Need to Know: April 22, 2021


You might have heard: Why the trust crisis may be better understood through people’s moral values than their politics (American Press Institute)

But did you know: Editorial processes are not central to how many people think about trust in news (Reuters Institute)

A new report from the Reuters Institute found that public trust in the news often revolves around vague impressions of brand identities, rather than dissatisfaction with news organizations’ reporting practices or editorial standards. To form opinions about news organizations, many consumers will “draw on shortcuts” shaped by past experiences, partisan or social influences, or cursory information gleaned from social media, search engines and messaging apps. Consumers will often focus on “stylistic factors” around how news is presented, relying on them as signals of credibility and reliability. “Assessments about trustworthiness, for better or for worse, often come down to branding,” said Benjamin Toff, lead author of the report. “News outlets that fail to communicate what makes their own journalism distinctive risk being seen as interchangeable from countless other sources online.”

+ Noted: Tribune Publishing sets May 21 shareholder vote on Alden merger (Chicago Tribune); Reuters appoints Gina Chua as executive editor (Reuters Agency); LION Publishers launches a new podcast about starting an independent news business (Twitter, @LIONPubs)


7 questions to help local media rebound in 2021

After a year of battering, newsrooms must focus on steps to recovery. Here is a short but important list of actions that newsrooms can start to to tackle now. We’d also like to hear from you on what your news organization is doing (or not doing) to recover from the pandemic year. 


Protest policies: Guidelines for covering demonstrations safely and fairly (Poynter)

In the span of one year, journalists have covered COVID-19 lockdown protests, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. While professional journalists may not be new to covering protests, student journalists are — and many lack guidelines for how to produce ethical and accurate coverage while staying safe. So journalists at The Western Front, the student-led newsroom at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., committed to writing a clear and comprehensive protest policy that future classes could look to and build upon. Over a 10-week period, they looked at other newsrooms’ protest policies (or the lack thereof) and spent time talking to experts; both academic sources and working journalists. Pacing the project over 10 weeks prevented it from “getting buried in responsibilities student editors must deal with daily,” editors wrote.

+ Tips for approaching a new publishing partnership (News Media Alliance)


How journalists tracked down missing data to change the conversation on homelessness (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

Very little official information existed on the deaths of homeless people in the U.K. So journalist Maeve McClenaghan enlisted the help of Bureau Local, a network of more than 1,000 investigative journalists across the country, to begin documenting homeless deaths, telling the individuals’ stories, and creating a database that would track changes in their numbers over time. A data void doesn’t have to be an obstacle to an investigation, McClenaghan told GIJN. Instead, it can be an opportunity. The Dying Homeless project ended up having a real-word impact: In 2018, the U.K. Office for National Statistics and the Scottish National Records Office began producing official data on the number of people dying homeless in England, Scotland, and Wales; and the government agencies worked with the Bureau Local journalists to develop their own database.


Why referral programs work (Twitter, @alexgarcia)

Many customers can’t resist a good referral offer — it amounts to free money, writes Alex Garcia. Companies like PayPal, DropBox, Airbnb and Tesla have used referral programs to astounding success. One customer should generate three, according to Tesla founder Elon Musk. Airbnb’s initial program was so successful that, although it kept its incentives the same, it did several things to increase customers’ awareness of it; including email callouts and a new header on its website. Those nudges helped drive 900% year-on-year growth for first-time bookings.


‘Project Mayhem’: Reporters race to save Tribune papers from ‘vulture’ fund (NPR)

Journalists at Tribune newspapers are racing to find new owners for the company before May 21, when the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which already owns half of Tribune’s shares, is set to finalize its offer on Tribune. Dubbed “Project Mayhem,” the effort involves reporters from Tribune papers like Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and the Hartford Courant. Of all the corporate owners in the news industry, Alden is the worst, said Jennifer Sheehan, a reporter for the Allentown Morning Call in Pennsylvania. The hedge fund is known for driving aggressive profit margins that require deep cuts to the newsroom. “I think that the journalists of Tribune see this as a really unique moment in an effort to save local news,” said Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie, who is spearheading Project Mayhem. Even if their effort fails, she added, “I hope that this really starts a movement. Very seriously, I hope this starts a movement to revive newspapers all over the country.”


Climate journalism enters the solutions era (Columbia Journalism Review)

In the past year, there has been an increase in media coverage of the climate crisis — and notably, from a solutions angle. Podcasts like Gimlet’s “How to Save a Planet” and Grist’s “Temperature Check,” and special series like The Washington Post’s “Climate Solutions,” are focused on empowering individuals with the knowledge they need to make a difference. The change in tone and focus was brought about largely by the hard truth that many readers find climate news depressing. The story of the world getting hotter and its impacts is “a really hard story to keep writing,” says climate change reporter Elizabeth Kolbert. People feel “the pressure of ‘Okay, it’s bad, so what are we going to do about it?’”

+ “Heated” founder Emily Atkin shows what it takes to make the transition from staff writer to Substacker (Digiday)