Need to Know: August 20, 2019

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


You might have heard: “Democracy . . . is about to die in Youngstown” with closing of the local newspaper (Washington Post)

But did you know: Youngstown will have a daily named The Vindicator after all. But it’s a brand surviving, not a newspaper. (Nieman Lab)

Narrowly avoiding a shutdown, Youngstown, Ohio’s 150-year-old newspaper has been bought by Ogden Newspapers, which is based in West Virginia and runs a handful of other newspapers in the region. The Tribune Chronicle, an Ogden newspaper in nearby Warren, Ohio, is acquiring The Vindicator’s subscription list, masthead and web domain. But The Vindicator’s journalists are still losing their jobs, and the town’s local news will still take a hit, writes Joshua Benton. “For Youngstown, the reality is it’s moving from having a newspaper of its own to having a zoned edition of a smaller newspaper in a smaller city one county over.” Benton expects to see similar deals being struck across the country as local newspapers fold. “The logical endpoint of this line of strategy is local dailies that are really just thinly rebranded versions of the same newspaper … I think this sort of unacknowledged-zoned-edition model is going to be a big part of what happens next to local newspapers — bigger than actual closures.”

+ Earlier: The Compass Experiment, a local news initiative from Google and McClatchy, will launch a digital news operation in Youngstown to make up for the loss of The Vindicator (Medium, Mandy Jenkins)

+ Noted: Applications are open for ProPublica’s Diversity Mentorship Program at ONA (ProPublica); Websites that peddle disinformation make millions of dollars in ads, study finds (CNN); Facebook tries again by hiring journalists to staff its news tab (Digiday)


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The Hartford Courant let survivors of a tragic 75-year-old circus fire tell their own stories (Poynter)

Reliving local history can be a powerful way for news organizations to bring their communities together. Seventy-five years after a massive fire broke out at a circus in Hartford, Conn., claiming the lives of 168 people, the Hartford Courant decided to create a “living memorial” for survivors. The staff collected oral histories and sifted through state archives to create interactive materials showing how various individuals would have experienced the fire. “The circus fire is still talked about in Hartford, mostly because there are still many survivors alive but also because so many people either had relatives who were there or know people who were there and survived,” said investigative reporter Dave Altimari. “It’s a story that has been passed between generations for 75 years.”


Battling Hong Kong disinformation, Twitter will bar advertising from state-run news media (CNBC)

Facebook and Twitter are working to suspend hundreds of accounts that have been linked to a state-run disinformation campaign originating from inside China. Twitter’s struggle has led to a policy update, announced yesterday, that will bar state-controlled news media entities from advertising on the platform. “This policy will apply to news media entities that are either financially or editorially controlled by the state,” Twitter stated. “It has been informed by established academic and civil society leaders in this space,” including press freedom groups like Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House and the Committee to Protect Journalists.


Would you filter out bad news if you could? (BBC)

If people could control the news they were exposed to, would they consume more of it? That’s the theory a team of BBC researchers recently tested with a tool called the “News Mood Filter,” a browser extension that allows users to “mute” news articles that contain words of their choosing, like “assault,” “suicide” or “kill.” Alicia Grandjean, the lead researcher on the project, said the product (or similar versions that help people avoid potentially distressing news) could help reduce news-induced anxiety and sadness, which have been blamed for growing rates of news avoidance. “I really think that we can create simple tools to give control back to users to allow them to engage with news in the way that is most appropriate for them,” wrote Grandjean.


The dark side of journalism’s fairy godmother business model (Poynter)

The stunning news last week that Pacific Standard — a magazine long respected for its social justice and environmental long-form reporting — had been cut off from its lone source of funding and was closing its doors, should serve as a cautionary tale for those who wish for a benevolent patron to invest in their journalism outfit, writes Kelly McBride. Short of an endowment guaranteed to generate operating expenses, no news organization should ever depend on a single donor, she says. “As philanthropy expands its role in journalism, we should keep our eyes wide open to the fact that all good things will come to an end. While the money is there, let’s think bigger or find a business model.”

+ Related: Closing of Pacific Standard and Topic shows perils of depending on a rich patron (New York Times); “When journalists think deep pocketed benefactors shield them from having to run a business, bad things ALWAYS happen. Every nonprofit newsroom is a business, like it or not.” (Twitter, @KLJDavis)


Chris Wallace becomes Trump era’s ‘equal opportunity inquisitor’ (The Hill)

In an increasingly partisan and siloed news environment, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor has carved out a reputation as a tough but fair interviewer whose fans include both Democrats and Republicans, writes Brett Samuels. Just last month, he was nominated for an Emmy for his 2018 interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Wallace has likened his preparation to that of a cross-examiner trying to predict how a subject might respond to a given question and how to get them off script: “I’ve been called an equal opportunity inquisitor, and I take that very seriously,” he said.

+ This reporter came for ER bills (with the help of 1,000-plus patients), and now doctors are listening (Nieman Lab); How the 1619 Project came together (New York Times)