Need to Know: February 12, 2021


You might have heard: Unions push for pay equity as a path forward (Nieman Reports) 

But did you know: Unions are becoming ubiquitous in digital media. Medium is the latest. (CNN)

It was only five years ago that Gawker’s employees became the first digital newsroom to unionize, but now online unionizing is seemingly everywhere. Staffers from the publishing platform Medium announced this week that they intend to unionize. In the past few years, Medium has launched several in-house publications, including OneZero, GEN and Zora. Staffers said they’re not unionizing to address any imminent issues like layoffs or pay equity, but to unite the workforce and bring about discussions around systemic imbalances. Newsrooms unions have become more popular in an industry rife with low salaries, poor benefits and little job stability. 

+ Noted: Alden is in talks to buy Tribune Publishing (Wall Street Journal); Bloomberg News lays off 90 staffers including longtime editors (Variety) 


The empathetic newsroom: How journalists can better cover neglected communities 

Cultivating empathy into reporting can lead to better coverage of communities that have historically been marginalized or misrepresented by the media. This report describes empathetic techniques journalists can weave into their work, including spending more face-to-face time with sources, using nonverbal cues to show that you’re listening, and reframing questions to get at a source’s motivations and emotions.


How local public radio stations can make new residents feel at home (Twitter, @mkramer) 

In a Twitter thread, Melody Joy Kramer writes that when she moved to North Carolina five years ago, she asked the local public radio station, WUNC, to make a welcome kit for new residents like herself. The kit included five stories about getting familiar with the area, as well as how to listen to WUNC throughout the state. Now, she reflects on how public radio stations could produce better welcome kits, with help from local libraries. She suggests providing information for new residents about practical matters like registering to vote or getting a library card, important historical stories about the area, and information about local businesses and events. 

+ Earlier: The new folks in town are an untapped audience for local news (even if they don’t stay forever) (Nieman Lab)

+ Attend a free half-day “Share + Learn” about growing membership and audience with Scalawag (Scalawag, Eventbrite) 


Polish media suspend reporting to protest planned tax on advertising (Politico) 

Independent media outlets in Poland suspended news reporting on Wednesday to protest a new advertising tax that broadcasters and publishers say is aimed at undermining freedom of the press. Critics of the new tax on business advertising revenue say that the government is trying to undermine the viability of independent media, and say that the money will go to the state-run broadcaster, which has been turned into a pro-government propaganda outlet. They also say that the tax is structured to allow smaller, right-wing pro-government outlets to avoid paying. The tax’s supporters say that the money is necessary to repair public finances in the wake of the pandemic. 


Microsoft’s president says US should consider Aussie law vexing Facebook, Google (Axios) 

Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, has come out in favor of the U.S. adopting laws that would require tech companies to pay publishers for content, similar to the laws currently up for debate in Australia. Smith acknowledged that Microsoft, which has a revenue-sharing program through its Microsoft News, stands to benefit if laws like this put Microsoft’s search engine Bing on more equal playing ground with Google. Smith says that American lawmakers could adopt Australia’s provision that allows publishers to jointly negotiate with tech platforms, as well as require more transparency from the platforms. Google and Facebook have threatened to reduce service in Australia if this bill is passed. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which controls a sizable portion of Australia’s newspaper market, has lobbied extensively for the bill. 


Anger inside The New York Times as divided newsroom erupts in debate over recent controversies (CNN) 

Last week, The New York Times announced two high-profile departures — health and science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. and Caliphate producer Andy Mills. The circumstances around these resignations have brought “unprecedented levels of divisiveness and controversy” to the newsroom, according to Oliver Darcy. Many questions have emerged about how the paper deals with unethical activities within its ranks, as well as why there is not more transparency about decisions. McNeil left after outside reporting found that he had used a racial slur while on a student journalism trip, while Mills left after revelations about flaws in Caliphate’s reporting and problem incidents around his treatment of coworkers in former jobs. But journalists at the Times said the paper was aware of the incidents for years, prompting debate about whether the Times was failing to hold people accountable in the past or is now falling prey to a “cancel culture” mentality. 



Bridge Michigan explains to readers why it’s ending the comments section on its website (Bridge Michigan) 

Bridge Michigan, a nonprofit news outlet, has announced that it will remove comments from its website. In a letter, editor David Zeman says that they are “reluctantly” removing the comments as a result of increased “hostility and invective.” He writes that readers have pointed out the vicious remarks as well, leading the outlet to try to balance its goal of providing a venue for diverse opinions while also maintaining and promoting civility. Without comments, readers are able to reach out via social media platforms, by contacting the paper or specific reporters directly, or by requesting permission to publish commentary on local issues. 

+ Earlier: The Philadelphia Inquirer explains that it is removing comments on most of its website as a result of “a small group of trolls” (The Philadelphia Inquirer); Tactics to improve your on-site comments (Better News) 


+ Marty Baron considers his time at The Washington Post, defends the idea of journalistic objectivity (The New Yorker) 

+ The ethics of engaged journalism (The Fourth Estate) 

+ Gannett’s Mayur Gupta says that newsrooms need to “thrive in chaos” (Medill Local News Initiative) 

+ Swe Win on journalism in Myanmar, the coup, and what comes next (Columbia Journalism Review)