Need to Know: April 30, 2020


You might have heard: Thanks to coronavirus, many publishers are seeing a surge in digital subscriptions (Medill Local News Initiative)

But did you know: Publishers look to cheap Facebook ads to increase subscriptions (Digiday)

Due to a combination of soft advertiser demand, increased user engagement, and conversions on publishers’ own websites, the cost of acquiring digital subscribers through Facebook ads has fallen significantly for many publishers. An executive at one publisher said that their subscriber acquisition costs via Facebook have fallen to as little as one third of what they had been at the beginning of March. An executive at a second publisher said in the first half of April, the cost of acquiring a newsletter subscriber through Facebook fell from 75 cents to 25 cents. However, although publishers would typically increase spending in this area to take advantage of cheap conversion rates, most can’t, thanks to coronavirus-related budget cuts and increased austerity measures.

+ Noted: YouTube brings fact-check panels to searches in the United States (Verge); LMA announces launch of Chicago news collaborative, funded by Google News Initiative, and the Oklahoma Media Center, a statewide journalism collaborative funded by the Inasmuch Foundation (Local Media Association)


7 ways to get your COVID-19 reporting to those who need it

The public has never needed reliable information more, but aside from dropping your news organization’s paywall, what else can you do to get your work in front of those most affected by the pandemic? Fiona Morgan writes for API about ideas for distributing your reporting in new ways, from experimenting with outreach tactics to exploring different formats. In one example, nonprofit news site Carolina Public Press is making its COVID-19 coverage available to radio stations for free to reach people who may not have the internet. 


The topography of local news: A new map (Columbia Journalism Review)

Researchers at the Center for Cooperative Media have created a new map of local news outlets in New Jersey. It builds on previous work by identifying the complete range of journalistic news providers (print, digital, and broadcast) serving an entire U.S. state, and mapping those news providers according to the communities they cover, rather than where they are headquartered (as other maps have done). The approach is meant to serve as a proof of concept that can be replicated elsewhere.

+ A COVID-19 “story recipe”: Identify communities at risk from the pandemic and its economic fallout (Open News); A journalist’s guide to HIPAA during COVID-19 (RCFP)


How a Singapore university teaches students to transform newsrooms (Splice)

Jessica Tan, a journalism lecturer at Nanyang Technological University, is teaching students how to apply design thinking to building news products and services. Students embark on 13-week projects that follow a single, focused theme — reader engagement through innovative storytelling tools, for example. There is an extensive user research phase (“There are really no shortcuts when it comes to user research,” says Tan), and at the end of the project students present their prototypes. Tan says she’s looking for new partnerships to help bring some of the prototypes to life in newsrooms. “Students bring fresh perspectives because they are not tied down by stereotypes of the industry and are free to experiment and fail,” writes Meghna Rao. “Graduating students take this mindset to the newsrooms they work at.”

+ Earlier: A Northwestern University class called Design for Local News aims to jumpstart product innovation in the news industry (Medill Local News Initiative)


Coaching your team through uncertain times (Harvard Business Review)

Many journalists are experiencing changes in the scope of their work: getting put on the coronavirus beat, having to pick up responsibilities from laid-off or furloughed colleagues — all while adjusting to life in a distributed newsroom. Managers should be talking openly and frequently with employees about how their jobs have changed — and giving them opportunities to recraft their jobs according to their strengths and interests, write Francesca Gino and Dan Cable.

+ Related: How to correct for your manager “idiosyncracies” in a remote work environment (National Press Club Journalism Institute)


Could New Jersey be the home for a new solution to the local news crisis? (Nieman Lab)

Led by Simon Galperin, the Community Info Coop is a nonprofit that advocates for funding local news the same way that public libraries are funded — by government, as a public service to the community. Now the group is preparing the groundwork to test this approach in New Jersey. According to its new report, municipalities in the Garden State will need to “establish the factual predicate necessary” to create a “community information district,” which would in turn support local news outlets — a process that, in New Jersey and elsewhere, would likely be fraught with legal obstacles, writes Joshua Benton.


About 7-in-10 U.S. adults say they need to take breaks from COVID-19 news (Pew Research Center)

An earlier Pew study found that 87% of Americans are following coronavirus news “fairly or very closely,” but new research suggests that many are reaching their limits for news intake. A majority of Americans (71%) say they need to take breaks from coronavirus news, 43% say it makes them feel worse emotionally and about half say they find it difficult to sift through what is true and what is not, according to the new survey. Those surveyed didn’t seem to distinguish between national and local news — 61% said news at both levels was an important source of coronavirus information for them.