


‘Without a strategy, newsroom events don’t work’ (Poynter)
Before holding a newsroom event, Jon Cohn says news organizations have to “figure out the why and the what, and then you figure out the how.” Essential to figuring out the why and the what is developing a strategy. Cohn, who is the managing producer for forum programs and live events at KPCC, suggests some questions to ask yourself: “What’s your audience-facing announcement? What is the definition of the project? What’s the vision? What’s the audience? What’s the service? What’s the strategy? And ultimately, what’s the goal?”


Fake news sites based overseas are using Facebook Instant Articles to make money — and in some cases Facebook is profiting (BuzzFeed News)
According to analysis from BuzzFeed News, most fake news publishers overseas that use Instant Articles are also using Facebook’s advertising network to deliver ads. This means that Facebook is also making money off these false stories. BuzzFeed found 29 Facebook pages and associated websites that use Instant Articles for their false stories. Out of those 29 publishers, 24 were also signed up for Facebook’s Audience Network. “We’ve launched a comprehensive effort across all products to take on these scammers, and we’re currently hosting third-party fact checkers from around the world to understand how we can more effectively solve the problem,” a Facebook spokesperson said in response.


The most successful digital companies focus on their users, not just their buyers (Harvard Business Review)
“Where traditional brands focus on positioning their brands in the minds of their customers, digital brands focus on positioning their brands in the lives of their customers,” researchers Mark Bonchek and Vivek Bapat explain on how digital companies do business differently. “Furthermore, they engage customers more as users than as buyers, shifting their investments from pre-purchase promotion and sales to post-purchase renewal and advocacy.” Their research found that the most successful companies focus on users, over simply buyers. That means focusing on the parts of the user experience that come after the first transaction, which could include delivery, service, education or sharing.


Thinking about the issue of coastal bias in reporting: ‘Maybe we get it right by having a bunch of people who do end up repeating certain stories and telling them from different perspectives’ (CJR)
“If the lesson for journalists in 2016 was to take seriously the work of covering local news in the American heartland, the takeaway from 2017 is to source more of that reporting locally,” Ryan Bell writes for CJR. Bell breaks down a discussion between New York-based Slate reporter Henry Grabar and Nebraska-based writer Ted Genoways on the issue of “coastal bias” in reporting, and particularly the issue of coastal writers “parachuting” into communities. Genoways suggests that there could be value in having stories reported again by “outsider” news organizations: “Maybe we get it right by having a bunch of people who do end up repeating certain stories and telling them from different perspectives. That way we make sure somebody gets the story right.”

+ “Crowdsourcing trusted news sources can work — but not the way Facebook says it’ll do it” (Nieman Lab)


‘A Crazy Idea for Funding Local News: Charge People for It’ (New York Times)
Based on conversations with The Information’s Jessica Lessin and Stratechery’s Ben Thompson, Farhad Manjoo suggests a way forward for local news: “Hire some very good journalists; just one or two are O.K. to start. Turn them loose on a large metropolitan area — try San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston or any other city going through waves of change, and whose local press has been gutted by digital disruption. Have your reporters cover stuff that no one else is covering, and let them ignore stuff that everyone else is covering. … Package it all in a form that commands daily attention — probably a morning email newsletter — and sprinkle it with a sense of community, like offline and online networking events for readers. How will you fund all of this? This is the most important part: Shun advertising. Instead, ask readers to pay for it with real money — $5 or $10 a month, or perhaps even more. It will take time, but if you build it right, you just might create the next great metropolitan news organization.”