Need to Know: December 7, 2018

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


You might have heardConsumers love smart speakers. They don’t love news on smart speakers. (At least not yet.) (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Google is launching a voice-driven version of Google News for smart speakers and phones (Nieman Lab)

So far, consumers aren’t the biggest fans of the sort of news briefings that publishers have been pushing out. Common complaints: The briefings are too long. They’re not updated frequently enough. They’re too repetitive; when bulletins from different news providers run together, stories get duplicated. And it’s hard to skip stories you’re not interested in — or hear more of the kind that you are interested in. Google is hoping to address some of these concerns with a new experiment, announced yesterday, that will deliver more personalized audio news feeds through Google Assistant. The company has spent the past year working with around 130 publishers to build a prototype of a news radio station that customers can control — using voice to skip stories, go back, or stop and dive further into a given topic. It’s built using each story as an individual chunk, rather than a briefing of stories. Google is now looking for more publishers to submit story feeds and try the technology.

+ Noted: CNN’s New York offices given all-clear after bomb threat (CNN); EU executive office proposes plan to combat fake news as elections approach (Reuters); Reporters at Bloomberg News are worried about Michael Bloomberg’s potential presidential run, which could mean the end of the news outlet’s political coverage (BuzzFeed News)

API Update

The week in fact-checking

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of “The Week in Fact-Checking” newsletter, how to monitor Facebook groups for misinformation, making your own deceptive bots (for research purposes), the “Share Joy, Not Rumours” campaign in India, and a limited-run podcast on misinformation.


Two tricks for retaining subscribers (Nieman Lab)

INMA’s November Consumer Engagement Summit looked at how newsrooms can move people from readers to subscribers to lifetime customers. The full report on the summit is available online, but here are a couple of the best takeaways. First, don’t underestimate the power of giving subscribers a simple nudge when you notice they’re not opening your emails or logging in as often. Canada’s Globe and Mail reduced churn by 27 percent by emailing subscribers who hadn’t logged in for 30 days; and it reduced churn by a whopping 140 percent by emailing subscribers who had the highest propensity to drop off. Second, get rid of the content that nobody reads. The USA Today Network ran an internal campaign designed around this concept: “Stop doing things readers don’t want.” It built a tool called Pressbox to show its journalists how their stories are doing based not just on page views but on “volume, engage time, and loyalty (return frequency).”

+ Related: If you need to back up from retaining subscribers to attracting more of them, this resource and this one could help.


Earn after reading: China news app lures with clickbait and cash (Reuters)

Chinese news app Qutoutiao Inc. is pursuing an unusual strategy to lure users: paying them to read articles. So far, the strategy has proved successful — Qutoutiao has tripled its number of daily users over the last year, and is now up to more than 20 million. But how sustainable is it in the long run? “It is getting more and more expensive to get traffic,” admitted Chief Financial Officer Wang Jingbo, but he also insisted that the cash giveaways were a key hook and a long-term strategy. “It’s the eyeball economy. Previously, people had to spend money to see content, but with the changing internet they no longer have to pay … Not only are they not paying — users now need to earn something as well.”

+ From a Myanmar jail, a children’s book about the power of journalism (Columbia Journalism Review)


How AI will groom a new breed of ‘super managers’ (Forbes)

By some estimates, managers spend more than half their workdays on administrative tasks like scheduling, budgets and reports — tasks that a growing number of AI applications are poised to take over. By 2021, these AI-powered functions could generate an estimated $2.9 billion in business value and save 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity, according to the research firm Gartner. They can also leave managers free to focus on more valuable work, such as data-driven decision making, long-term strategic thinking, and being better mentors to their employees.  


It’s the end of news as we know it (and Facebook is feeling fine) (Mother Jones)

The toxic combination of Facebook’s anti-democratic effect, Donald Trump’s authoritarian presidency, and the rise of a bolder class of propagandists is the story that in many ways defined this year, and will probably define the next two years too. It’s a complex tale (and an interesting one) in which Facebook is neither the only villain nor only a villain.

+ Maybe Facebook is not feeling so fine: “Internal tensions at Facebook are boiling over” as the company reacts to its latest crisis (BuzzFeed News)


It’s time to design newsrooms people want to work in (It’s All Journalism)

Newsrooms used to be bustling, cavernous and cluttered, great for putting out a daily paper, but not ideal for fostering collaboration and improving employee morale. “I heard editors again, again talk about the things that they hated about their old newsrooms,” said Dana Coester, who helped lead the redesign of West Virginia University’s Innovation Center. “They would describe these as these crazy little hovels.” Coester visited a number of newsrooms, where she discovered that many were incorporating more open space, natural lighting and designated gathering spaces to promote a positive work environment and more collaboration. That means exchanging endless cubicle rows for “flexible, movable spaces that people can come and go, use as needed, and you aggregate sort of in impromptu ways.”

+ Related: Coester’s guide to making over your newsroom


+ A personal essay to end all personal essays: A UNC student and fourth-generation journalist plans to carry on the family tradition (Poynter)

+ “If New Orleans is still the music capital of the world, you wouldn’t know it from reading most local publications — unless, of course, you read OffBeat”: How Jan Ramsey keeps music journalism alive in New Orleans (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ Wes Anderson’s next movie, The French Dispatch, is a “love letter to journalists” set in 20th-century Paris (Slate)