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Need to Know: Oct. 23, 2017

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


You might have heard: Journalism has seen an influx of billionaire owners in recent years, such as Jeff Bezos at The Washington Post (The Atlantic) and Laurene Powell Jobs at The Atlantic (Recode)

But did you know: The Alaska Dispatch News’ sale is a cautionary tale about why journalism can’t be saved by billionaire owners (New Yorker)
Alice Rogoff, wife of Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein, purchased the Alaska Dispatch News in 2014, after spending 10 years as CFO at U.S. News & World Report. In August, ADN filed for bankruptcy protection, with filings saying that the newspaper was losing an average of $125,000 per week. “Of course, Rogoff’s debacle is emblematic of a much bigger financial crisis in American journalism. Even with the arrival of a handful of rich backers … the broader industry has failed to find a viable digital-news model as traditional forms of revenue … continue to evaporate like rain in the Sahara,” William D. Cohan writes. “But the Alice Rogoff saga is a reminder that sometimes deep pockets are not enough to save a local newspaper. Creating indispensable journalism — whether at the local or national level — is not without cost.”

+ Noted: After this month’s “Shitty Media Men” list (BuzzFeed News), Vox Media editorial director Lockhart Steele is fired after he “admitted [to] engaging in conduct that is inconsistent with our core values” (The Awl) and Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff says an investigation into the allegations against Steele are “ongoing” (Hollywood Reporter); BuzzFeed is also investigating anonymous allegations of harassment by its employees related to the list (Business Insider); BuzzFeed News reports that Facebook employees feel that the company is being used as a scapegoat for the outcome of the 2016 election and problems that were out of its control (BuzzFeed News); “Facebook’s security is like a ‘college campus,’ but they face threats like a ‘defense contractor’” (Boing Boing); Google says it will take a percentage of the fees for new subscriptions sold via its new subscriber targeting tools (Gizmodo)


‘Data isn’t magic, it’s what you do with it that counts’ (Mary Hamilton, Medium)
“There’s a tendency for news organizations (and a lot of other organizations) to get very excited and very suspicious around numbers,” Mary Hamilton writes on what she learned during her six years at The Guardian. “The flip side of that is that data isn’t sufficient to make improvements in how we work or what we do. The only thing that matters is the decisions we take in response to the numbers. …. It’s not just about putting numbers into the hands of editorial people   — it’s explicitly about getting them to change the way they make decisions, and to make them better. It’s a tool for enhancing journalistic instinct, and one of the reasons why we can be so cavalier about demonstrating it everywhere is that the commercial advantage it brings is not written on the screen. The advantage is in how we use it, and that’s a years-long project no other organization will be able to imitate.”

+ Learn more about effective ways to use analytics in your newsroom at Better News

+ Publishers are preparing for a “post-autoplay” world: “Now you’re seeing autoplay conversations where the assumption is that autoplay is a bad user experience. Autoplay sound on, where a lot of users are on mobile devices and don’t have their volume on, is oftentimes forcing through an experience that doesn’t best benefit the user. We’ve had a lot of success with autoplay volume off with close captioning. A lot of brands have leveraged it because it is a great experience with readers. It’s in line, and it’s not invasive,” The Washington Post’s VP of commercial product and innovation Jarrod Dicker says (Digiday)


Facebook is testing a radically different Explore feed in 6 countries, which could lead to the ‘biggest drop in Facebook organic reach we have ever seen’ (Filip Struhárik, Medium)
Facebook is testing a major change to its news feed in six countries, moving posts from publisher pages from the news feed to a the Explore feed, while the news feed is filled with posts from your friends and sponsored posts. Denník N’s Filip Struhárik says that publishers in countries that are part of the test have seen their reach drop by as much as two-thirds, and 60 of the largest Slovak media publishers have seen 4 times fewer interactions on Facebook since the test started. A Facebook spokesperson said this was just a regional test, but didn’t specify when the test would end. Struhárik reports that the test is being conducted in Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia.

+ Researchers found evidence that a network of 13,000 Twitter bots sent out pro-Brexit messages ahead of the EU vote, which were deleted or removed from Twitter after the vote (BuzzFeed News)

+ The BBC announces a five-year initiative to increase its use of machine learning to figure out what audiences want to watch (The Verge)


When traditionalism can help innovation (Knowledge@Wharton)
Research from Wharton management professor Laura Huang suggests that there’s times when “the old way of doing things” can actually help innovation. On the Knowledge@Wharton podcast, Huang discusses her study’s findings. “What we found was that diversity is a great thing in terms of generating ideas, having lots of different perspectives, lots of different opinions. People drawing from diverse experiences, diverse functions, things that they have done. But in terms of idea implementation, that functional diversity and experience-based diversity is not always going to be an asset,” Huang explains. “Traditionalism can actually be an asset in terms of implementing ideas, in terms of thinking about how diverse do we want teams to be in this thought process.”


New social media policies at NYT and WSJ won’t convince readers that they aren’t biased — and they’ll stop reporters from using the full power of social media to their advantage (CJR)
Both NYT and WSJ updated their social media policies in the last two weeks, with NYT reinforcing that reporters should not express any “partisan opinion” on social media and WSJ saying that some editors believe reporters “are spending too much time tweeting.” Mathew Ingram argues that these policies won’t have the desired effect: “The first downside of these kinds of policies is that they won’t actually achieve what publishers want them to achieve: Convincing readers their journalists aren’t biased. The second — and possibly even more important — drawback is they’ll prevent media outlets from using social media to its full potential. That could cause far more long-term harm than a rowdy tweet about Trump’s IQ or Cheeto-colored visage.”


Conditioned by other subscription services and motivated by Trump, Millennials are paying for news (Politico)
“As President Donald Trump wages daily war against the press, Millennials are subscribing to legacy news publications in record numbers — and at a growth rate, data suggests, far outpacing any other age group,” Jason Schwartz reports. News organizations from The New Yorker and The Atlantic to Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are all reporting that they’ve seen significant subscriber growth since the election, and Millennials are the strongest area of growth. Nic Newman, lead author on the Reuters Institute’s 2017 Digital News Report, says there’s two important factors at play: The first is that young people have been conditioned to pay for content through subscription services such as Netflix and Spotify, and the second is Trump. “The big boost we saw in subscriptions in the U.S. is driven by people on the left and younger people are more likely to be on the left. That is really a lot of what’s driving it: young people who don’t like Trump who subscribe to news organizations that they see as being a bulwark against him,” Newman says.

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