Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: Jan. 19, 2018

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


You might have heard: HuffPost’s network of unpaid contributors and bloggers were integral to its growth (Fortune): In 2016, HuffPost set the goal of reaching 1 million contributors from the 100,000 it currently had (Digiday)  

But did you know: HuffPost will phase out its unpaid contributor network (New York Times)
When HuffPost launched 13 years ago, it heavily relied on its network of unpaid contributors. Now, HuffPost will break from its roots and end that network of unpaid writers. “Certainly the environment where fake news is flourishing is one where it gets harder and harder to support the idea of a ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ kind of publishing platform,” editor Lydia Polgreen explains, saying that ending the network is in part to minimize unvetted stories and focus on quality reporting. In its place, HuffPost is launching two new sections: Opinion and Personal, sections that will feature first-person essays, and a mix of regular contributors and one-off guest writers.

+ The Outline reports on how contributors to these unpaid networks at HuffPost and other outlets sometimes accept payment from marketers to link to their clients’ products (The Outline)

+ Meanwhile, Tronc may be planning to launch a contributor network of its own (@mattdpearce, Twitter): In a presentation for the Needham Growth Conference, Tronc outlined its “path forward,” which includes shifting over time “to more audience-targeted, self distributed and cost-effective models” (Seeking Alpha)

+ Noted: Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn has been a defendant in two sexual harassment suits as an executive at two different corporations and faced questioning from colleagues about his “frat house behavior” over his career: Tronc says it’s investigating (NPR); Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher and editor in chief John R. Block refused to print an in-house criticism of its “reason as racism” editorial (The Incline); Google will make page speed a factor in its mobile searching ranking starting in July, saying that it will only affect pages that “deliver the slowest experience to users” (TechCrunch); Spotify is working with eight media companies, including BuzzFeed and Refinery29, to offer news and political coverage, trying to lure listeners away from Apple’s Podcast app (Bloomberg); The Florida Times-Union is laying off employees, at least 10 this week (WJXT); A new report examines the media landscape in Chicago and how people in different regions of Chicago feel about the news media (Center for Media Engagement)


The week in fact-checking
As part of our fact-checking journalism project, Jane Elizabeth and Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis and Daniel Funke highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. This week’s round-up includes whether “fake news” can really be outlawed, why Trump’s “fake news awards” make it harder to address misinformation, and why verifying a design’s authenticity is difficult.


Knowing your newsroom’s mission can help you say ‘no’ (Poynter)
“As many newsrooms are shifting what they do to attract audiences who will pay for and support that work,” Kristen Hare writes that it’s even more essential that newsrooms know when to say “no” to things that won’t advance their mission. Hare has some tips for knowing when to say “no”: Consider what you won’t have time to do if you take on something new, think about how it will benefit your audience, and know how this will fit into your newsroom’s mission.


How Facebook’s news feed changes are related to its ‘China problem’ (Wolfgang Blau, Medium)
Facebook has a “China problem,” Wolfgang Blau writes: If Facebook wants to expand its user base in China (or Russia or Turkey), it’s not in its best interest in invest in journalism. “Wrapping too much journalism around your brand is a mistake for any platform hoping to still make it into China, which is one of Mark Zuckerberg’s great ambitions,” Blau writes. “Why own publishing companies also or become a publisher yourself when you have the best publishers’ content and ‘brand-halo’ for free on your own properties, even in a now downgraded newsfeed?”

