Need to Know: April 1, 2020


You might have heard: Local news outlets drop paywalls for pandemic stories, but gain digital subscribers anyway (Medill Local News Initiative)

But did you know: McClatchy puts coronavirus paywalls back up (Axios)

As reporting around the pandemic begins its slow shift from breaking news and utility journalism, McClatchy says it will begin to put some of that content back behind its paywalls — although it’s leaving the article-by-article decisions up to editors at each of its 30 local publications nationwide. The company gained 10,200 subscriptions in March, even with the paywall down. But Vice President of News Kristin Roberts said the company is still missing opportunities to convert “drive-by readers” into subscribers, and that the subscriptions gained so far don’t make up for the drop in per-page view (programmatic) revenue.

+ Noted: Lee Enterprises announces pay cuts and furloughs (Poynter); Substack is donating $100,000 in grants to independent writers who are experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic (Substack); Here are some other funding opportunities available to journalists who are struggling due to COVID-19 (Twitter, @pressfreedom)


Trust Tip: Don’t let political squabbles dominate COVID-19 coverage

Many news organizations depend on national political stories provided by wire services or their own ownership groups. But as communities across the U.S. grapple with the pandemic, “Highlighting stories that play the ‘blame game’ or focus on red vs. blue could increase the complaints of bias and be distracting for users,” writes Lynn Walsh. This week’s edition of Trust Tips suggests ways to rethink placement and amplification of national stories that focus on political in-fighting, and instead emphasize reporting that helps people make decisions to ensure their safety and wellbeing during this crisis. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 


How KPCC is staying on top of audience members’ coronavirus questions (Google Docs)

Public radio station KPCC has created a workflow document showing how its reporters and editors respond to questions from audience members as they come in. The template is especially useful for any newsroom looking to solicit and respond to questions about the pandemic.


European publishers brace for subscriber churn once recession takes hold (Digiday)

In the midst of a coronavirus-driven subscriptions spike, European publishers are already bracing for high churn as the global economy enters a recession that could be worse than in 2009. “In general, the churn is now lower than usual,” said Tor Jacobsen, SVP of consumer business at Norway’s Schibsted. “In the list of the reasons why people are churning, ‘I lost my job’ is in the top 20, so it’s still very low. But we need to follow it. It’s not a huge problem right now, but it could be in one or two months.” One of Schibsted’s most successful strategies for preventing churn is allowing subscribers to choose which editors they want to hear from in their email newsletters.

+ News Corp to suspend print editions of 60 local newspapers across Australia as advertising revenue slumps (The Guardian)


How to report on the digital divide and COVID-19 (Free Press)

With so many of Americans’ essential daily activities — work, school, entertainment — now revolving around an internet connection, the digital divide in the U.S. has become more visible than ever. Reporters covering education, labor and other local issues are seeing how it impacts their beats, and they should be working to tell their communities’ stories about digital inequities. Free Press offers an explainer on the digital divide for reporters beginning to address this issue in their coverage, as well as questions they can ask local officials about what they’re doing to provide affordable and accessible internet to those in need.


People read a lot of COVID news — but it won’t save the media (Wired)

It’s not just because the subscriptions boom won’t make up for the loss of advertising revenue — it’s also because journalism, as a public good, has always been vulnerable to market failure. “The price we pay for news and the price advertisers pay to reach news consumers doesn’t reflect the news’ full economic value,” writes Philip Napoli. Right now, “Every story that informs readers that social distancing is important even for young people; or that air purifiers are not an effective way to protect oneself from the coronavirus, helps reduce the social costs of this pandemic.” But in making coronavirus coverage available for free, as most news organizations have done in keeping with their public-service mission, the industry is susceptible to failure.

+ Related: As publisher traffic continues to surge, local news sees an 89% boost (What’s New in Publishing)


WRAL-TV’s new podcast is betting that transparency builds loyalty (Cronkite News Lab)

The podcast pulls back the curtain on the Raleigh station’s day-to-day decisions concerning its coronavirus coverage. It also explores the “story behind the story,” digging into the station’s reporting around controversial issues. Shelly Leslie, general manager of audience development, hopes the podcast helps differentiate local news and straightforward journalism from opinionated prime-time cable news fare. “I think local journalists are getting lumped in with cable news. And I think it’s a crime … to get lumped in that way. And I think [the podcast is] a stake in the ground to say, ‘No, that’s not what is happening at WRAL-TV.’”