Need to Know: April 10, 2019

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


You might have heard: The use of voice assistants is growing rapidly, but news consumption on these devices is lower than might be expected, with users “underwhelmed” by short news briefings that are mostly reversioned from radio or print (Reuters Institute)

But did you know: Amazon Alexa will provide detailed news readings in the U.S. (Engadget)

When asked for the day’s news, voice assistants have delivered the headlines or brief summaries. But yesterday Amazon announced it’s rolling out a new feature for Alexa that provides long-form news from Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, Newsy and NPR. Ask Alexa to “tell me the news” or to “play news” from a specific outlet and users will get detailed audio from all providers, and video from CNBC and Newsy. It’s also possible to skip stories. “It’s a welcome (and arguably overdue) update,” writes Jon Fingas. “Many people complain that the news is reduced to soundbites. This gives you a chance to explore the news in those moments when you can’t pull out your phone or turn on a TV.”

+ The Amazon announcement provides more hope for “radio” in the home, a place where it’s lost significant ground to podcasts, particularly for Millennials, writes Joshua Benton. In 2018, only 50 percent of Millennial households had a radio. (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: When local newspapers shrink, fewer people bother to run for mayor (Nieman Lab); AP to fact-check video, Spanish-language content on Facebook (AP); More than 30 media companies have unionized in the past two years (Axios)


How The Post and Courier used a ‘mini-publisher’ approach to create new revenue streams (Better News)

Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., created cross-disciplinary teams across the company — spanning the newsroom and the sales/marketing side — to launch new products in specific content areas like food, politics and real estate. The initiative resulted in nearly $900,000 in new product revenue and, in the past two years, an increase in digital subscriptions by 250 percent. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

+ Related: “We had to be relentlessly interesting, and we weren’t” — a closer look at how turning away from page views and publishing fewer stories per day helped The Post and Courier grow its digital subscriptions by 250 percent (Poynter)


How The Wall Street Journal is refocusing the comments to incentivize better behavior (Nieman Lab)

After five months of audience research and news product development, The Wall Street Journal this week is implementing changes to its comment section aimed at improving discourse on the platform and helping the newsroom incorporate more audience insights into its reporting. “We realized we could use our resources better if we picked articles each day for audience conversation, listed them openly for the audience to find and had our moderators spend more time finding great comments and story leads and bringing those into our journalism,” writes Louise Story, the Journal’s editor of newsroom strategy and interim chief technology and product officer. “In fact, we have reframed the approach so much, that we are not calling our team ‘moderators’; instead, we are calling them ‘audience voice reporters.’ They will report on the audience conversation.”

+ Related: Here’s some useful language for explaining your comment policy in a way that promotes civility (Trusting News), as well as our full collection of resources for managing comments (Better News)


How Swiss news publisher NZZ uses newsletters to increase paid subscriptions (Digiday)

Swiss news publisher Neue Zürcher Zeitung is betting on email newsletters as one of the most effective ways to drive registrations and, ultimately, subscribers so it can hit its goal of 200,000 paying readers by 2022. The publisher’s analytics team has found that section newsletters such as “Economics” or “Digital” work best to convert readers into subscribers. The team also found that there is a positive correlation between the number of newsletters users subscribe to and their engagement score, which is measured using criteria like recency, frequency and number of articles read per visit. Those criteria are also used to calculate each user’s propensity to subscribe, which NZZ uses to inform reader revenue experiments. For one experiment, it’s showing readers with a propensity score in the top 20 percent the subscription prompt on their very next visit rather than later on. According to the publisher, this has helped increase conversion by more than 80 percent.

+ Related: Beyond email: Other tactics to drive users to subscription offers  

+ Meet the people fact-checking the election (Israel’s) that makes 2016 look like a walk in the park (BuzzFeed News)


How great managers support, inspire and guide their newsrooms (Medium, We Are Hearken)

As newsrooms shrink and layoffs abound, having managers who can effectively make space for significant work is essential, writes Bridget Thoreson. Thoreson spoke with newsroom leaders identified by others in the field as great managers for their perspective on leadership values. All of them said they view management as a service job, focused on lifting employees up rather than dictating down. “Your job is really to be a super good listener, and empathetic, and be working as hard as you can to help individual people (as well as a group) succeed,” said Rebekah Monson, co-founder and COO of local media company WhereBy.Us. In practice, that means clear communication, transparency and built-in feedback loops (like weekly meetings or dedicated Slack channels) that managers can use to tailor their approach to individual employees. It also means acknowledging when it’s time to have a difficult conversation. “You can tell it with total respect, and be very honest and upfront, and people appreciate honesty,” said George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “The quicker you see the problem and deal with it, the easier it is to deal with it.”


Facebook is asking to be regulated but wants to choose how (The Guardian)

Now that government regulation of tech companies like Facebook and Google is no longer a question of “whether” but “how,” leaders of those companies are eagerly making suggestions — proposing terms that will very much align with their own goals and priorities, writes Emily Bell. Their ideas are appearing in a range of platforms, from paid-for articles and op-eds in legacy newspapers to journalism conference tours and assorted media initiatives. “What we are seeing from both Facebook and Google is an epic public relations push to become champions of regulation while avoiding the imposition of rules that would damage their operating profits too much,” writes Bell.


Scrappy Brooklyn news site ventures into print(Columbia Journalism Review)

Sensing an opportunity to capture local advertisers, hyperlocal news site Bklyner began compiling some of its best articles in print and publishing a monthly edition. Editor Liena Zagare says she discovered that many Brooklyn businesses had found hyperlocal targeting on Facebook difficult and prohibitively expensive. So she approached them — the family-owned food market, the local pharmacy, an interior designer — with ad placements priced as low as $100, and they bit. Bklyner’s first print run was 10,000 copies. Do the ad sales make up for the cost of putting out the paper? “It depends how you count,” Zagare says, with a laugh. But a fresh revenue stream was not the only goal. Just as important was raising Bklyner’s brand awareness and getting stories out to the community that might otherwise be missed online. “This is a cross check,” Zagare says. “Like, ‘Did you get every story? Did you miss the big ones?’”

+ Earlier: Trust and transparency could bring ad dollars back to local news (Editor & Publisher)