Need to Know: August 5, 2021

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: The “Trump slump” happened (The Washington Post)

But did you know: Post-COVID traffic declines set some sites back two years (Digiday)

New data from the analytics site Parse.ly shows that publishers’ site traffic has — as expected — declined from its 2020 peak, but the drop has been especially steep for smaller publishers, so that they are behind where they were in 2019 in terms of page views. For small publishers whose sites gather between 30,000 and 1 million pageviews per month, traffic is down 40% from the same period in 2019. For even smaller publishers, traffic is down 27% over those same periods. Fewer social media referrals account for much of that decline — which actually could signal a healthier relationship between small publishers and social media platforms. “The sky is not falling…yet,” said Kelsey Arendt, data analysis lead at Parse.ly. “Fewer visitors might mean more valuable, more engaged ones, as well as just healthier relationships with advertising, with Facebook.”

+ Noted: Nonprofit newsrooms across the U.S. form a consortium to expand coverage of rural America (Institute for Nonprofit News)

API UPDATE

Apply by tomorrow for funding to support government and accountability reporting

API is accepting applications through Friday, Aug. 6, from local news organizations interested in making their government and accountability reporting more audience-centered. We will award grants of up to $10,000 for project proposals that aim to promote greater community engagement and participation in the reporting process on issues related to government and public accountability. For project ideas and inspiration, see our resources page. Here are the application details and the form to apply.

TRY THIS AT HOME

How Documented grew its audience with a ‘community-oriented approach’ (Medium, Documented)

Documented, a nonprofit news outlet in New York that covers immigration issues, started its WhatsApp newsletter with an audience of zero. And audience growth didn’t truly pick up until the pandemic hit, when users began flocking to Documented’s WhatsApp group with urgent questions. “We started creating content based on what people shared with us on WhatsApp about their experiences during the pandemic,” writes audience editor Nicolás Ríos. “We also pushed call-outs with questions aimed at understanding our audiences better.” The audience-driven reporting approach led to a 205% increase in visitors, a 208% increase in unique page views, and 19.5% increase in average session duration, all year over year. And Documented’s evergreen content, much of it inspired by audience members’ questions, has been a major driver of that traffic.

OFFSHORE

Pan-African weekly The Continent publishes directly on WhatsApp and Signal (Nieman Lab)

In April 2020, a group of journalists launched The Continent, a weekly newsletter designed for mobile and distributed only through WhatsApp and Signal. The articles are mostly short — 250 to 400 words, with longer stories running up to 900 words. Editions can be downloaded as PDFs. Subscribers — now up to about 11,000 — are asked to share the publication on their own WhatsApp networks — not “indiscriminately, but with people and networks who you think might value the work that we do.” While many news organizations around the world have struggled with the transition to digital, The Continent’s atypical model has proved successful, “without ever going through the digital wasteland of a million iterations of websites and paywalls,” writes Christine Mungai.

OFFBEAT

Trusting science leaves people vulnerable to believing pseudoscience, new research finds (Journalist’s Resource)

A new study found that participants who indicated they had higher levels of trust in science were most likely to believe news articles with false information if they contained scientific references. Participants who demonstrated a stronger understanding of scientific methods were less likely to believe what they read, regardless of whether the information was attributed to science. The results show that this “methodological literacy” and healthy skepticism are more important than having a blanket trust in science. “The solution to climate change denial, irrational fears of GMOs or vaccination hesitancy is not to preach trust in science,” wrote Dolores Albarracín, one of the study’s co-authors. “Trust in science does not fix all evils and can create susceptibility to pseudoscience if trusting means not being critical.”

UP FOR DEBATE

Facebook’s reason for banning researchers doesn’t hold up (Wired)

Facebook on Tuesday disabled the accounts of researchers at New York University who were investigating how the company does political ad targeting, claiming that their investigation violated users’ privacy. But the researchers’ work didn’t violate users’ privacy, not according to a consent decree set forth by the Federal Trade Commission in 2019. It begs the question of whether the company is really looking to protect its own privacy, writes Gilad Edelman. “Transparency and privacy are two important goals that at times are in tension. Facebook would like you to believe this is one of those times. But the real tension may be between Facebook’s public commitment to transparency and some other, unstated values that it prefers to keep, well — private.”

SHAREABLE 

How the Long Beach Post used Minecraft to reach younger audiences during the pandemic (Lenfest Institute)

With residents isolated from each other during the pandemic, the Long Beach Post designed a virtual way to keep readers interested and actively engaged in the future of Long Beach. The Post used the video game Minecraft to build (and renovate and redesign) a virtual version of Long Beach, inviting users to join in while listening to weekly live-streamed interviews with reporters and others in the community. About 400 people did, and some are still consistently building today even after the Post held its last event in August 2020. Valerie Osier, the Post’s social media and newsletter manager, said the project helped reporters see everyone come together in “one place where people could express themselves as a community.”