Need to Know: December 6, 2018

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


You might have heard39 percent of rural Americans lack home broadband access — in contrast to only 4 percent of urban Americans (The Conversation)

But did you know: The digital divide is wider than we think (The New York Times)

A new study by Microsoft researchers casts a light on the actual use of high-speed internet across the country, and the picture it presents is very different from the official estimate of the Federal Communications Commission, reports Steve Lohr. Their analysis suggests that speedy access is much more limited than the F.C.C. data shows. Over all, Microsoft concluded that 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, while the F.C.C. says broadband is not available to 24.7 million Americans. The discrepancy is particularly stark in rural areas. The Microsoft analysis also includes county unemployment data, which points to the strong correlation between joblessness and low rates of broadband use. “The worst place to be is in a place where there is no access to the technology everyone else is benefiting from,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.

+ “Until the problem of access to information is solved for all Americans, [journalists’] best efforts at pandering across the looming American divide is going unnoticed.” (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ Noted: Les Moonves obstructed investigation into misconduct claims, report says (The New York Times); Gannett CEO Robert J. Dickey to retire in 2019 (USA Today); Tacoma News Tribune to lay off dozens of printing employees as it shuts down printing press (Seattle Times)


How to understand different reader types and drive each type to subscribe

The latest addition to API’s Reader Revenue Toolkit looks at the different “paths to subscription” — or the factors that drive people to decide to subscribe to a news publication — and how publishers can develop strategies to target each of those reader types.


Journalism’s structural defect — and some replicable fixes (Belt Magazine)

With American trust in public institutions at an historic low, it’s worth considering how the traditional model of journalism — which puts the power of uncovering and publicizing wrongdoing into the hands of very few people — might be rebuilt to be more inclusive and transparent. Chicago nonprofit City Bureau is tackling the issue through its Citizens Police Data Project (among other initiatives), which trains people on how to use journalistic tools to access public records and analyze the data within. “At City Bureau, we’ve learned the wisdom of sharing that power with as many people as possible,” writes Bettina Chang. “Why not equip more community members to dig up information about their local governments, police departments, school boards, and the like? Why not show people how to vet the information and share it with each other while building their own avenues of civic power?”

+ “Newsrooms can use [comment sections] as opportunities to answer questions, build trust and frankly provide an open line for people who have proven to be their most loyal readers,” says The Washington Post’s outgoing comments editor Teddy Amenabar (Gather); Want to know what it’s like to be a comments editor (and glean some tips for your newsroom)? Check out Amenabar’s Twitter thread (Twitter, @TeddyAmen)


A German news site blends ‘local news with local conversation’ (Medium, Alexander Drößler)

Winner of the Vor Ort NRW  Award for Innovation in Local Journalism, German news startup Lokalportal  sees itself as being at the center of a “digital town,” where residents of a geographical area can come together to read and discuss local news, or even announce news of their own on the site’s moderated newsfeed. Lokalportal’s reporters and editors engage users on topics of interest, and ask for story ideas and feedback on reporting. “Lokalportal provides direct access to local life and its digital participation,” writes product manager Alexander Drößler. “We believe this is a key development for the future and sustainability of local news.”

+ French opposition parties are taking Macron’s anti-misinformation law to court (Poynter); How Facebook’s local news algorithm change led to the worst riots Paris has seen in 50 years (BuzzFeed News)


Mending democracy, one euphemism at a time (Medium, Anahita Mukherji)

A closed Facebook group called The Many brings together more than 400 women from across the political spectrum using a tried-and-true ice breaker: humor. An experiment in dialogue journalism from the nonprofit Spaceship Media, The Many is moderated by editors who regularly inject it with humorous conversation starters, and who ensure lighter topics like “favorite recipes” or “Halloween costumes” are as robustly debated as the more serious issues. “The fun things on the group are very intentional,” says project director Adriana García. “They help women see each other as well-rounded human beings. When we know the person behind the vote, it’s harder to hate the other side, and it’s easier for us to come to a consensus, not of solutions, but of problems that must be solved.”


There isn’t one best way to map local news ecosystems. But can we do it better? (Nieman Lab)

“Despite the volume of research currently underway about news ecosystems, there is no gold standard; many studies to date have critical flaws, such as focusing on only one type of media, using too few sources to feed underlying databases, or considering news only through a strict geographic lens,” writes Sarah Stonbely, director of research at the Center for Cooperative Media. About a year ago, the Center began working on a new methodology to map the “true landscape” of the local news ecosystem, which takes into account the issue’s twin problems: depth versus scale. “…Case studies offer more nuance and depth, but often sacrifice generalizability. Scalable studies can offer generalization, but often sacrifice detail and depth. The goal of the Center for Cooperative Media’s local news ecosystem mapping project is to devise a methodology that does both.”


‘Everyone’s for sale’: A generation of digital-media darlings prepares for a frigid winter (Vanity Fair)

It was around this time last year that things were starting to look a little dicey for the media industry’s once breathlessly-hyped digital unicorns, writes Joe Pompeo. Both BuzzFeed and Vice made news for substantially missing their revenue targets. Mashable was sold at a dramatic price reduction. Vox Media was forced to terminate 5 percent of its workforce. These companies, which once heralded the dawn of a new media age, now appeared to exhibit some traits of the brands that they once attempted to disrupt. They were large, less nimble, and increasingly vulnerable to Facebook and Google. They seemed virtually encircled by competitors familiar and new. On one side was a new generation of smaller yet influential companies focused on monetizing their direct relationships with consumers, like Axios, TheSkimm, Crooked Media, and the Athletic, to name a few. On the other were a tandem of revitalized shit-kicking legacy players, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, who were converting subscribers at unforeseen levels in the Trump era. A year later, the challenges have hardly abated.

+ “I have always felt that we spend so much time thinking about all the obstacles, competitions, and barriers that we psyche ourselves out sometimes … The principal task was, is, and remains creating something urgent, compelling, and fascinating to read”: The future of men’s magazines, as Jim Nelson leaves GQ (Columbia Journalism Review)