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Need to Know: Sept. 27, 2017

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


You might have heard: The Los Angeles Times recently surpassed 100,000 digital subscribers, “quietly [assuming] the leadership in digital subscriptions among regional dailies” (The Street)

But did you know: The Washington Post now has more than 1 million digital subscribers, publisher Fred Ryan says (CNN Media)
In an internal memo on Tuesday, Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan said that the Post passed the mark of 1 million digital subscribers earlier this year. The number of digital subscribers is not a number the Post has disclosed before, Brian Stelter reports. That number puts the Post just behind The Wall Street Journal’s 1.27 million digital subscribers. In the memo, Ryan says the Post has seen “especially impressive growth in our digital subscription base among millennials as they have grown accustomed to paying for products and services they view as valuable and even essential.”

+ Noted: Twitter is expanding its character limit from 140 to 280 characters, testing the longer tweets with a subset of users (Ad Age); A Facebook spokesperson couldn’t yet say whether Russians bought election ads in France and Germany, but emphasized Facebook’s work removing fake accounts (BuzzFeed News); Axios is holding off on launching its high-end subscription product for now, instead focusing “our resources on building our brand” (Digiday); Vox names Lauren Williams editor-in-chief as Ezra Klein moves to editor-at-large, focusing more on overall strategy and reporting (Vox); Hearst is said to be the leading contender to buy Rodale, publisher of Women’s Health, Men’s Health and Runner’s World (WWD)


What news organizations can learn from membership organizations outside of news (Membership Puzzle Project)
“What do Burning Man, Bitcoin investors, and churches have in common? They’re all among the organizations we’re seeking out for our analogous research in spaces beyond news,” Membership Puzzle Project’s Ruth Tupe writes. Tupe explores what news organizations trying to strengthen their own membership programs can learn from membership organizations outside of journalism. Some lessons: “Free trials” are more effective if they show a potential member what the benefits are, successful communities give members a sense of belonging, and many membership organizations are flexible about about membership commitment and options based on members’ needs.

+ “Developing and popularizing useful and attractive new formats could make news stories more recognizable when aggregated and consumed on other platforms, and provide more compelling reasons for people to visit the source sites and apps” (BBC News Labs)


Lessons from European newsrooms’ digital experiments: Remember what makes you you, and don’t try too hard to be cool (Nieman Lab)
A new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism examines how and why newsrooms in six European countries are experimenting with digital news products. Some takeaways from the report for other newsrooms: Maintain your voice and tone while trying to reach younger audiences and don’t lose sight of what values are important to your organization, and some indirect benefits of taking on a new digital product can be building a reputation as being innovative and fostering change in your organization to support innovation.

+ Financial Times warns advertisers that it found “display ads against inventory masquerading as on 10 separate ad exchanges and video ads on 15 exchanges”: FT estimates that the value of the fraudulent ad inventory is worth as much as $1.3 million per month (Digiday)


Streaming is now the majority of music revenue in the US, and most streaming revenue is driven through subscriptions (Axios)
According to a new Recording Industry Association of America report, the music industry in the U.S. has successfully shifted to a subscription-based model. The RIAA report shows that the majority of music revenue in the U.S. comes from streaming — and the majority of streaming revenue in the U.S. comes from subscription services such as Spotify and Apple Music. “Whereas news publishers and legacy media outlets have struggled to create direct-to-consumer relationships on mobile, the music industry has revolutionized them, and consumers are clearly willing to pay for that premium experience,” Sara Fischer writes.


It’s worthwhile to do video right — but not in the way we’ve seen it in the ‘pivot to video’ (CJR)
“Publishers must acknowledge the pivot to video has failed, find out why, and set about to fix the reckless pivots so that publishers focus on good video,” Heidi N. Moore argues in CJR. “Video has a bright future in digital journalism. That’s why it’s worthwhile to do it right, invest resources in good equipment and production, and focus on original content. Instead, too many publishers are resorting to video as a flashy distraction from deeper underlying problems: falling digital advertising, the expense of creating good journalism, and the existential threat to journalism’s business model itself. In the face of these challenges, you need a smart strategy that diversifies streams of traffic. The biggest problem with the pivot to video is that it’s not well-considered strategy. Instead, it’s been born of desperation. Video deserves better, and so does journalism.”

+ Related “pivot to video” news: As Jann Wenner puts Rolling Stone on the market, the magazine’s pitch to investors is cutting its editorial budget, converting the biweekly magazine to monthly, and focus on producing video (Vanity Fair)


‘Will more than 2 percent of digital readers ever pay for news?’ (Nieman Lab)
Digital subscriptions today live in two very different worlds, Ken Doctor writes: There’s the NYTs and WSJs, national and global news organizations that have built robust digital subscription strategies and have enjoyed “Trump bumps” in the past year. Then there’s regional news organizations, who have struggled to find success. No matter the news organization, though, Doctor says they’re seeing similar numbers: “At most, 1 or 2 percent of those mammoth monthly-unique audience numbers they report will actually pay for a digital subscription.” Does that mean reader revenue is stalled? Doctor examines new initiatives from startups such as Scroll and Blendle, Facebook’s planned subscription service, and niches as a way to build subscriptions, and suggests some ideas as to what’s stopping readers from paying for news.

+ A survey conducted by Morning Consult finds that many Americans are annoyed by online ads, but would rather endure the ads than pay for an ad-free service: 67 percent of consumers in the U.S. said they aren’t willing to pay more for a service without ads (Morning Consult)

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