Need to Know: April 15, 2019


You might have heard: Publishers sour on contributor networks, citing concerns over low-quality content (Digiday)

But did you know: Looking for more ways to engage audiences, publishers are beginning to turn their attention back to building ‘expert networks’ (Digiday)

Many news publishers are beginning to revive their contributor networks, creating new roles responsible for growing and managing these networks, reports Max Willens. While the roles may vary across organizations, their core responsibility is the same: Find influential people, bring them into a publisher’s orbit, and try to create a symbiotic relationship that allows both publisher and writer to benefit. “It’s a more sophisticated influencer strategy,” said Meena Thiruvengandam, an audience development consultant. “Rather than just overt marketing, this is about proving that people are really engaged with a product. Everybody’s moving toward engagement, conversation; everybody is asking, ‘How can we give value to our readers?’” Publishers like Quartz, the Washington Post and Axios invite experts to comment on news articles in dedicated products, like the Quartz app or the Washington Post’s brand studio. Because they may eventually be used as sources, contributors aren’t paid, so the offer is framed more as a brand-building opportunity than a paid gig. “It’s the same reason you’d want to moderate a panel or contribute to an article,” said Annie Granatstein, the head of WP BrandStudio.

+ Publishers such as The Information have discovered that smart commentary from impressive sources can be a great way to build a community that attracts subscribers (Digiday)

+ Noted: For many rural residents in U.S., local news media mostly don’t cover the area where they live (Pew Research Center); McClatchy could hire 10 reporters for the money it will spend to get Devin Nunes lawsuit dismissed, says Poynter’s Kelly McBride (Poynter); Eight media outlets are collaborating on a two-part series examining the deadliest wildfire in California history (McClatchy)


Charting the success of your audience engagement efforts (Agora Journalism Center)

The Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon and the Engagement Lab at Emerson College in Boston have come up with a useful tool for helping newsrooms document and reflect on their community engagement efforts and the impact they’re having. The “Reflective Practice Guide” identifies four types of engagement activities: network building, holding space for discussion, distributing ownership and “persistent input.” While much engagement work bleeds into two or more of these categories, the guide allows news organizations to distinctly plot their efforts on a chart, and track progress over time. With a list of guided questions tailored to each activity, it also serves as a useful “pulse-taking” mechanism for the different phases of an engagement project — as well as a great way to keep everyone focused on the long-term goals of the project. (And if anything is missing, users will quickly spot it in this guide.)

+ Related: How audience-centered journalism is moving The Tyler Loop closer to becoming fully sustainable (Lenfest Institute)


GDPR adoption still a work in progress  (Digiday)

It’s been a year since the roll-out of the General Data Protection Regulation, yet big questions still linger around what the right consent strategy looks like, if legitimate interest is enough to cover a business and whether more fines are coming. In an interview with Digiday, Giovanni Buttarelli, European Data Protection Supervisor, said media companies still have a long way to go to be fully complaint. “In 2017 we received a lot of declarations from businesses including Google, saying they were ready to respect it [GDPR]. But last May, the tsunami of privacy notices sent, often in obscure language, were clearly orientated to protect data controllers, not citizens.” Later, he added, “Better to embrace a new culture of data protection, which may require a short-term restriction of appetite to maximize revenues but, in the long term, will ensure trust and confidence among consumers and a business return.”


What media can learn from other member-driven movements (Membership Puzzle Project)

Organizations of different types have been experimenting with forms of membership and belonging — some for thousands of years. Researchers at the Membership Puzzle Project talked to various member-driven groups to get their insights into what makes for a successful, sustainable membership organization. One key takeaway: Inspiring membership-driven organizations are able to connect individuals’ passions to a shared larger purpose. Membership can’t just be about perks (although perks are nice) — it also has to be about tapping into members’ values and beliefs, their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, writes Emily Goligoski. Another point to consider: Membership organizations cannot scale beyond their ability to serve members. “In some cases we see organizations strategically limiting their growth to support members and ensure member value is not diluted. We think this has important ramifications for restoring the ‘human element’ to news.”


It’s not always easy to love the First Amendment (Columbia Journalism Review)

“The First Amendment, like a great party, seems to attract the least reputable people,” writes Sam Thielman. Among those who have tested the limit of our First Amendment freedoms are white supremacists, pornographers, conspiracy theorists, and leakers of classified government documents. One of the latter, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, made headlines last week after being arrested in Britain and is now facing charges related to hacking a government computer. While Assange has described himself as a journalist, many journalists have been careful to draw a distinction between his activities and theirs. “But journalists often walk a fine line between simply receiving leaks and going to lengths to search them out,” Thielman points out. “In reality, of course, we do want the kind of material that people like Manning brought Assange even if we’re not allowed to say so.” Like it or not, he argues, we should be on Assange’s side: “If the U.S. government can convict Julian Assange in a hacking conspiracy partly for receiving files over the internet … they can probably prosecute any of us for just about anything we do in the course of reporting.”

+ The word “mistress” is creeping back into our vocabulary. Should journalists stop using it? (Poynter)


If local journalism is ‘dying in plain sight,’ what are you going to do about it? (Medium, Trusting News)

The loss of news organizations across the country has been met largely with quiet resignation, writes Tim Lambert. “It sometimes feels like no one ever thinks about the ‘doomsday’ scenario, until a local media outlet is gone.” Lambert, a Trusting News coach, recently worked with a “newsroom on life support” to make an appeal to readers — a step that can also be taken by any newsroom, regardless of its financial health. Explain to readers the value of your coverage, he recommends. Explain why news costs money. Be honest and upfront about your financial situation. “Basically, define the situation, outlook and strategy  —  while emphasizing that journalism, first and foremost, is a public service.” Such messaging may not save the news industry, but “it’s a start to taking back journalism’s role in society. After all, if we don’t tell our stories, who will?”

+ Related: After the Fort Collins Coloradoan defended its paywall to readers, it began receiving fewer complaints — and more subscriptions (Medium, Trusting News)