Need to Know: August 2, 2019

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


You might have heard: Advance Local was the first publisher to make bold print-cutting moves, but it hasn’t been successful, as the New Orleans Times-Picayune debacle showed (Washington Post) 

But did you know: Many, if not most, publishers are thinking about drastically cutting print — and soon (Nieman Lab) 

Many publishers are no longer thinking about cutting one or two print days a week — they’re increasingly talking about cutting five or six, writes Ken Doctor. Peter Doucette, managing director of the Technology & Media Practice for well-used news industry consultant FTI, said it’s one of the top discussions in boardrooms. “The current operating model is under duress like we’ve never seen before,” he told Doctor. “Our point of view is that the daily morning distribution model is no longer going to work in a three- to five-year timeline.” As publishers plan for the “Sunday + Digital” model, they want to be assured of three key metrics, writes Doctor: whether they can make the move and still retain at least 80% of their print ad revenue; keep circulation revenue flat while substantially reducing costs; and improve earnings/EBITDA by some multiple of a million dollars per market.

+ Noted: About a quarter of large U.S. newspapers laid off staff in 2018 — on top of the roughly one-third of papers in the same circulation range that experienced layoffs in 2017 (Pew Research Center)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually: the short list of countries that host online disinformation operations; how Facebook should improve its fact-checking initiative; and the New York Times explains to readers how it fact-checks stories. 

+ Related: FBI document warns conspiracy theories are a new domestic terrorism threat (Yahoo News)


Lessons learned from Facebook’s Local News Subscriptions Accelerator (Facebook Journalism Project)

One year after the Accelerator program launched, the 14 participating metro newspapers have gained tens of thousands of new digital subscriptions and hundreds of thousands of new email newsletter subscribers; generating about $5 million in lifetime value from those subscribers. Among the key insights rising from the program: Set your sights high for email growth, and expect to convert 5% to 10% of your email subscribers to paid. In the case of, an Advance Local news organization that is participating in the Accelerator, email is currently the second highest source of new subscription starts, behind meter stops.

+ Two journalism job newsletters to sign up for: “10 journalism jobs and a photo of my dog,” by Mandy Hofmockel (here’s a recent edition) and “CA//Media//Jobs,” by Luis Gomez (here’s a recent edition)


WhatsApp both strengthens and undermines Nigerian democracy (University of Birmingham)

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in 40 African countries, including Nigeria, which held its general election in February. While the app was used to spread misinformation relating to the Nigerian candidates, it was also used by fact-checkers and news organizations to counter rumors and false reports, researchers found. And while Nigerian politicians are becoming increasingly sophisticated at using WhatsApp as a powerful campaign tool (a trend seen in countries around the world), the platform has also helped less traditional power-players to enter the political arena — particularly tech-savvy youth.   

+ British lobbying firm with ties to Prime Minister Boris Johnson has secretly built a network of unbranded “news” pages on Facebook for dozens of clients, ranging from the Saudi government to major polluters (The Guardian); “I suspect we’ve only scratched the surface of how many PR firms are running networks of Facebook pages that masquerade as news or activist groups, but exist solely to promote clients and target ads,” tweeted BuzzFeed News reporter Craig Silverman, responding to the Guardian article (Twitter, @CraigSilverman)


Why it pays to hire people from non-traditional backgrounds (Business Insider) 

Cookson Adventures is a luxury travel company run by employees who have no experience in the travel industry. But that’s how CEO Adam Sebba planned it. Bringing in people with diverse and eclectic backgrounds helps the company stand out from competitors and attract new customers, he says. Sebba also discourages his employees from attending travel trade shows; instead, they attend science lectures, film screenings, archaeological seminars and art exhibitions. “If you want to truly do something new, there’s no cookie-cutter person you can hire ready to hit the ground running,” he writes. “Take calculated risks when you hire people. Prize transferable skills above industry experience.”


Is consolidation the key to a digital journalism transformation for Gannett and GateHouse? (USA Today)

The proposed merger of Gannett and GateHouse would give the two news companies the critical element of time — time to pursue financial stability through reader revenue. To build paid online readership, Gannett and GateHouse will need to focus on audiences and what drives them to pay for news, say industry experts. Merging may also give them a better chance at competing with Google and Facebook for ad dollars. National brands may welcome the chance to work with a combined Gannett-GateHouse because the newly combined company would provide a central funneling point for placing ads, said one expert. 


A paradox at the heart of the newspaper crisis (New York Times)

Hedge funds have capitalized on the struggling news industry over the last decade, buying up ailing newspapers at bargain-basement rates and drastically lowering overhead; which reduces costs at a faster rate than it drives down revenues. The strategy works financially, at least for now: Hedge fund-managed newspapers have shrunk, while their profits have gone up. But there’s a flaw in the plan (aside from stripping newspapers of the ability to produce high-quality journalism), says Alexia Quadrani, an analyst at J.P. Morgan. “[The news industry is] a cash cow, right? But at the end of the day, it is in decline. You ask yourself, What’s your endgame?”


+ Journalists on the “aha” moments that changed the way they work: “Some of my favorite pieces, I realized, had started when I’d been annoyed by something — or, more accurately, noticing that I’d been annoyed by something” (Columbia Journalism Review) 

+ What makes a badass journalist? “I think it’s someone for whom ‘no’ is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Jane Mayer, the New Yorker’s Washington correspondent. “They see ‘no’ the way a bull sees a red flag. Like, ‘Oh, really? OK, charge.’” (In Style)

+ Women rewriting the rules of reporting in the Arab world (New York Times)