Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: Oct. 16, 2017

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


You might have heard: The New York Times released updated social media guidelines for its journalists on Friday that “underscore our newsroom’s appreciation for the important role social media now plays in our journalism, but also call for our journalists to take extra care to avoid expressing partisan opinions or editorializing on issues that The Times is covering” (New York Times)

But did you know: A potential side effect of NYT’s new social media policy is that reporters will self-censor themselves, providing ‘the trolls with a roadmap’ (Splinter News)
At the crux of NYT’s new social media guidelines is the goal of appearing unbiased and “playing it down the middle,” David Uberti writes, trying to satisfy the paper’s right-wing critics. “It’s in trying to satisfy this imagined audience that the Times provides the trolls with a roadmap for diving into journalists’ social feeds in hopes of finding any passing thought that might cross one of these new lines,” he argues. “One potential outcome is that reporters will engage in self-censorship to avoid trouble, perhaps diluting their work for the rest of us. Another is that Baquet, who said he was tired of spending ‘full days policing our social media,’ will find himself playing the role of schoolyard cop even more.”

+ Nieman Lab rounds up social media reactions to the new guidelines here (Nieman Lab): “If you forbid journalists from ‘taking sides’ in political disputes, you’re also forbidding them from telling the truth when they see it,” Vox’s Carlos Maza tweeted in criticism of the policy (@gaywonk, Twitter); “I think a lot of these are reasonable and enunciate things that most of us already keep in mind,” NYT’s Mike Isaac tweeted in support (@mikeisaac, Twitter)

+ Noted: Washington City Paper is put up for sale (Washingtonian); OC Weekly editor in chief Gustavo Arellano says he chose to quit the newspaper instead of laying off half of the alt weekly’s staff (Orange County Register); Four female journalists filed an equal pay lawsuit against the Detroit Free Press, arguing that there’s significant pay differences between male and female employees at the paper (WXYZ); Vox Media will start selling branded content in “explainer” form to advertisers (Wall Street Journal); Facebook has opened up its Stories form to pages, allowing publishers to post to the feature (TechCrunch)


Welcome API’s research fellow Tracy Cook: Gauging digital subscription prices of US newspapers
We’re excited to welcome Tracy Cook as a research fellow to API. Tracy will be studying how newsrooms price subscription products, establishing a baseline knowledge of digital news subscription pricing. Tracy is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. If you have any ideas related to her project, you can reach her by email at


New research shows that stories with positive images get clicked and shared more (Taylor & Francis Online)
New research from Oglethorpe University, the University of Georgia and the University of Kansas finds that posts on social media containing positive images are both clicked on and shared more often than posts with negative images. “The results suggest higher levels of emotion, higher intention to share, and higher intention to click when participants viewed positive images, compared to posts with no images, the ensuing emotional arousal, and the social sharing it prompts,” the report’s authors write. That stands in contrast, the authors say, to previous research that suggested negative emotions and events fueled sharing on social media.


Revenue from readers accounts for 30 percent of total digital revenue for publishers worldwide, WAN-IFRA finds (WAN-IFRA)
In its latest World Press Trends report, WAN-IFRA found that reader revenue accounts for 30 percent of total digital revenue for publishers worldwide. That share of digital revenue is expected to grow, the report says, but at a slower rate. The report also finds that there’s some regional differences in loyal readers who directly visit a news site: “Almost all the major markets that have more than 50 percent direct traffic are European, with Slovenia and Switzerland at well over 60 percent. … Some of the lowest scoring countries in terms of direct traffic include South American regions like Peru and Bolivia, as well as Asian ones like Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea. Ireland, the UK and Russia are the only countries in Europe with 25 percent or less direct traffic.”

+ “In this environment, publishers are also trying to wrest the digital revenue that has mostly gone to Facebook and Google. The World Press Trends report cites several examples of formal alliances between otherwise competing publishers around digital advertising” (Nieman Lab)

+ The University of Toronto’s student newspaper is launching a Chinese-language edition, trying to better reach the university’s 10,000 Chinese students (J-Source)


The common writing adage ‘show, don’t tell’ is inherently political (Uncanny Magazine)
“Look at the literary fiction techniques that are supposedly the hallmarks of good writing: Nearly all of them rely not on what was said, but on what is left unsaid,” Cecilia Tan writes on why the writing advice “show, don’t tell” is inherently political. “[These techniques] rely on a shared pool of knowledge and cultural assumptions so that the words left unsaid are powerfully communicated. I am not saying this is not a worthwhile experience as reader or writer, but I am saying anointing it the pinnacle of ‘craft’ leaves out any voice, genre, or experience that falls outside the status quo. The inverse is also true, then: writing about any experience that is ‘foreign’ to that body of shared knowledge is too often deemed less worthy because to make it understandable to the mainstream takes a lot of explanation. Which we’ve been taught is bad writing!”

+ “When it comes to equality in U.S. companies, women see a work in progress, while men view it as mission accomplished” (Wall Street Journal)


Facebook is creating a fake ‘demand’ for video, Matt Navarra argues (Matt Navarra, Medium)
“Video only looks so popular because Facebook’s algorithm is making it that way. It intentionally prioritises and shows us all more and more video so there is a corresponding meteoric rise in video views,” Matt Navarra writes on how Facebook is creating a fake “demand” for video. “It’s not so much people demanding or liking videos more now than ever before, it’s Facebook forcing it upon people in their news feed, which has led to publishers feeling obliged and under pressure to produce more of it. And at a very high price. … Those publishers without the tools and resources to serve Facebook’s current video strategy are going to struggle. Some publishers will no doubt plough cash into paid social to boost posts more and more often in a desperate attempt to fill the void of the evaporating organic reach they once were gifted by Facebook.”

+ Facebook’s head of news Adam Mosseri responded via Twitter: “We don’t actually boost video, we try and connect people w/ what matters to them. Boosting is bad business as people would use FB less.” (@mosseri, Twitter)


‘In Philadelphia, buyout offers show digital transformation is still a bloody business’ (Poynter)
Last week, Philadelphia Media Network began offering buyouts, aiming to cut between 30 and 35 people from the newsroom. At the same time, PMN is hiring at least 10 new digital staffers. “For a newsroom that recently went through reorganization, got a new ownership structure and was awarded $1 million for ambitious projects, it’s a tough reminder that attempting digital transformation doesn’t make a newsroom or the people who work there safe,” Kristen Hare writes. “Journalists are getting mixed messages in the process of digital transformation … On one hand, the work is urgent, and if you’re not on board, the train will leave without you. On the other hand, the process is taking a really long time.”

+ Can you moderate Facebook comments for hate speech? NYT has a new quiz, testing whether people can tell what comments Facebook would remove (New York Times)

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 »