Need to Know: August 11, 2022


You might have heard: Buying Wordle brought ‘tens of millions of new users’ to The New York Times (The Verge)

But did you know:  ‘Puzzles pair well with reading the news’: Why news outlets are getting into games (again) (Nieman Lab)

Publishers everywhere are ramping up their games sections, writes Luke Winkie, who says that the appeal of puzzles is the same today as it was when the first crossword puzzle ran in The New York World in 1913: a need for publishers to broaden their offerings beyond the news. While covering a flood of bad news, media companies “seem to have come to a humbling realization: Some subscribers would rather game than sift through the wreckage. Can you blame them?” The puzzle trend, he says, is “delightfully antique.” The New York Times in January famously acquired Wordle, and has introduced other puzzles as well. The New Yorker and Vulture have also expanded their game offerings.

+ Noted: Media critic Margaret Sullivan to depart The Washington Post (CNN); The first issue of the relaunched Baltimore Beat came out Wednesday (Baltimore Beat); Biden: U.S. knows ‘with certainty’ Syria holding missing journalist Austin Tice (The Guardian)


Guiding people to practical information: Key takeaways from experiments in ‘service journalism’

Newsrooms large and small are discovering — and in some cases, rediscovering — that they can find traction in giving consumers practical information, on subjects ranging from voting to student debt to COVID-19, in a confusing world. With midterm elections approaching, economic concerns multiplying and the pandemic grinding onward, the opportunities for news organizations to help their audiences navigate these uncertainties — and build trust with those audiences in the process — are growing.

+ Reminder: Apply for a grant from API’s Election Coverage & Community Listening Fund. The deadline is Aug. 17.


In search of 90 miles of news, an Eagle beat reporter hits the Appalachian Trail (The Berkshire Eagle) 

“If you want a deeply personal story about a woman in crisis looking to find herself on a long hiking trip, this is not it,” writes Greta Jochem, a reporter who’s hiking the 90-mile Massachusetts section of the Appalachian Trail in search of stories. The trail cuts through the state from Connecticut to Vermont, and she felt her paper should be writing more about it and the hundreds of hikers that pass through every year. When she pitched a story about a certain “trail angel,” her editor suggested she hike the whole thing and write what she finds. Fortunately, she likes hiking. 


Pizzagate promoter tapped for Kremlin-backed propaganda campaign (Axios) 

Ben Swann, an American producer who has promoted the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, will get more than $5 million from Russian state-backed media to produce four shows — with 50 episodes each — aimed at undercutting America’s interests and image abroad. Lachlan Markay writes that foreign agent filings submitted to the Justice Department say that the show’s themes will include “the United States and NATO continuing to spread war around the world,” “the economic warfare waged by the United States and its allies,” and “transgender issues in the United States.” 

+ Related: Russia targets reporter with raid, probe over war criticism (Associated Press)


For ransomware gangs, journalists are another tool of the trade (The Washington Post)

Ransomware gangs frequently try to use journalists to advance their aims, writes Tim Starks. He gives examples of how reporters have been the target of manipulation by these groups, who contact journalists hoping to get publicity and put pressure on victims to pay their ransom demands. But Starks also has suggestions for how journalists can avoid playing into the hands of these actors. For example, experts say journalists should contact the alleged victims of hacks, while keeping in mind that victims might also have a motive to lie about being attacked. “That’s why journalists should also branch out to other potential sources to discuss a ransomware incident,” Starks writes.


The not-so-hidden costs of paid obituaries (Bleeding Heartland)

Those paid obituaries that local newspapers mostly use nowadays have come at a cost to newsrooms and their communities, writes Herb Strentz, a longtime journalist who was a professor at Iowa’s Drake School of Journalism before his retirement in 2004. When newspapers treated local obituaries as news, written by reporters, they were actually tightening bonds with their communities and helping drive home for reporters the importance of accuracy and sensitivity. “News media can spend thousands of dollars in promotional programs and efforts to gain or retain a news audience, but such efforts can’t match being with a family, even in such perfunctory ways as doing an obit on a loved one,” he writes. 


Below the Fold: Greensboro, N.C.’s once-thriving newspaper is now a shell its former self (The Assembly) 

Margaret Moffett, who spent 23 years as a reporter and editor at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina, writes about how the paper has gone from a once-great publication to one where six journalists cover a city of 300,000, and whose presence is “rarely felt” in Greensboro. One former city council member says he reads it online for the obituaries. “There’s generally nothing else in there of interest, or I’ve seen it days before from other news sources,” he said. The downtown building that once housed the paper is now “part eyesore, part health hazard.”