Need to Know: April 23, 2020

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Digital subscriptions are way, way up for many news outlets (Medill Local News Initiative)

But did you know: Coronavirus is hastening print’s retreat (Medill Local News Initiative)

For more than a decade, news publishers have been talking about cutting back print days, but most have been taking a very gradual approach: retaining Sunday editions (the big money-maker) and cautiously cutting Mondays and Saturdays. But with ad revenue in free fall due to the coronavirus, publishers are being forced to scale back print much more quickly than they’d like. “The crisis has forced [publishers’] hand to implement a plan that maybe was three years out, to implement it in three days,” says Nancy Lane, CEO of the Local Media Association. “And so we know lots of newspapers that have reduced frequency, and we expect a lot more.”

+ Earlier: Our study, published in August, recommended a “gradual transition” to digital. That may be off the table now, but the advice for choosing which print days to cut, and how to communicate with subscribers about the change still stands

+ Noted: People over 65 follow coronavirus news more closely than other age groups (Pew Research Center); Seattle Times Co. gets nearly $10 million in federal coronavirus-aid funds (Seattle Times); The nightly broadcasts on ABC, CBS and NBC are drawing their biggest audiences in years, eclipsing their cable competition by wide margins (Hollywood Reporter)

API UPDATE

How Documented uses WhatsApp to reach local immigrant communities

We spoke with co-founder Mazin Sidahmed about how Documented, a nonprofit news outlet dedicated to New York City’s immigrant community, has been using WhatsApp to address Spanish-speaking readers’ questions and concerns about the coronavirus.

TRY THIS AT HOME

How one Iowa newspaper is providing fun and educational COVID-19 coverage for kids (Lenfest Institute)

The Gazette, the daily newspaper in Cedar Rapids, partnered with the local school district to offer space for educational material in its free PennySaver ads circular, which, due to coronavirus, had lots of empty space to fill. With only 30% of Iowans able to access broadband internet, accessibility is a real concern for the city’s schools. By printing in the PennySaver the schools could ensure equitable access to learning materials. The Gazette also began using the remaining PennySaver pages to publish a Kids Gazette. “We didn’t have the weeks of market testing … we just launched,” said Zack Kucharski, The Gazette’s executive editor, of the new kids section. “That’s been one of the freeing things of the whole thing. When you’re in survival mode, you don’t overthink things, you just get going.”

+ How ProPublica is doing COVID-19 sourcing (Institute for Nonprofit News)

OFFSHORE

‘You either stand up, or you fold’: How the Big Issue is adapting in a time of crisis (What’s New in Publishing)

The Big Issue, a U.K.-based nonprofit that relies solely on street vendors to distribute its weekly magazine, knew its business model would go up in smoke as cities shut down to combat the coronavirus outbreak. In less than a month, the team rolled out a subscription option and also began selling in major supermarket chains. The visibility in supermarkets helped raise awareness of the new subscription offer, says editor Paul McNamee. Used to seeing vendors on the street, readers took notice of the magazine in supermarkets, and have been keen to help with the nonprofit’s mission to fight homelessness.

OFFBEAT

Aligning the user data that websites and apps collect with what consumers expect (Nieman Lab)

Consumers do expect websites and apps to collect data about them in order to personalize, protect, and improve their experience. They don’t expect outside vendors to collect data about them for reuse or sale. Publishers need to be more clear about how they’re using users’ data — for example, to identify them across multiple devices, so subscribers don’t have to keep logging in —  and what that means for their user experience.

UP FOR DEBATE

A battered FOIA collides with the $2 trillion bailout (Columbia Journalism Review)

The Freedom of Information Act is weaker than it has ever been, with some media law scholars calling it a “downward spiral toward secrecy.” “FOIA lawsuits, which according to media lawyers can range in cost from $10,000 to $80,000, were already financially untenable, especially for local media outlets,” writes Mya Frazier. Now, as the federal government decides how to distribute the largest bailout in American history, the cost and difficulty of winning a FOIA lawsuit means that few local news outlets — most of which are struggling just to keep the lights on — will be able to investigate that process and what it means for their communities.

SHAREABLE

Redeploy journalism students to support local news (Chronicle of Higher Education)

As local news outlets across the country began laying off or furloughing employees in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, faculty members at the University of Missouri School of Journalism saw an opportunity to redesign the school’s capstone course. They organized students into teams to cover four regions of the state, working collaboratively with newspapers to serve local communities. The Mizzou students are spending the remainder of the semester learning what information readers need and coordinating with editors to fill news gaps, and the school is planning to offer up to 10 fellowships to allow students to continue the work over the summer.