Need to Know: December 21, 2020

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


You might have heard: Last week, Axios announced it was buying local news site The Charlotte Agenda (The Charlotte Observer)

But did you know: Digital media players prepare for acquisitions, other deals (The Wall Street Journal)

Last year, several acquisitions took place, including Vox Media’s purchase of New York Media, but the economic impacts of the pandemic slowed the pace of media deals for most of 2020. Now among those that are considering buying competitors or going public are BuzzFeed, which made an agreement to buy HuffPost last month, and Group Nine Media, which owns NowThis, Thrillist and other digital titles. After buying The Charlotte Agenda, Axios is planning for other acquisitions as part of its entrance into local news markets.

+ Noted: On Friday, The New York Times retracted the core of its podcast series “Caliphate” (NPR); The Times had received a Peabody Award for the series, which the paper agreed to return (Variety); The Washington Post plans to add more than 150 jobs next year (The Hill)


How Documented uses WhatsApp to reach local immigrant communities

We spoke with co-founder Mazin Sidahmed about how Documented, a nonprofit news outlet serving New York City’s immigrant community, has been using WhatsApp to address Spanish-speaking readers’ questions and concerns about the coronavirus.


How publishers are diversifying revenue during the pandemic (Knight Foundation)

Mark Glaser writes that nimble efforts to secure revenue during the pandemic are likely to continue in the future. More for-profit newsrooms have been experimenting with fundraising tactics, as they seek philanthropic money from grants and donors. Report for America, a possible driver of this trend, provides newsrooms with support to hire journalists, but the outlets must cover a quarter of their reporters’ salaries through local fundraising. Nonprofits are doing the converse, banking on sponsorships and events to provide an alternative to charitable giving. At the nonprofit Texas Tribune, a third of its revenue is earned through events or other sources that aren’t donations, but that’s not the case for many nonprofits. A survey of Institute for Nonprofit News members found earned income amounted to only 11% of their revenue.

+ How to narrate articles to make them more accessible for people with disabilities (Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute)


How Vogue’s international approach to audience data helped it reach record readers (Digiday)

In March, Vogue’s audience team noticed that the magazine’s sites, including those for editions around the world, had declining traffic during what used to be peak times of the day for site visits. That drop was likely due to their readers becoming engrossed in COVID-19 coverage, but in May, Vogue’s sites received a traffic bump as their audiences returned for escapist content. The audience team told editorial staffers the types of stories that were performing best and when, as well as the most popular topics, including altruism, culture and sustainability. Based on that information, the editorial staffers honed their strategies to respond to readers’ content needs and improve traffic, which is up 40% from last year.


About 40 state attorneys general file antitrust lawsuit against Google (The Wrap)

The lawsuit claims that Google’s 90% share of the online search market is linked to anticompetitive practices, including providing search results that give top billing to its own products, rather than those of other companies. According to the suit, Google also edged out competition through its arrangement with another tech giant, Apple, to be the iPhone’s default search engine. In a separate lawsuit filed last week, attorneys general from Texas and several other states alleged Google’s ad business, which made $37 billion in the previous quarter, manipulates auctions with deceptive practices to drive up the price of advertising.

+ Earlier: In October, the Department of Justice and 11 state attorneys general filed another antitrust suit against Google, calling the company “the monopoly gatekeeper to the internet.” (Department of Justice)

+ Why Gmail may cut off Substack newsletters after 1,500 words (Twitter, @ShortFormErnie)


Caliphate’s bad source shows the dangers of the podcasting gold rush (The Verge)

Ashley Carman writes that The New York Times’ discredited podcast, “Caliphate,” is part of a trend of news outlets investing in audio to set the groundwork for future streaming or video production deals. Other high-profile podcasts have gone this route, like “S-Town” from Times-owned Serial Productions, which is being developed into a feature-length film. Podcasting network Wondery has more than a dozen shows that are being adapted for television. Carman argues that during the search for juicy details that could translate well to video, nonfiction podcasts need to remember that “the desire for a good story can’t outweigh fact-checking.”


Why voter data on race is hard to come by (Votebeat)

Race and ethnicity impact political views, but states and media organizations don’t use uniform methods to estimate voter turnout by race. States like Pennsylvania don’t include information on race in their voter registration records, while some states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, require residents to disclose their race while registering to vote, and others request that information without requiring it. Exit polls that ask respondents their race can be skewed, as well, because the average exit poll surveyors are young, which may make older voters less comfortable to speak with them.

+ How Betsy Wade changed journalism for women (Columbia Journalism Review)