Need to Know: April 26, 2021

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which has a reputation for aggressively cutting newsrooms, is once again the leading bidder for Tribune Publishing (Chicago Tribune)

But did you know: Alden mismanaged employees’ pensions, federal investigation found (The Washington Post)

Alden, the owner of about 200 papers, invested $294 million from employee pension savings into its own funds, according to a Department of Labor investigation. Under direction of Alden associates, those shifting funds likely broke federal law requiring pensions to be invested to benefit retirees, not pension managers. Alden didn’t face any penalties for this alleged mismanagement, but the hedge fund liquidated the pension plans’ investments in its own funds.

+ Noted: General Motors is creating a $50 million incubation fund to support diverse media (AdAge)

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TRY THIS AT HOME

Burned out? Take an email break (Twitter, @anikaanand00)

Deputy director of LION Publishers Anika Anand needed to dedicate time to filling some key roles in the organization, but she had too much on her plate. She decided to take an email and meeting hiatus that allowed her to dedicate more time and “brain space” to the work, setting an “away” message on her email explaining that she wouldn’t respond to emails for two weeks. “Proof that this worked for me is coming back and just blowing through tasks that felt so much harder to do three weeks ago,” she said on Twitter.

+ Earlier: Reclaim staff time and increase impact by doing less (American Press Institute)

+ Related: As journalists become more open about on-the-job trauma, here are some signs of emotional exhaustion (National Press Club Journalism Institute)

OFFSHORE

Guilty verdict for Hong Kong journalist as media faces ‘frontal assault’ (The New York Times)

For years, Hong Kong journalists have faced pressure from mainland China, and now they are dealing with more direct attacks as several journalists have faced criminal charges recently. Earlier this month, the founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily was sentenced to 14 months in prison, and last week, a producer for public broadcaster RTHK was found guilty of making false statements to obtain public records. The documents were part of a report that was critical of the police, and the journalist was ordered to pay a fine equal to about $775 in American dollars.

OFFBEAT

Apple, Spotify and the new battle over podcasting (The Wall Street Journal)

Podcast listening grew during the pandemic, leading ad revenue from the format to hit more than $1 billion in the United States this year, an industry first. As Apple’s podcasting market share fell from 34% in 2018 to 24% this year, the company recently unveiled a plan to give shows the option to run paid subscriptions through the platform. The subscription option will cost about $20 a year and will require podcasters to pay Apple 30% of their subscription revenue during their first year in the program. Spotify is planning its own subscription program, but the company doesn’t plan to charge podcasters to participate or take a percentage of their revenue.

UP FOR DEBATE

How tech companies support individual journalists over newsrooms (Defector)

Soraya Roberts writes that Substack follows a long line of tech companies “seeking to turn journalism into an industry of individuals rather than collectives.” This started with Twitter, a company that built the foundation of the internet-era concept that journalists are also brands. Roberts argues that tech companies like Substack divert money away from newsrooms that work to benefit the public and toward journalists who were already successful. “Who will be around to prop up the next generation of journalists if all the cash keeps flowing towards individuals?” Roberts asks.

+ Phoebe Gavin, who left journalism to build a career coaching business: “I think we’ve fetishized the idea that your job should be your passion. It’s ok for your job to just be a job.” (Source)

SHAREABLE

Do newsrooms have to be in newsrooms? (Poynter)

For the last decade, newspapers like The Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and Dallas Morning News have relocated from iconic, downtown buildings in a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. In a new book about journalism, University of Illinois professor Nikki Usher asked if news organizations really need to project the same image of power that they have in the past. “I think it’s in some ways really important to say we’re still here and we’re still powerful,” she said. “On the other hand, that might not be the best for all residents.” As an alternative, newsrooms could meet in offices of community organizations, libraries or universities.