Need to Know: December 12, 2018

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


You might have heard: Time’s 2018 ‘Person of the Year’ is killed and imprisoned journalists (NBC News)

But did you know: Why the ‘guardians’ are Time’s person of the year (Time)

“It has long been the first move in the authoritarian playbook: controlling the flow of information and debate that is freedom’s lifeblood,” writes Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal. “And in 2018, the playbook worked … From Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley, manipulation and abuse of truth is the common thread in so many of this year’s major headlines, an insidious and growing threat to freedom.” Time magazine’s choice(s) for its Person of the Year award recognizes individuals whose profession serves as the first line of defense against disinformation, censorship and other forms of corruption; and who have paid a terrible price to seize the challenge of this moment: journalists Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md. “They are representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world — as of Dec. 10, at least 52 journalists have been murdered in 2018 — who risk all to tell the story of our time.”

+ Noted: Slate’s newly unionized writers and editors give okay to strike (Bloomberg); RIP Fusion Tables: Google is killing off the beloved data visualization tool (Fast Company); CBS settles with women who accused Charlie Rose of sexual harassment (The New York Times)


Apply for funds to start 2019 with better newsroom analytics

News organizations that want to prioritize audience-driven storytelling and simplify their analytics with easy-to-use dashboards can now take advantage of subsidized access to the Metrics for News software and services provided by API. Thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, up to 10 newsrooms will be able to use Metrics for News at a reduced cost. The customizable analytics dashboard can help you answer important questions about what content your audiences engage with and why, giving you valuable insight into the kinds of stories that build loyalty and trigger subscriptions. Learn more about the Metrics for News subsidies.


What user testing taught me about writing news for young people (Medium, BBC News Labs)

Over the course of a year testing out new digital storytelling formats, the BBC found that mechanisms that help explain or give context to the news tended to be especially popular with younger readers. “These particular audiences want help to go beyond the headlines and understand why things are happening, and why it matters,” writes Zoe Murphy. While nifty tools like in-article expanders and interactive timelines are great at allowing journalists to insert more context, simply adhering to certain writing principles can also go a long way to engage younger readers. One basic rule is to write in a way that eliminates the need to Google, says Murphy. “Often if an article is missing information, young people will use Google to fill in the missing blanks … Visualise someone coming to the subject for the first time, and write for them.”

+ Earlier: 12 prototypes, eight weeks, and lots of tapping: What’s worked (and hasn’t) in the BBC’s quest for new storytelling formats (Nieman Lab)


Google’s Dragonfly will intensify surveillance on journalists in China (Columbia Journalism Review)

Despite popular disapproval, Google appears to be moving forward with Dragonfly, a censorship-compliant search engine code that it built for the Chinese market. If and when it launches, which it has reportedly been getting ready to do since August, the Chinese government will have access to all Dragonfly users’ identities, real-time locations, search history, and biometrics. “Assuming Chinese journalists use Dragonfly for research the same way journalists outside the country use Google, these laws mean the Chinese state will be able to learn how journalists discover a story, establish contact with sources, and report the story out,” writes Mia Shuang Li. “Then the state can prosecute anyone with involvement in the process at their discretion.”


The sneaky fight to give cable lines free speech rights (Wired)

The cable industry is quietly pushing to ensure that the act of transmitting speech from Point A to Point B is protected by the First Amendment, so that making a cable connection carry any speech it isn’t interested in amounts to unconstitutional “forced speech,” reports Susan Crawford. The legislation would make it so that internet access — today’s basic utility — will be treated just like the press for First Amendment purposes, giving it a free pass in perpetuity from any governmental oversight. “What’s amazing is that the cable industry seems happy to accept the increased liability that accompanies being treated like a newspaper,” writes Crawford. “Apparently freedom from all rules is worth the risk of someday dealing with lawsuits. The reason: They’ve got plenty of cash to pay lawyers with.”


What does membership mean for BuzzFeed News — a company that’s already raised nearly $500 million in venture capital? (Nieman Lab)

BuzzFeed is expected to hit $300 million in revenues this year, after missing its $350 million target last year by about $90 million. Membership, which just kicked off last month after an open appeal to followers earlier this year, is one of the revenue threads BuzzFeed is trying to weave together, writes Christine Schmidt. “It’s no secret that this has been a really turbulent environment for all our colleagues across the industry,” said Shani Hilton, BuzzFeed News’s vice president of news and programming. “One of the things we’re doing this year is thinking more rationally about how to make decisions that support projects.” Membership may be a new decision for a major VC-funded company like BuzzFeed, but it’s not the only one going down this path: According to this database, 47 for-profit news organizations and 35 news nonprofits have membership components.

+ Related: “Being ad-dependent was never good for anybody,” says Quartz’s Jay Lauf. Quartz launched its own membership program in November. (Digiday)


Starving the watchdog: Who foots the bill when newspapers disappear? (NPR)

With no shortage of free information on the internet, millions of Americans have decided they don’t need to shell out for a subscription to their local newspaper. But new research suggests this collective decision may have costs in the long run. In an episode of the NPR podcast “The Hidden Brain,” Shankar Vendantam, Rhaina Cohen and Tara Boyle cover new research that looks at the long-term effect of treating newspapers like dispensable consumer products. The study found that after a newspaper closes, municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points, costing the municipality an additional $650,000 per issue. “This effect is causal and not driven by underlying economic conditions,” the researchers wrote. “The loss of government monitoring resulting from a closure is associated with higher government wages and deficits, and increased likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated sales. Overall, our results indicate that local newspapers hold their governments accountable, keeping municipal borrowing costs low and ultimately saving local taxpayers money.”