Need to Know: August 21, 2019

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


You might have heard: Satire or deceit? Christian humor site feuds with Snopes (The New York Times)

But did you know: Maybe you know that article is satire, but a lot of people can’t tell the difference (Nieman Lab)

Whether it’s comedian Stephen Colbert in “The Colbert Report” or an article from The Onion, people don’t always recognize satire when they see it. Researchers from Ohio State University examined false political stories that were shared the most on social media and found that many were satire. The team then surveyed about 800 people and found that at least 15 percent of Republicans believed eight different falsehoods from The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning satirical site. On the other end of the political spectrum, 1 in 8 Democrats surveyed believed an inaccurate claim from The Onion regarding Kellyanne Conway.

+ Noted: Malheur County officials ask sheriff to assess whether Enterprise reporters broke laws (Malheur Enterprise); Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times (NBC News); Jury awards former Times sports columnist $15.4 million for discrimination claim (Los Angeles Times)


Trust Tip: Explain how you decide which stories to cover (Trusting News)

After readers asked The Coloradoan why it covered some crimes and not others, editor Jennifer Hefty wrote this column last year to explain the paper’s reasoning. Without an explanation for coverage decisions, your audience may form its own conclusions and assume you have an agenda. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


Smart investments in paid lead acquisition to grow membership (The Membership Puzzle Project)

Environmental news site Grist has grown from a staff of 10 in 2004 to 35 and an annual revenue of $3 million. Researcher Phillip Smith writes that some of Grist’s success can be attributed to paid subscriber acquisition, paid marketing that asks a consumer to contact them again. This could come in the form of asking for contact information or providing a free trial or other service where a consumer provides the information. The Membership Puzzle Project and Pico are researching paid acquisition campaigns, and so far, they have found the campaigns led to thousands of new email newsletter subscribers, who have open rates of 26 to 36 percent, compared to a 14 percent average for media newsletters.


The Outriders launches a transformation scheme for media organizations (

For newsrooms in Central and Eastern Europe, “What they want is having a societal impact, not living off another grant,” said Jakub Górnicki, CEO of Polish journalism organization The Outriders. Media Garage, a six-month program from The Outriders, will guide four media organizations in Ukraine and Moldova through the process of developing new financial and editorial strategies. The program started with an analysis of the companies’ current strategies, including management approaches, and will go on to include visits from 20 mentors, each with a particular niche.


4 former interns look back at exploitation, power dynamics, and ultimate career payoff (Fast Company)

Internships are a valuable entrypoint to professional work with a company or industry, including journalism, but many are unpaid or reduce interns to filling the role of an assistant. Former interns who spoke with Fast Company said companies should change how they approach internships, which businesses often see as “a source of free labor.” Companies also can benefit from internship programs when it comes to recruiting full-time workers. “If you’re grooming someone from a young age, it makes sense to promote them from within as opposed to hiring an outsider who might have experienced three years in another company but doesn’t know how [this] company works,” said podcast host and former intern Chanel Omari.


I was skeptical of unions. Then I joined one.’ (Vox)

When Vox employees first pushed to unionize in 2017, writer German Lopez was skeptical that a union was necessary. He wasn’t alone, as union membership across the country has plummeted for decades. Now, Lopez considers himself a convert. Unions “give a ‘cultural voice’ to workers — one that checks executive excess,” he writes, adding: “Companies’ stated goals and values can be undermined by bad managers or overwhelmed by market forces. And even at a good company, these problems can pop up despite efforts to the contrary, and it’s always a risk to speak out about the problems alone.”


The sports news site haters love to dunk on keeps signing up subscribers (Bloomberg)

Since launching three years ago, The Athletic’s editorial team has ballooned to 400 staffers covering more than 270 teams in the United States and Canada. The company has received an impressive $90 million in venture capital, but it still isn’t making a profit. Ira Boudway writes that The Athletic receives comparisons to National Sports Daily, a tabloid that spent $150 million recruiting talent only to shut down in 1991 after a year and a half. However, this month the paywalled site hit 600,000 subscribers, 60 percent of whom are “super bundlers” following a college team, as well as professional teams from more than two cities.