Need to Know: April 20, 2020

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


You might have heard: Coronavirus crisis hastens the collapse of local newspapers (Los Angeles Times)

But did you know: NPR braces for steep cuts amid economic lockdown (The Wall Street Journal)

Through the 2021 fiscal year, NPR expects a budget deficit of $30 to $45 million – and significant cuts. Corporate sponsorship typically makes up about a third of NPR’s revenue, but it is sinking due to COVID-19, and donations may suffer down the road, as well. The public broadcaster receives funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and dues and fees from member stations, which also are struggling. In a memo, CEO John Lansing wrote that NPR has a goal to avoid eliminating positions, but “I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t guarantee anything other than that is my intent.” 

+ Related: Corporation for Public Broadcasting unveils plan to split $75 million in relief funds between public TV and radio (Current); The Public Media Journalists Association launches editor corps to help stations with increased workloads (Public Media Journalists Association)

+ Noted: Vox plans three-month furlough of 9% of its staff, including those at SB Nation (Axios) L.A. Times shuts down Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Sun (Los Angeles Times); BuzzFeed News shuts down AM to DM, its morning news show, after Twitter pulls funding (Nieman Lab)


How might we reimagine opinion journalism for our digital, polarized age?

Newspaper opinion sections can be polarizing — and in an age of fragile trust in local news, many newsrooms are unwilling to risk driving away readers. We look at three newsrooms that are reinventing their opinion sections, turning them into venues for engaging, inclusive dialogue around local issues. 


If you let your readers in on your process, they might just surprise you (Trusting News)

To those who don’t work in the journalism industry, many of whom have never spoken with a journalist, reporting and the ethics involved are opaque. The Fort Collins Coloradoan developed a series of explainers, which have helped the paper connect with its audience and turn at least 100 readers into subscribers, Jennifer Hefty writes. She recommends newsrooms build a similar column library on topics that explain processes, ethics policies and other journalism principles that the public at large might not know about. Then, actively share and link to the content whenever it’s relevant, answering questions from the community along the way.


How Hearst UK is creating more uplifting content (Digiday)

As its readers’ interests shifted from health content to stories that are entertaining and life-affirming, Hearst UK answered the call with a series of newsletters and other content initiatives that stay on the light side. A Country Living newsletter focused on positive stories drove newsletter referral traffic up 81% from the month before. Cosmopolitan has a series focused on good news, as well as a newsletter called “Staying In,” which increased referral traffic by 160%. 

+ National Union of Journalists calls for windfall tax on tech firms to help UK newspapers survive (The Guardian)


Deep newspaper job cuts prompt rare plea for federal funding to news media (The Washington Post)

Earlier this month, dozens of groups asked Congress to dedicate support for local news in stimulus packages. More than a dozen Senate Democrats expressed support for setting aside funds for local journalism, and a House bill would require the government to dole out half of its advertising to local news organizations. Among the questions going forward is whether or not companies that were struggling before the pandemic should be eligible for funds. If lawmakers decide they’re ineligible, that could impact newspaper chains like McClatchy, which filed for bankruptcy this year. Private equity funds, some of which are behind media companies that have made dramatic cuts during the last decade, also may be unlikely to receive aid.

+ Google Ad Manager to waive ad serving fees for news publishers for five months (Google)


Why the response to a photo of an Ohio Statehouse protest makes its photographer uneasy (Slate)

Last week, people in Ohio and several other states gathered to protest stay-at-home policies underway during the pandemic. Columbus Dispatch photojournalist Joshua A. Bickel took a widely-circulated picture of protesters outside the entrance of the state house. The photo prompted a visceral reaction, while its subjects were compared to zombies. Bickel said that he typically doesn’t cover breaking news and prefers to spend time gaining the trust of people he photographs and then document their stories honestly. “This situation [taking a photo from the other side of glass] was the opposite of that,” he said. “… The zombie comparisons make me uncomfortable, because these people aren’t zombies. They’re people, and we don’t know what they’re dealing with.”


A collaboration to memorialize (and count) the health care workers who’ve died from coronavirus (Nieman Lab)

As of April 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 27 health care workers had died from COVID-19, but that number likely represents just a fraction of those impacted. A new project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News seeks to track the deaths of health care workers and tell their stories. The collaborative project, which began last week, will use traditional reporting to identify as many cases as possible, while also asking readers to share information on health care workers lost to the coronavirus. The newsrooms also will create a nationwide database that can be used to identify health care trends.