Need to Know: April 12, 2021

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


You might have heard: With a Swiss billionaire, a Maryland hotel magnate made a $680 million bid for Tribune Publishing earlier this month (The Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: Billionaires are winning plaudits by funding the Fourth Estate (The New York Times)

In recent years, the journalism industry has seen a trend of wealthy community members buying their local newspaper. The Salt Lake Tribune, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Berkshire Eagle in Massachusetts all have been purchased by local owners in the last seven years. Hedge funds like Alden Global Capital expect as much as 20% revenue from their publications, making hefty newsroom cuts to achieve that goal; while billionaire owners can avoid drastic cuts and help newspapers stay afloat with the expectation that they break even. In some cases, after obtaining local ownership, for-profit papers have shifted their business model or structure, with The Salt Lake Tribune going on to become a nonprofit, and The Philadelphia Inquirer falling under the ownership of the nonprofit Lenfest Institute.

+ Earlier: Being owned by a billionaire is a struggling newsroom’s dream, but it doesn’t always go well (CNN)

+ Noted: Fox News hired former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a contributor (Politico); The Washington Post is opening hubs for breaking news in London and Seoul, South Korea (Press Gazette)


7 ways to get your COVID-19 reporting to those who need it

How can you make sure essential information is getting to those who need it most — particularly those who don’t regularly turn to you for news? Fiona Morgan outlines several creative tactics for reaching vulnerable audiences in a (still) physically-distanced world, including sending your reporting to community stakeholders, joining local groups on Facebook or Nextdoor, and partnering with local radio stations.


What we can learn from The Wall Street Journal’s shelved content review (The New York Times)

Last July, a Wall Street Journal team finished a year-long effort to study the paper’s content in a report that was not implemented or shared with most of its newsroom. As the newspaper faced pressure to double its readership, the team offered a blueprint to adapt to the digital age and the cultural moment. The study emphasized the importance of becoming audience-focused and focusing less on its core, business-focused readers. The team suggested growth could be found by reaching women, people of color and young professionals, but connecting with them would require a shift to diversify its coverage. Out of 108 lead stories published in the Journal during a three-month period, only one covered race, and none focused on gender or LGBTQ issues.

+ Related: About two dozen current and former staff members told The New York Times that an impasse over the report divided the Journal’s newsroom (The New York Times)


The pandemic opened newsrooms to journalists with disabilities (

During the past year, journalism’s shift to remote work has presented an opportunity to journalists with disabilities who have been unable to access newsrooms, public transportation and on-site reporting in the past. Trainings with Ability Today’s Academy for Disabled Journalists in the United Kingdom have also moved online, making attendance less of a struggle for disabled journalists. Ability Today also provides disabled journalists with Braille materials and other resources.

+ Look for news holes and other tips for covering COVID-19 vaccination efforts (International Center for Journalists)


Google blocks advertisers from targeting Black Lives Matter videos on YouTube (The Markup)

An investigation from The Markup found that advertisers can’t use social justice terms, like Black Lives Matter, to identify YouTube videos and channels where they could advertise. However, Google’s ad platform, Google Ads, allows advertisers to identify potential advertising opportunities based on terms associated with hate speech or white supremacy. In one example of this disjointed approach, Google Ads blocks the term “Black power,” a phrase that grew out of the civil rights movement, but not “white power,” which is a white supremacist phrase.

+ Facebook is adding labels to satire pages (The Verge); Most social media platforms haven’t grown significantly since 2019 (Pew Research Center)


The deceit and conflict behind the leak of the Pentagon Papers (The New Yorker)

Fifty years ago, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan, a New York Times reporter, but recently revealed details indicate that the whistleblower was deceived as he sought to expose the massive report, which outlined a secret history of the Vietnam War. Before approaching the Times, Ellsberg gave left-wing think tank Institute for Policy Studies more than 1,000 pages of the Panama Papers. The founder and a staffer of the organization gave the pages to Sheehan without telling Ellsberg, then encouraged the whistleblower to give the full report to the journalist. The newspaper deceived Ellsberg about its intentions to publish the papers, and after the whistleblower asked Sheehan not to copy the papers, the reporter did so anyway without telling his source.


Mel Magazine reinvented men’s media, and now it’s hoping for a second act (Nieman Lab)

Since 2015, Mel Magazine was funded by Dollar Shave Club, but last month the company announced that the unusual partnership was ending, leaving 23 staffers without jobs. Hilarious and delightfully absurd, Mel had about 4 million visitors per month during 2020, and unlike most for-profit publications, it didn’t run ads. Editor-in-chief Josh Schollmeyer said that the publication received 40 investment inquiries within a few days of its hiatus, fueling hope that the pause will be temporary. Schollmeyer believes the right investor is out there, “but it’s paramount that we don’t come back as like, a new sneakerhead website or something.”