Need to Know: February 14, 2019

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


You might have heard: Apple plans to keep about 50 percent of subscription revenue from “Netflix for news” service, likely won’t share customer data with publishers (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: The logic behind Apple’s give-us-half-your-revenue pitch to news publishers (Recode)

Apple says it wants to help save journalism. All it wants in return is half of all the revenue journalists make when they sell their stuff through a forthcoming new Apple subscription service. Considering that Apple normally takes 15 percent to 30 percent of the revenue it generates when someone buys something from its App Store — and Facebook takes zero percent when it helps someone subscribe to a publication — many publishers are understandably outraged. So what’s Apple thinking? The short answer, writes Peter Kafka, is that Apple has already signed many publishers to deals where they’ll get 50 percent of the revenue Apple generates through subscriptions to its news service, which is currently called Texture and will be relaunched as a premium version of Apple News this spring. “And some publishers are happy to do it, because they think Apple will sign up many millions of people to the new service. And they’d rather have a smaller percentage of a bigger number than a bigger chunk of a smaller number.”

+ Apple plans news event for March 25, at which it’s expected to show off its long-rumored news subscription service (BuzzFeed News)

+ Noted: Teenage journalists memorialize hundreds of gun-violence victims for the “Since Parkland” project (Columbia Journalism Review); Center for Cooperative Media announces Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund (Medium, Center for Cooperative Media); Matt Thompson hired as new editor in chief for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting (Reveal); Philippine journalist Maria Ressa released on bail (Al Jazeera)


The Detroit Free Press reinvented how it does projects and saw a boost in digital engagement (Better News)

The Detroit Free Press, like many newsrooms, had long used a template for deeply-reported single-issue topics. The problem was, it was designed for print, and it wasn’t engaging a digital audience over the time it took to publish a multipart series. “What usually what happens is that the first or main story is well read, and then readership on complementary content or second- and third-day stories significantly drops off,” wrote editors Randy Essex and Anjanette Delgado. So the editorial team decided to adapt its end-of-year auto coverage, known as its “Truck Wars” series, so that each story stood on its own merits. They also kept a close eye on the analytics, using a shared Google doc to track and discuss which stories were being added, adapted or killed, and why. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


With a boost from Stephen King, The Portland Press-Herald highlights why local publishers should invest in coverage that drive subscriptions (Medium, Lenfest Institute)

When author Stephen King urged his local paper, The Portland Press-Herald, not to cancel local book reviews in a widely-shared tweet, the paper devised a clever response: Help us get 100 people to buy a digital subscription, and they’d reinstate local book reviews immediately. Within 48 hours, the Press-Herald more than doubled its goal and generated what will likely amount to more than $50,000 in new revenue. The story highlighted an important lesson for publishers: News organizations can make smarter decisions by thinking about their content in terms of the long-term value it can drive from digital subscribers. That can be done by looking at a simple metric: Customer Lifetime Value, or the total revenue driven by one customer over the entirety of their business relationship with a company.

+ Mark Katches, executive editor of the Tampa Bay Times, breaks down the cost of the paper’s investigative reporting to help explain to readers why the paper will implement a digital pay meter (Tampa Bay Times)


Twitter trolls stoked debates about immigrants and pipelines in Canada, data show (CBC)

Twitter trolls linked to suspected foreign influence campaigns stoked controversy over pipelines and immigration in Canada, according to a CBC/Radio-Canada analysis of 9.6 million tweets from accounts since deleted, report Roberto Rocha and Jeff Yates. Roughly 21,600 tweets from those troll accounts directly targeted Canadians — many of them with messages critical of Canadian pipeline projects and tweets that highlighted divisions over Canada’s policies on immigration and refugees. The troll accounts, which have since been deleted by Twitter, are suspected of having originated in Russia, Iran and Venezuela. Since 2013, 245 of these accounts retweeted messages from Canadian activists, politicians and media reports about various pipeline issues, from potential environmental impacts to grassroots movements against the projects.

+ After a brief rebellion, the EU link tax and upload filter will move to a final vote (The Verge); French newspaper Libération suspends journalists over sexist posts (Financial Times)


Is employee engagement just a reflection of personality? (Harvard Business Review)

Are some people naturally predisposed to feel more engaged at work? A study comprising 114 independent surveys of more than 45,000 employees worldwide indicates that, yes, how motivated, satisfied and energized people feel at work depends partly on their own personality. Researchers found that 50 percent of the variability in engagement could be predicted by personality, and four traits in particular: positive affect, proactivity, conscientiousness and extroversion. In combination, these traits represent some of the core ingredients of emotional intelligence and resilience. Put another way, those who are positive, optimistic, hard-working, and outgoing tend to show more engagement at work.


‘Jill, say you’re sorry’ (Poynter)

Jill Abramson’s book “Merchants of Truth” is a provocative exploration of the current state of journalism, how we got here and what the future holds, writes media ethicist Kelly McBride. But the book was laid open to multiple charges of plagiarism even before copies hit bookstores. “As the former editor of the New York Times, her defense of her plagiarized passages is distracting from the conversation she wants to have,” writes McBride. “And it could well damage all of journalism. By equivocating and suggesting there are different standards of attribution for a narrative book than for a reported piece of news content, Abramson gives the public ample reason to believe that all journalists employ a similar moral relevance that can be used to justify just about anything.” McBride, who relates Abramson’s level of plagiarism to a “misdemeanor,” points out that “Merchants of Truth” is supposed to be a defense of quality journalism — “And in that spirit, she needs to set the record straight.”


Washington Post finds itself in the middle of the Jeff Bezos story (New York Times)

Jeff Bezos says owning The Washington Post is a “complexifier” for him. The newspaper could say the same about him, writes Edmund Lee. The paper has flourished under Bezos’ ownership. Since he bought the newspaper in 2013 for $250 million, The Post has added over 200 people to its newsroom, which now numbers 900 journalists, and won plaudits and awards for its coverage of, among other subjects, the Trump administration. The paper has more than 1.5 million digital subscribers, and the business has been profitable for the past three years. But the newsroom entered tricky editorial terrain last week when it became a factor in an apparent extortion attempt against Bezos, while also having to independently cover the events around its owner. While The Post has published an editorial praising Bezos for exposing an “insidious model of intimidation and corruption masquerading as journalism,” otherwise it says it has maintained editorial independence. “Jeff has never gotten involved in our reporting or our final stories,” said executive editor Marty Baron. “People surmise that it must be difficult to cover Jeff and Amazon. But we’ve gone five and a half years with his ownership, and he hasn’t once intervened in any way.”

+ How hard is it to have a conversation on Twitter? So hard even the CEO can’t do it. Kara Swisher’s live-tweeted interview with Jack Dorsey highlighted some of Twitter’s product issues. (Recode)