Need to Know: August 1, 2019

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


You might have heard: L.A. Times memo says digital subscriptions are way below goal (Poynter)

But did you know: The L.A. Times’ disappointing digital numbers show the game’s not just about drawing in subscribers — it’s about keeping them (Nieman Lab)

“Churn has always been an issue for newspapers, but it’s even more of one in a world of constant competition for subscription dollars,” writes Joshua Benton. “Retention is critical to making reader revenue the bedrock of the new business model; one newspaper found that half of its new subscribers left within three months — but that after that point, the departure rate dropped under 2% a month. You’ve got to get around that corner.” Frequent messaging about the value of a subscription, making subscribers feel like they’re part of an insider group; targeting the right audiences with the right content; and building tools that make it easy for subscribers to interact more frequently with the paper — all those actions are critically important to keeping subscribers. Right now, says Benton, the L.A. Times is not taking those actions. As a subscriber himself, he gets one email from the Times every morning that says, simply, “Your eNewspaper is here,” accompanied by an image of the front page.

+ Noted: The New York Times (which claims the lion’s share of digital news subscriptions in the U.S.) turns its attention to the local news crisis: It chronicles the “dying gasp of one local newspaper”; it wants to hear from readers who have lost their local newspaper; and it’s asking news industry innovators what comes after the presses stop rolling (New York Times)


API is hiring a Director of Local News Transformation

The director will oversee a change management program for local newsrooms; the program commonly referred to as “Table Stakes.” The primary responsibilities are to manage partnerships among program stakeholders, to monitor and ensure the success of participating news leaders, to identify and integrate outside resources and experts, and to oversee communication strategies that spread the lessons of this program across the news industry. 

+ API has partnered with It’s All Journalism to produce a podcast mini-series on local news innovation. The first episode covers the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s events strategy. To access the series, subscribe to the “It’s All Journalism” podcast, which you can find on Apple Podcasts, GooglePlay, PodcastOne, SoundCloud or any other place you find podcasts. (It’s All Journalism)

+ AAJA19 attendees: API Audience Engagement Strategist Shirley Qiu will be moderating a panel discussion Friday morning on how to measure engagement and identify the most meaningful metrics for your newsroom.


Publishers are soliciting feedback from readers with one-question surveys (Digiday)

Publishers like Business Insider and the Athletic have installed one-question surveys at the end of articles that try to summarize reader satisfaction, with wording that tries to get at how “valuable” the article was or whether readers found it worth their time. Axios asks its newsletter subscribers how likely they are to recommend the newsletter to someone else (a metric known as Net Promoter Score, or NPS). But publishers should avoid relying too much on stripped-down metrics, said Gwen Vargo, API’s director of reader revenue. “Because [NPS is] a singular number, it’s easy to understand, but you don’t want it to become the new pageviews of 2019. You don’t want them to be not looking at other things.”

+ Get a comprehensive understanding of how your journalism is engaging audiences using API’s Metrics for News.


Climate change coverage differs in rich and poor countries (Nieman Lab)

A new report looks at how the media frames climate change coverage in 45 countries and territories. It found that the wealthier the country, “the more likely its news media would frame climate change as issues of science and domestic politics.” In less wealthy countries, climate change is covered through the practical lens of natural disasters and their impact. Social progress was the least commonly used frame, with less than 4% of content “devoted to covering new lifestyles or social developments related to climate change.”

+ Related: The best of solutions journalism on climate change (Solutions Journalism Network)


How to do strategic planning like a futurist (Harvard Business Review)

When companies do long-term planning, they often create linear timelines marked by years ending in either 0s or 5s. The linear format is easy to understand and offers some assurance that success can be plotted and guaranteed, writes Amy Webb. But it doesn’t account for unanticipated events or market changes that can disrupt an entire industry. That’s why Webb uses “time cones, not time lines” — a visual framework that plots highly-probable events that are backed by data, from short to long term. The cones allow for tactical planning and iterative adjustments as events unfold.


Presidential debates as game show? (Christian Science Monitor)

“The rise of 24-hour cable news, the success of partisan talk radio, and the advent of social media are all mile markers on the road to the 2020 reality competition,” writes Jessica Mendoza. Many people have likened this week’s Democratic debates to a game show, or a “mash up of Survivor and March Madness,” as one spectator said. But that format doesn’t provide voters with what they need to make an informed decision about the issues that drive an election, or who is best suited to lead the country. News consumers might tune in to, and even enjoy, the candidates’ ceaseless hunt for the perfect viral moment, said Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News. But all that does is contribute to the public’s cynical sense that all politics is theater, and that journalists are part of the show. 

+ Related: “The debate format is an embarrassment. Here’s how to make it better“: more time for substantive answers; topics and questions sourced entirely from voters; less conflict-oriented framing; and real-time graphics that help viewers understand candidates’ policy positions (Washington Post)

+ Earlier: How to cover the “citizens agenda” in the 2020 campaign (PressThink)


Majority of journalists aren’t sure they could spot flawed research (Journalist’s Resource)

In a survey by Journalist’s Resource, 64% of journalists said they cite academic research in their work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. But less than half (46%) were “very confident” that they could distinguish between high-quality research studies and questionable ones. Respondents said some of the biggest barriers to using academic research in their reporting are the length and complexity of academic papers, which make them too difficult to digest on deadline, and lack of support from public relations departments that are putting out the press releases — PR reps could do a better job of connecting journalists with studies’ authors and other experts, survey respondents said. 

+ Earlier: How to tell good research from bad: 13 questions journalists should ask (Journalist’s Resource)