Need to Know: February 13, 2019

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


You might have heard“Launching a paywall is easy. Pivoting a whole business from an advertising-centric mindset to one focused on reader revenue is not.”

But did you know: News media needs to convince readers to open their wallets. Consolidation has not helped. (Columbia Journalism Review)

In research for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Shorenstein Center, Elizabeth Hansen and Elizabeth Anne Watkins found that consolidated publishers may have trouble fostering the kinds of collaboration that can earn readers’ engagement, loyalty, and ultimately, their dollars. “Getting the editorial, business, and product teams of a news organization to work together is difficult for any publisher,” write Hansen and Watkins. “But our data suggest that the uphill battle is particularly steep for legacy publishers.” The typical structure of a consolidated media organization — in which decentralized newsrooms are supported by centralized production, sales, marketing, and distribution teams — was suited to a business model largely reliant on advertising revenues. In the new era of reader revenue, however, newsrooms would better be able to attract paying readers if their product and analytics teams were working much closer to the reporters, editors, and communities their newsrooms serve.

+ Related: Hansen and Watson offer the Miami Herald as an example of a newsroom shifting its structure to improve reader revenue strategy. The Herald recast its “online producer” job into a “growth editor” role, which made it more audience-focused.

+ Noted: Publishers chafe at Apple’s terms for subscription news service (Wall Street Journal); The Lenfest Institute announces new program that will provide awards to Philadelphia-area journalists of color to attend industry conferences (Medium, Lenfest Institute); ‘Not all fun and memes’: BuzzFeed News employees plan to form a union (New York Times); Maria Ressa, journalist and Duterte critic, arrested in Philippines (CNN)


Trust Tips

Last week Trusting News, a project affiliated with API that helps journalists earn consumer trust, launched a weekly newsletter. Each week’s edition offers one short, ready-to-use tip for newsrooms to demonstrate credibility and rebuild audience trust. This week’s tip: Explain how you decide which stories to cover. Sign up here to get the newsletter every Tuesday, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


Conversation techniques, interview questions, and stellar story examples born from a conflict mediation training  —  for journalists (Medium, Solutions Journalism)

At a two-day workshop in November, a group of journalists worked with two conflict mediators to learn how to cover controversial issues through asking more curious questions  —  and listening for more honest answers. The results? Lots of question-asking, idea-sharing, and deep self-reflection. A commitment to “looping”, “uncovering motivations,” and “paying attention to ‘red flag’ words” while reporting a story. And, as mediator Gary Friedman summarizes, a collective goal to produce stories that are “more interesting, less polarizing, and more complex.”


Public funds should be used to rescue local journalism, says U.K. report (The Guardian)

In an independent report on the future of British media, authors concluded there should be a public investigation into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the advertising marketplace, and recommended a regulator to oversee the relationship between news outlets and technology giants. They also called for direct funding for public interest news outlets, and tax relief for publishers that invest in public interest journalism, potentially by giving charitable status to some. “The cost of investigative journalism is great and rarely seems to pay for itself … given the evidence of a market failure in the supply of public-interest news, public intervention may be the only remedy,” wrote authors, adding that “the stories people want to read may not always be the ones that they ought to read in order to ensure that a democracy can hold its public servants properly to account.” In other words, readers alone can’t be expected to finance the type of journalism critical to a functioning democracy.

+ A secret Facebook group of French Twitter personalities has been coordinating harassment against women (BuzzFeed News)


The surprising value of obvious insights (MIT Sloan Management Review)

Organizational change expert Adam Grant was once working with people analytics experts at Google on improving onboarding for new hires when they came up with a tip — that managers should meet their new hires on their first day. “I felt like I was hearing from Pelé that the key to becoming a great soccer player is wearing shoes,” writes Grant. “Who needs to be told to meet their new hires on their first day? What kind of manager wouldn’t do that? …A busy one, it turns out.” Another time Grant was working with a bank to improve its retention, and was nearly laughed out of the room when he told senior managers that toxic employees can cost a company more than superstar performers. But when he started training them on what seemed like Management 101 — setting and communicating a vision, caring about your team, staying results oriented — the company was able to improve performance for 75 percent of its worst managers. “Findings don’t have to be earth-shattering to be useful,” Grant writes. “In fact, I’ve come to believe that in many workplaces, obvious insights are the most powerful forces for change.”


The Washington Post’s Aram Zucker-Scharff: You can’t solve transparency by adding more technology (Digiday)

For many, digital media’s ills are down to broken ad tech and the system propping it up. Adam Zucker-Scharff, director of ad tech at the Washington Post, says it’s more complicated than simply fixing the plumbing: Advertisers are going to have to work at making ad tech transparent. “It’s very easy to see how advertisers can lose trust in the system when there’s no transparency,” said Zucker-Scharff on the Digiday Podcast. “It can’t be solved by adding another piece of technology. If you’re an advertiser, why do you need 12 viewability verifications? There’s a point at which you have to say you’re ready to give up a level of potential earnings in order to make our systems transparent and clear and to make sure you’re not ending up as vectors for stuff that’s to the detriment of users from a publisher’s level or an advertiser’s level.”


TV stations should focus more on depth and emotion in stories, study suggests (Poynter)

TV journalists have become conditioned to the idea that when some new study or boss tells them it is time to “re-invent” local news, it’s code for “Cut stories even shorter and don’t tackle stories with too much complexity. Go for the emotion and interesting video.” But a new study challenges conventional thinking about what TV viewers want. In a survey of 613 viewers in six TV markets by Northeastern University researchers, responses suggest that viewers are looking for more depth and complexity from their newscasts. Researchers remixed hard news stories from local TV stations to see if they could make them more attractive to viewers, incorporating different kinds of animation, adding more context and making them longer. The remixing improved audience response the most in hard news stories. Mike Beaudet, Northeastern journalism professor, said the study results “pleasantly surprised” him. “We noticed the remixed stories scored higher with younger viewers but they also resonated with people across the board,” he said.

+ A hedge fund’s “mercenary” strategy: Buy newspapers, slash jobs, sell the buildings (The Washington Post); How Jill Abramson is dealing with plagiarism fallout (Poynter)