Need to Know: February 22, 2021

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


You might have heard: In the wake of last year’s racial justice protests, news organizations were called to make their newsrooms more diverse (The Christian Science Monitor)

But did you know: News organizations struggle to meet diversity pledges despite key hires (NBC News)

During a cross-industry movement to diversify newsrooms, Condé Nast, Hearst and Vice hired people of color to fill newsroom leadership positions at publications like Bon Appétit. However, minorities are still underrepresented throughout the ranks of those companies, according to their employee data. Vice Media Group Chief People Officer Daisy Auger-Domínguez told NBC News that the source of inequity is often racially-defined systems, and she’s working to address these issues by revamping performance reviews and other practices to reduce the potential for racial bias.

+ Related: Why true newsroom diversity should include disabled people, who make up 20% of the U.S. population, but rarely appear in newsrooms or their coverage (Nieman Reports) 

+ Noted: Gannett to close print plant and sell digital advertising across McClatchy (Poynter); In March, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will open applications for a grant to fund content management systems (News Revenue Hub); Voto Latino and Media Matters for America launched the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab (The Hill)


How a small-town paper is applying conflict mediation skills to its opinion content

Concerned over the increasing animosity and polarization in its opinion pages, The Laconia Daily Sun partnered with the Solutions Journalism Network to train its letter writers in mediation techniques that promote civil dialogue.


How a student newspaper leaned on alumni to launch a membership program (The Lenfest Institute)

Syracuse University’s student newspaper The Daily Orange lost revenue from advertising and cut down to two press days per week during the pandemic. The paper also relies on donations, and in September, The Daily Orange created a membership program geared to rally support from alumni donors. Memberships range from $5 to more than $50 per month and include perks like Zoom open houses with the paper’s management and a monthly newsletter. Newsroom alumni helped build the program and were the paper’s core supporters, but the fundraising team is also working to gain support from the broader university community, from sports fans to campus staff. 

+ Archives at publications like National Geographic are driving subscriptions (Digital Content Next)


Canada plans to require tech companies to pay for news (Reuters)

To that end, Canada may follow the approach taken in Australia, where Facebook responded by blocking all Australian news on its platform. Canadian publishers have said that Australia’s tactics — requiring Facebook and Google to pay news organizations when their content engages users — could save jobs and allow them to recoup millions of dollars. Canada also is considering a similar French policy that requires technology companies to negotiate compensation with publishers.

+ Related: Facebook’s ban on Australian news appeared to block publishers from Samoa, Fiji and other Pacific countries (The Guardian); The ban also removed posts from state health departments and emergency services, while conspiracy theory pages could post freely (The New York Times)


How to respond to disinformation while facing pressure from governments (Reuters Institute)

Social media has a sustained vulnerability to disinformation, but content moderation that aims to curb false information also has the potential to erode free speech. At the same time, some countries have passed anti-disinformation laws that target material perceived to be critical of the government. Reuters Institute researchers suggest platforms should provide greater transparency on their moderation practices, especially the practice of removing content to abide by national laws that ban that type of material. They don’t recommend restricting politicians for spreading disinformation on social media platforms, except in extreme cases where limiting the leaders’ posts wouldn’t harm free speech on a larger level.

+ What do audience journalists do? Bobby Blanchard of The Texas Tribune described a day covering an audience shift as Texans continue to deal with the effects of lost electricity and water (Twitter, @bobbycblanchard)


Chicago Tribune to readers: Don’t cancel your subscription to protest hedge fund (Chicago Tribune)

After news emerged that hedge fund Alden Global Capital plans to purchase Tribune Publishing, readers began asking columnist Eric Zorn of Tribune-owned Chicago Tribune if they should cancel their subscriptions to protest the deal. Zorn implored readers to keep their subscriptions and patronize the paper’s advertisers, while expressing hope that a local business group or nonprofit could step in to acquire the publication. “You can’t punish the hedge fund in advance by first punishing the reporters, editors, photographers and, yes, columnists who are working to provide as comprehensive and balanced a daily newspaper as possible under the circumstances,” Zorn writes.

+ Earlier: In recent years, hedge fund acquisitions of local papers have accelerated, leading to jarring newsroom cuts (NBC News)


Detroit man’s conviction overturned two years after student journalists’ investigation (Medill School of Journalism)

Kenneth Nixon spent more than 15 years in prison after being convicted of causing the deaths of two children, but an investigation from Northwestern University journalism students put his guilt into question. After a judge vacated his convictions, Nixon was released from prison last week. The victim’s 13-year-old brother had provided much of the testimony against Nixon, but while investigating the case, student journalists found memos stating that police believed the child had been coached and that a prosecutor thought the case lacked evidence. Another key witness told the journalists that his original testimony was influenced by news reports on the crime.

+ Texas journalists reported on the state’s brutal winter storm while also living through it themselves (The Washington Post)