Need to Know: Feb. 3, 2020

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


You might have heard: Des Moines Register poll scrapped after apparent mishap (Politico)

But did you know: A scrappy Iowa start-up is the ‘it’ read for political insiders (The New York Times)

Iowa Starting Line, a journalism start-up with five journalists, has earned the eyes of national politicos and reporters covering the 2020 presidential election. Founded by 34-year-old former Democratic operative Pat Rynard, the concept for Starting Line evolved from being a left-leaning political blog to a site with straightforward, hyperlocal coverage. Starting Line is for-profit, with advertising revenue covering about half of its expenses last month, and while the publication doesn’t appear to disclose its donors, Rynard identified them as wealthy individuals and left-leaning advocacy groups.

+ Noted: Media heiress Anne Cox Chambers died Friday (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution); After layoffs at The Brooklyn Eagle, current and former staffers accuse owner of mismanagement (Gothamist); ‘Morning Brew’ newsletter records skyrocketing revenue, hires 4 new execs (MediaPost)


What makes people pay for news

As part of the Media Insight Project, a joint effort between API and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, we conducted what may be the largest study ever undertaken of people who have recently subscribed to newspapers. See what “triggers” makes people subscribe, and why they continue to stay subscribed.


Why this pre-election listening tour asked voters about their lives, not candidates (Twitter, @robyntomlin)

Dozens of journalists from North Carolina’s News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer logged more than 20,000 miles in an ambitious, six-month project to better understand voters leading up to the 2020 election. During the listening tour, visual journalists visited every county in the state and spoke with a diverse group of voters to find out what matters to them. “We heard that their concerns don’t always fit simplistic Right-Left narratives employed to explain what drives ‘swing state’ votes,” Robyn Tomlin said on Twitter. The papers also plan to host conversations on topics like health care leading up to the election.

+ Want more revenue for local journalism? Develop an engaging voice (Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute); American University’s student newspaper launches a column focused on transparency (The Eagle)


Brazilian media literacy projects find allies outside journalism (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)

In 2018, three Brazilian journalists were alarmed by the disinformation that surged during elections. Their solution was Redes Cordiais, or Friendly Networks, which targets a group that media literacy projects tend to overlook – influencers. Since its launch, Redes Cordiais has trained 136 celebrities, politicians and other influencers with a combined social media reach of more than 66 million followers. The program’s workshops cover a wide range of subjects, including algorithms, legal topics and how to verify information. Plus, they’re in-person. “It works as an antidote to the virtual,” Redes Cordiais co-founder Alana Rizzo said.


How local news publishers can better leverage technology (The Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy)

Verifying information is vital in local news, and the Duke Reporters’ Lab is developing a new version of a tool that would make fact-checking less time consuming for journalists covering state news in New York and North Carolina. The tool evolved out of ClaimBuster, a bot the lab created to scrape hours of TV transcripts and dozens of social media accounts for statements that may be worth fact-checking. The tool then emails participating fact-checkers a daily rundown of potential statements to look into. 


In the wake of several big name failures, the industry seeks a solid Spanish language news model (Digital Content Next)

The United States is home to 59 million Spanish speakers, and some publications, like The Washington Post, have podcasts or other products to serve this audience. Meanwhile, other outlets abandoned Spanish-language projects that failed to bring in enough revenue. Last year, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, BuzzFeed News and the Huffington Post stopped publishing their Spanish-language sites, prompting Kasia Kovacs to ask if it’s too much to expect local news outlets to launch Spanish-language projects. “Given that national outlets such as the New York Times can’t turn a profit from such investments,” she writes, “the answer for many local newsrooms with fewer resources may just be yes. Right now, it is too much.”

+ How prepublication review gives government agencies the power to suppress speech (The New York Times)


The conservatives trying to ditch fake news (The Atlantic)

While writing for the National Review, conservative writer David French faced what he called “relentless partisan pressure.” Jonah Goldberg, who wrote for the publication for more than 20 years, dealt with donor or subscriber complaints if he wrote in opposition to Trump or nationalism. Last year, Goldberg and Stephen Hayes launched The Dispatch, a publication that attracted French and other writers with its goal to revive fact-based reporting for a center-right audience. The site has already drawn about 50,000 subscribers each to its three main newsletters, and one of its podcasts made Apple’s list of the top 100 podcasts last month.