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Need to Know: Nov. 20, 2017

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


You might have heard: Last week, Mashable sold to Ziff Davis for $50 million, about $200 million less than it was valued at a year prior (TechCrunch), while WSJ reported that BuzzFeed and Vice will both miss their revenue targets for 2017 (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: ‘We’re in the midst of a digital news media crash’ (Talking Points Memo)
“We’re actually in the midst of a digital news media crash, only no one is willing to say it,” Josh Marshall argues. “I’ve noted before that digital news media in the midst of a monetization crisis. But it’s more than that. It’s a full blown crash.” Marshall explains the factors leading to this crash: There are simply too many digital publications, Google and Facebook dominate ad revenue, and a huge amount of digital media is funded by venture capital on the premise that scale will create sustainable business models. “This doesn’t mean BuzzFeed’s about to go under,” Marshall writes. “The point is that investors are realizing that scale cannot replicate the kind of business model lock-in, price premiums and revenue stability people thought it would. Another way of putting that is that the future that VCs and other investors were investing hundreds of millions of dollars in probably doesn’t exist.”

+ “Rapid consolidation in every sector, but especially digital, shows how difficult it is for media companies to survive in an attention economy dominated by tech platforms,” Axios’ Sara Fischer writes. “Consolidation in flailing industries is expected, but most of these accounts have emerged in a matter of weeks. There’s no question that the media industry is facing unprecedented disruption at this moment.” (Axios)

+ “With ads tough to sell and new capital hard to raise, dreams of creating new digital behemoths have given way to a more realistic view that survival [for digital media companies] may hinge on being part of a larger company” (Bloomberg); Ken Doctor examines how right-leaning companies are buying journalism companies, creating bigger media companies and possibly moving the “alt-right ‘fake news’ assault … into a much more insidious phase” (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: After Roy Moore threatened the company with two lawsuits,’s publisher Alabama Media Group responds: “Your letter demands that retract and recant its prior stories and that it ‘cease and desist’ from any further reporting about your clients. hereby rejects your demand” (Washington Post); With their backing of Meredith’s offer for Time Inc., “the Kochs are inching closer to becoming media moguls” (New York Times); Potential buyers for Rolling Stone include Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg, music industry executive Irving Azoff, and trade publication publisher Jay Penske (Recode); Axios raises $20 million to fund a newsroom expansion that includes developing new coverage areas and expanding its data analysis (Wall Street Journal); The Chicago Tribune will leave its namesake tower in early 2018 (Chicago Tribune); An incident report shows that Greg Gianforte misled police after his assault of a Guardian reporter in May (Guardian); News Match adds four new foundation partners (Democracy Fund)


How to audit your website’s accessibility for people with disabilities (Poynter)
In August, two federal judges in New York said that the Americans with Disabilities Act is applicable to websites; in June, a federal judge in Florida ruled that Winn-Dixie “violated Title III of the ADA by having a website that was not useable by plaintiff … to download coupons, order prescriptions, and find store locations.” Melody Kramer writes that “this should be worrying news for journalism organizations, many of which have websites that are difficult for screen readers to navigate.” Kramer talks to Eric W. Bailey, a former digital designer for the Boston Globe who now works as a user experience designer, about how news organizations can evaluate how accessible their websites are and what steps they can make to make them more accessible for people with disabilities.


Trinity Mirror’s editor warns that the company is about to reveal an ‘embarrassing’ gender pay gap (The Guardian)
Trinity Mirror’s Lloyd Embley warned that the company is about to face deep job cuts if its deal to buy the Express and Star newspapers falls through — and he warned that the company is about to reveal an “embarrassing” gender pay gap. Asked how the pay gap would compare with the pay gap at the BBC revealed earlier this year, Embley said: “I think it is going to come out worse. Clearly it will be a bit embarrassing. … We have far more very senior people who are almost exclusively men and that throws [the figures] a lot — they get paid more.”

+ Early lessons from First Draft News’ CrossCheck project in France: Fact-checking journalism should not be viewed as competitive but as a public service, people felt that stories were more credible when multiple newsrooms collaborated on a story, and the process of working transparently resulted in higher-quality journalism (First Draft News)


If you’re trying to build a culture that will stick, the people in power need to adopt it first (Seth Godin)
“If you want to build a vibrant organizational culture, or govern with authority, or create a social dynamic that’s productive and fair, the simple rule is: the rules apply to people in power before they are applied to those without.” Seth Godin writes. “It’s easy to rationalize the alternative, to put yourself first. After all, you’ve somehow earned the authority to make an exception for yourself. But when we avoid that temptation and expose ourselves to the rules first, obey the rules first and make the sacrifices first, our culture is more likely to stick.”


Weeks after DNAinfo and Gothamist were shut down after their unionization efforts, Vox Media staffers say they are seeking to unionize (Business Insider)
Staff at Vox Media made their unionization efforts public on Friday, saying that their goals were to increase transparency and diversity, protect benefits in the case of future acquisitions, and ensure consistency in “titles, salaries, raises, and benefits.” Maxwell Tani writes that Vox Media has faced some criticism recently for some of its employment practices: Deadspin reported in August that SBNation paid managers of its fan networks small monthly stipends, for example.

+ Vox Media isn’t the only newsroom trying to unionize right now: The Los Angeles Times employees announced in October that they are forming a union with NewsGuild to secure higher pay, better benefits, and protections against changes by Tronc (New York Times)


A former under secretary of state explains how Russia used the same tactics in the 2016 election that it did in 2014 in Crimea (Politico Magazine)
Rick Stengel left Time magazine in 2013 to become under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. “What I saw Russia do online and in social media around this grave violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty [in 2014] was a revelation to me — and nothing short of a trial run for what they did to manipulate our presidential election in 2016,” Stengel says. “The annexation of Crimea, the soft invasion of eastern Ukraine and the social media tsunami around these events are all part of a long-term KGB military strategy known as ‘active measures’ — a bland term for the weaponization of information to achieve strategic goals. The idea goes back to Soviet days, but the modern tools of social media have made it far easier and more effective. After all, you don’t have to pay spies to plant false stories in American newspapers anymore — you can do it yourself from a troll farm in St. Petersburg. In short, ‘active measures’ seeks to create a world of ‘alternative facts.’”

+ “I led Facebook’s efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering,” former Facebook operations manager Sandy Parakilas writes. “What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia’s election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn’t allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won’t.” (New York Times)

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