Need to Know: April 29, 2021


You might have heard: A majority of people say they avoid the news because it has a negative impact on their mood, or because they feel powerless to change events (Reuters Institute)

But did you know: Solutions journalism is more appealing to audiences than problem-focused reporting (The Whole Story)

A new survey from SmithGeiger, commissioned by the Solutions Journalism Network, found that solutions journalism outperforms problem-focused stories largely across markets, media types, age and even political affiliation. Audiences also tend to trust solutions journalism more than traditional reporting: 83% of respondents said they trusted the solutions journalism story they were shown, compared to just 55% who said the same about the problem-focused story. Overall, 51% of respondents said they preferred the solutions journalism story they viewed versus 32% for a corresponding problem-focused story. Solutions-focused stories also outperformed problem-focused stories on other metrics, including quality of storytelling, delivering a fresh approach and “helping to make a difference in my community.”

+ Noted: The Membership Puzzle Project and the Lenfest Institute introduce a self-guided course on membership for news outlets (Lenfest Institute); USA Today launches a paywall and digital-only subscription plan (Poynter); Flipboard shifts from programmatic display ads to selling newsletter sponsorships (Digiday)


A new way of looking at trust in media: Do Americans share journalism’s core values?

Many Americans are skeptical of what journalists consider their core mission, and the argument over media trust often has the feel of people talking past each other. But we found that the trust crisis may be better understood through people’s moral values than their politics. A new study by API and AP-NORC explores how people’s moral values relate to their perception of core journalism values, as well as news stories. And it points to simple changes journalists can make to their reporting that could help increase trust with journalism skeptics and supporters alike.


How newsrooms can incorporate more audio in their work (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

In 2021, audio is the platform with the widest reach among Americans — radio alone reaches 88% of U.S. adults each week, edging out smartphone apps (85%) and TV (80%), according to Nielsen. (That’s not counting the growth of podcasts and audio content on social media.) News outlets of all types — not just radio stations — can embrace this trend by incorporating audio in various ways in their reporting. Tools like Headliner and Audiogram, for example, can be used to create visually appealing (and transcribed) audio snippets for social media, and both companies offer free versions of their product for newsrooms and journalists.

+ Earlier: How the Las Vegas Review-Journal went into its archives to create the narrative podcast “Mobbed Up,” about the city’s history with organized crime (Better News); How WFAE used a podcasting contest to reach diverse audiences (Better News)


How a nonprofit news organization reframed its pitch to members (Splice Media)

After both surveying and speaking individually with members of the Southeast Asian news nonprofit New Naratif, Membership Engagement Manager Deborah Augustin realized that many members truly identified with the organization’s mission: to promote freedom of information and expression in the region. With that in mind, she reframed the pitch for New Naratif’s higher-tier membership: to help pave access to quality journalism for people who can’t afford it by sponsoring memberships for them. “We have since revamped the copy on our site and our marketing materials for our upcoming membership drive,” Augustin writes. “We will be spelling out how many people will gain access to our content with each tier of support.”


How systems thinking can guide reporting on complex issues like health and overcrowded housing (Medium, El Tímpano)

The issue of overcrowded housing in Oakland, Calif., is complex, touching on various public policies, economic structures and social ideologies. To break down all the factors at play, the nonprofit news outlet El Tímpano took a systems thinking approach; first identifying and meeting with stakeholders — residents, landlords, public officials in health and housing sectors, community organizers and legal aid professionals — and then convening reporters from other local news outlets to discuss the issue using the “iceberg” model. The iceberg model identifies a news event associated with a problem — a COVID-19 outbreak in one Oakland neighborhood, for example — and looks at the trends and patterns beneath its surface. Visually showing how these factors affect each other (with sticky notes and a whiteboard) can reveal possible interventions and disruptions to harmful cycles, which can then form the basis for reporting.


Losing writers to Substack isn’t so bad (Zombie Journalism)

In the ongoing debate over whether Substack is good for the news industry, people tend to align with one side or the other, Mandy Jenkins writes — Substack is either the downfall of media, wooing journalists away from news outlets to do more opinion writing than actual reporting, or media’s savior, preserving good journalism as news outlets flail. Either way, Jenkins points to a promising side effect for newsrooms as some journalists pack up their desks to try their luck on Substack: “The departure of these bright lights might free up some salary and oxygen for more women, journalists of color, and other underrepresented groups in the newsroom to get their shot at the spotlight.”


How news publications put their legal risk on freelancers (Columbia Journalism Review)

Freelance journalists comprise a significant — and growing — part of the news industry; in the U.S. they potentially outnumber staff journalists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But few freelancers can afford to take out libel insurance, and those undertaking controversial investigative work can find it difficult to get their applications accepted even if they can afford it. Meanwhile, publishers and broadcasters have increasingly required freelancers to cover their own court costs if they find themselves facing a lawsuit, and sometimes those of the news outlet they were working for. “The fear of libel costs can have a chilling effect on freelancers with no legal protection,” said journalist Dolia Estevez, “withholding us from publishing public-interest sensitive stories on corruption.”