+ Asian publishers’ perspective on the news feed changes: “Facebook has become an important platform for most publishers, but as South China Morning Post grows in global reach and engagement, we have been investing in many distribution channels,” South China Morning Post CEO Gary Liu says. “Relying on single platforms is critically short-sighted, and our commitment to a multi-channel approach means that we’ve mitigated that risk” (Mumbrella Asia)

+ More on Facebook’s news feed changes: “Now Facebook is in something of a pickle. It has too much attention  —  and not of the good kind. It can’t possibly figure out how to best parse that attention for each of us. It’s not fair to even expect it to” (NewCo Shift); Tips for how publishers can deal with the changes include focusing on the quality of users instead of quantity, creating newsletters that link to your content, and focus your resources on what makes your newsroom different (News Entrepreneurs); Social publisher NowThis brought back its website after going all-in on social three years ago, but says the decision was made before Facebook announced the news feed changes (Business Insider)


What makes up an effective onboarding email? They’re action-oriented and anticipate the user’s needs (MarTech Today)
Onboarding emails can make or break a product, SparkPost’s Brent Sleeper writes. Sleeper offers 5 “rules” for effective onboarding emails for users: Emails should be direct and action-oriented, good onboarding is always empathetic, emails should anticipate the user’s needs, emails should encourage the user to accomplish something tangible, and the best onboarding messages work within a user’s own timeframe.


Media companies should take a cue from Amazon and open an HQ2 outside of NYC or DC (Nieman Lab)
As Amazon announced 20 locations are finalists for its HQ2 on Thursday, Joshua Benton argues that the company has the right idea: Keep your HQ at the industry’s center, but open up a second HQ somewhere else. Besides the fact that NYC and DC are expensive areas, Benton argues that having a second HQ can make open a news organization up to new talent, improve your journalism and even improve your trust with readers. “Some portion of these goals can be met by being more open to remote work,” he writes, “[But] people like having colleagues, and it’s hard for a spread-out collection of individual employees to serve as a significant counterweight to the culture of the New York office.”

+ The New York Times turned its editorial page over to Trump supporters on Thursday and ran a full page of letters of support for the president, a decision that sparked debate on “giving disproportionate space to the supporters of a president with historically low approval ratings” (Washington Post)


Los Angeles is facing a collapse of its daily newspapers, but radio is helping to fill the reporting void (Nieman Lab)
There’s a major journalistic crisis happening in Los Angeles, Ken Doctor writes: Three years ago, L.A. had five major daily newspaper companies; today it has two. And both of those companies, Tronc’s Los Angeles Times and DFM’s Los Angeles News Group, are in turmoil. This week, Los Angeles News Group said it would lay off more than 65 people from its 11 local daily newspapers, while Los Angeles Times employees are trying to unionize amidst instability at Tronc. But as the area has lost local newspapers, radio stations are becoming a more important part of the local news landscape in L.A.: “[Public radio station] KPCC is a pretty important part of this local news scene now because, they will cover some government institutions, and they’ll just cover some news that isn’t going to go viral on the web. It just needs to be covered,” LAObserved publisher Kevin Roderick says.


+ “Reading the Awl and the Hairpin, and then working with the people that ran them, had actually convinced me that the Internet was silly, fun, generative, and honest. They all knew otherwise, but they staved off the inevitable for a good long while,” Jia Tolentino writes on her time writing for the sites (New Yorker)

+ A conversation between two of the most notable whistleblowers, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden, on the personal cost of their decisions and whether they’d advise people to follow in their footsteps (Guardian)

+ Incoming BuzzFeed News global women’s rights and gender reporter Nishita Jha explains her plans to ramp up the site’s gender coverage: “One thing that excited me about BuzzFeed News was their approach to coverage: There’s no mandate on how many stories on a certain topic a reporter has to cover, rather, it’s the reporter’s job to find interesting stories that will have an impact in the world or that would otherwise go untold, and then tell them in a compelling way for our readers. Broadly speaking, I’d love to do as much work as possible on climate change, health, the refugee crisis, the intersection of technology and gender … I could go on.” (CJR)

+ WhatsApp is creating a serious misinformation problem in Brazil: Incorrect stories can spread quickly on the messaging app (which is owned by Facebook), but it’s hard to quantify the size of the problem since WhatsApp is a closed, peer-to-peer messaging service (Vice News)

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 »