Need to Know: August 29, 2019

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


You might have heard: The New York Times created an “Obits Diversity Analysis Tool,” to help it track and increase obituaries written for women (Daily Beast)

But did you know: Obituaries help keep local newspapers afloat (Axios) 

Obituaries are one of the last consistent revenue streams for local newspapers. According to data from local obituary and advertising placement firm Adpay, about $500 million in total annual revenue comes from obituaries, with more than a million paid obituaries created annually. For context, the newspaper market in the U.S. brings in roughly $25 billion in advertising and subscriptions combined. However, digital and social media increasingly present an alternative to newspaper obituaries. To stave off any loss in obit revenue, some newspapers have begun condensing death notices to just a few short words for free, in the hopes that people would pay extra for fuller obituaries.

+ Earlier: “Why aren’t we treating the obituary pages, from a design and editing perspective, as one of the most important sections of the newspaper? We might joke about it, but what could be more important than the deaths of loyal readers’ contemporaries?” Hearst VP Matt DeRienzo on “radically serving” print’s most loyal audience (Editor & Publisher); The Greeley Tribune in Colorado has a daily (digital) obit newsletter that it says has more than 1,000 subscribers with a 50 percent open rate, the highest at the paper

+ Noted: Funders have given Facebook a deadline to share data with researchers or they’re pulling out (BuzzFeed News); The Washington Post introduces new Spanish-language opinion section (Washington Post); Administrators of the Slack group Journalists of Color win ONA Community Award (ONA19); Google moves to simplify, standardize content policies for publishers (Search Engine Land)


Make the transition from advertising to reader revenue

In our report “What it takes to shift a news organization to reader revenue,” we examine the critical elements that must be in place to build and maintain a successful subscription program. Find out what you’re doing — or not doing — that could be hindering reader revenue.


Making journalism more ‘memberful’ (Membership Puzzle Project)

Crowdsourced reporting projects are great, but what about finding ways to regularly incorporate your audience’s knowledge and expertise into your journalism? The Membership Puzzle Project compiled examples from news organizations that do this well at each stage of the publishing process: planning, research and reporting, editing and fact-checking, and distribution. “We’re seeing it’s possible that a unique style of journalism can be built from these and other routines,” write Emily Goligoksi and Jay Rosen. “It’s also possible that your organization can grow faster. Really. And produce better stories.” 

+ How to succeed in a temporary news leadership role (RTDNA)


News site offers readers a chance to win £3,000 for pledging not to use phone at wheel (Hold the Front Page)

A local news site in Belfast, Ireland, has partnered with a local insurance company to launch #LeaveThePhoneAlone, a campaign that urges readers to pledge not to use phones at the wheel. Those who take the pledge are entered into a prize draw to win £3,000. The campaign idea was born after Belfast Live conducted a reader survey in which 88% of readers said they had seen someone using a mobile phone while driving within the previous week, and 30% admitted to looking at their own phones while driving. “From our initial reader survey, the scale of this issue was apparent, and we felt we needed to try to make a change amongst people’s attitudes to using their mobile in any way when driving,” said editor Chris Sherrard. 


Overlaying text on images helps draw reader attention (Medium, UX Collective)

Eye-tracking studies show that readers pay more attention to information loaded with visual elements. In a recent experiment at the ride-sharing company Uber, researchers placed a headline over a cover image and found that users spotted it more quickly and spent more time on the first fold than they did when the headline was placed underneath or alongside the image. In fact, in the latter placement, 10% of users did not focus their gaze on the headline, even for a moment. Newsroom web developers could consider presenting headlines this way not only for journalistic content, but for product landing pages as well.


How writing off the working class has hurt the mainstream media (Nieman Lab)

The drastic decline of the labor beat at most U.S. news outlets set the conditions for the deeply partisan media we have today, writes Christopher R. Martin. Over the last half-century, newspapers began to pursue higher-income audiences that typically worked in white-collar jobs, covering their upscale lifestyles and neglecting the working class. This marketing pivot left us with two problems, says Martin: “First, the news media usually look at the working class only through the lens of a political news story, not through the lens of a labor or workplace story. Second, the news media typically consider the ‘working class’ not in its entirety, but just in the stereotypical white male form, which nicely serves the purposes of divisive politicians who seek to exploit this image and divide working-class people on every other dimension: race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and citizenship.”

+ Earlier: Covering poor and working-class communities: What to avoid and how to get it right (Journalist’s Resource)


A solutions approach to photojournalism (

In partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and the Message in a Photo Foundation, the World Press Photo Foundation has launched the Solutions Visual Journalism Initiative, which helps journalists take a solutions approach to a visual project. “For 65 years, we have run an annual photo contest and what is often selected as the best, particularly for say, Photo of the Year, often deals only with the problem,” says David Campbell, director of programs and outreach at WPPF. “If you can capture all the problems with a photo, why can’t you capture the solutions?”