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Need to Know: Jan. 17, 2018

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


You might have heard: The Awl and The Hairpin announced on Tuesday that they plan to shut down editorial operations at the end of the month (The Awl)

But did you know: The Awl and The Hairpin are shutting down because it was getting ‘harder to secure big advertising deals without increasing the size of its audience’ (Wall Street Journal)
“In general, in an increasingly inhospitable environment for small publishers, we got together and took a look at the business and decided that we would have less resources to continue on on our own terms,” Michael Macher, publisher of The Awl Network, said in an interview with WSJ. Macher says that it was becoming more difficult for The Awl Network to secure advertising deals without significantly growing its audience. Macher explains that for The Awl, programmatic ad sales were not an “adequate replacement” for direct ad sales. The Awl Network’s two other sites, The Billfold and Splitsider, will remain in operation.

+ “The loss of the Awl means the loss of yet another smaller, looser, more adventurous site where young writers could establish their voice” (Select All)

+ Noted: Southern California News Group, which includes the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Daily News, is facing “significant” layoffs in the coming months: More than 65 people are expected to be laid off out of SCNG’s 315 newsroom employees (Los Angeles Times); After the NYT story on Vice in December, Vice is losing advertisers over concerns about its culture (Advertising Age); In an op-ed for The Washington Post, John McCain argues that Trump’s attacks on the news media have “provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit” and avoid media scrutiny (Washington Post); 22 attorneys general file a lawsuit to stop the FCC’s repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules (New York Times); Slate says, “We’re pivoting to words” as podcasts make up 25 percent of its revenue (Digiday)


How Al Jazeera used gamification to conduct audience research (AJ Labs, Medium)
At the end of 2017, Al Jazeera published a news quiz to mark the end of the year. But besides recounting the major news events of the year, Al Jazeera also aimed to find out more about its most loyal readers through the quiz. In this post, AJ Labs breaks down the creation of the quiz and its accompanying survey from conception to creation to testing to shipping. “Overall, the most interesting insights from this experiment came from reading through and analyzing the survey responses. These insights are incredibly valuable in building a loyal audience around Al Jazeera’s content,” the AJ Labs team writes.


Spiegel Online CEO says one challenge to regulating the duopoly is how journalistic credibility varies worldwide (Digiday)
“The issue is, how can [platforms] identify a credible journalistic source? Who makes that decision?,” Spiegel Online CEO Jesper Doub says on one of the biggest challenges of regulating the duopoly. “If you look at the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, it’s easier as there’s a common sense of what professional journalism is. But if you look at a country like Turkey where the government has a totally different view on what proper journalism is, how do you handle that as a platform? Do you adhere to what the government view is in that country? It’s a difficult thing to do.”


The most effective censorship online is affecting trust, not silencing speech (Wired)
As Facebook, Google and Twitter are controlling more of people’s attention online, Zeynep Tufekci writes that free speech online should be in a “golden age.” And in many ways it is — but the challenge now is whether you can believe what you see online. Tufekci argues that the most effective forms of censorship today now affect people’s trust, rather than silencing speech: “These tactics usually don’t break any laws or set off any First Amendment alarm bells. But they all serve the same purpose that the old forms of censorship did: They are the best available tools to stop ideas from spreading and gaining purchase. They can also make the big platforms a terrible place to interact with other people.”

+ A new report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation finds that Americans think greater access to news sources is making it harder to stay informed: 58 percent of Americans said the proliferation of news sources makes it harder to stay informed (Nieman Lab)

UP FOR DEBATE’s publication of allegations against Aziz Ansari shows a lack of understanding about the nuances of reporting on sexual misconduct (Jezebel)
Over the weekend, published the details of an encounter between an anonymous woman “Grace” and actor Aziz Ansari, saying that Ansari coerced “Grace” into a sexual encounter that was “well beyond her boundaries.” While the story is newsworthy given Ansari’s public claims of feminism, Jezebel’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd argues that it also shows a misunderstanding of how to report on sexual misconduct. “Because of the amateurish way the Babe report was handled … and the way it was written with an almost prurient and unnecessarily macabre interest in the minute details of their interaction,” she argues, “it left the subject open to further attacks, the kind that are entirely, exhaustingly predictable. … At its core, Babe’s piece about Grace is important, but the inexperience evident in the execution of the piece did a disservice to the topic — and it’s a shame, because its execution obscures an extremely valuable, timely conversation at a time when it seems finally possible to have it in a public forum.”

+ is a year-old women’s news and lifestyle site that targets women between 18 and 24, largely funded by News Corp. (The Cut); After criticisms of its Ansari story, editor Joshi Herrmann defended the story: “It’s newsworthy because of who he is and what he has said in his standup, what he has written in his book, what he has proclaimed on late night TV. Her account is pointing out a striking tension between those things and the way she says he treated her in private” (CNN Media)


What does the tax bill mean for donations to nonprofit news organizations? (Nieman Lab)
Though there are many unanswered questions about what the tax bill means for nonprofit news organizations, one of the most pressing is what impact the bill will have on readers’ willingness to donate. The new tax law doubles the standard deduction to $24,000 for those filing jointly and $12,000 for single filers. That lowers taxes for many Americans, but it also may reduce the attractiveness of charitable tax deductions. “Like a lot of people, I’m still in a wait-and-see mode,” Texas Tribune’s chief development officer Terry Quinn tells Nieman Lab. “But we don’t expect to see any dramatic changes in 2018. … For us, it’s rare that someone cites the tax deductibility as a reason for giving.”

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