Need to Know: February 24, 2021


You might have heard: For local nonprofit news, 2020 was a very good year (Poynter) 

But did you know: The Institute for Nonprofit News had a record membership growth last year (Axios)

The Institute for Nonprofit News grew by 28% last year as some newsrooms turned to the nonprofit model during the pandemic. For many, the option to accept charitable donations while also selling ads and subscriptions was appealing in 2020. INN’s member growth included 26 start-ups and five newsroom conversions from for-profit to nonprofit, and the group’s NewsMatch fundraising campaign hit $5 million for the first time last year. The nonprofit model continues to gain popularity even as the IRS has shown some hesitancy to categorize news outlets, particularly newspapers, as non-commercial organizations. 

+ Earlier: Philanthropy should be a key funding source for local news (Local News Initiative); The Raleigh News & Observer shares its playbook for getting grants to fund its journalism (Better News) 

+ Noted: Al Jazeera to launch rightwing media platform targeting U.S. conservatives (The Guardian); Black News Channel looks to shake up cable-TV news landscape (Wall Street Journal); Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are asking journalists to participate in a short survey examining the relationship between individuals’ word usage and their “estimations and forecasts about the future” (Carnegie Mellon University) 


Trust Tip: Explain how and why you protect people’s privacy (Trustings News)

Just as it’s important to explain why you’re using an anonymous source, it’s also important to explain why you’re not using a person’s full name in a story. Even if it seems obvious why you may not include the full name of a child or a crime victim, it’s important to tell readers about the decision making behind the choice, writes Lynn Walsh. She recommends briefly explaining the decision in the story, and also linking to a longer explanation or newsroom policy. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 



How to get the most out of your source diversity audit (Medium, Impact Architects) 

In 2020, San Francisco public radio station KQED asked media strategists Impact Architects to run a retroactive source diversity audit. The goal was to determine whether the station’s sourcing accurately represented its community, and to determine where any biases may lie. The audit began by identifying a representative sample of stories, evaluating each source based on five measures of diversity and creating a baseline knowledge. There were some successes — like general gender parity, and an overrepresentation of Black sources — but other gaps, such as underrepresentation of Asian and Latinx voices. The station then used this report to create ongoing systems for improvements in source equity, such as being intentional about diversity goals and highlighting which teams were succeeding in those goals.

+ Earlier: How Wisconsin Public Radio tracks source diversity with a short survey — and by appointing a “source librarian” (WPR)


Spanish daily El País tops 90,000 digital subscribers nine months after pandemic paywall launch (Press Gazette)

Spain’s largest newspaper, El País, launched a paywall in May, and has already brought in more than 90,000 digital subscribers, more than double the number of its print subscribers. The metered paywall allows ten free articles before a reader must subscribe. The paper originally intended to launch the paywall in March, but decided to delay it due to the pandemic. Managing editor Borja Echevarría said that their coverage of COVID-19 “became our best communications and marketing campaign.” Subscriptions are 10 euro per month in most places, but have been cut to 5 euros in some Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and Colombia. 

+ Earlier: How El País uses maps to “speak directly to readers about their own lives” (Medium, Mapbox)


How memes became a major vehicle for misinformation (Axios)

While many have worried that deepfakes will become a major source of misinformation, new research shows that simple memes are actually one of the most effective tools in spreading bad information. Memes are easy to produce and hard to moderate, and the origins of them are often impossible to track. Media intelligence firm Zignal Labs found that memes have become a powerful tool for spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, and studies have found that exposure to vaccine misinformation was tied to a six-point drop in people’s intention to get the vaccine. Because memes often involve manipulating text, image and video in nontraditional ways, artificial intelligence has struggled to parse them, making automatic content moderation of memes nearly impossible. 

+ Related: Memes can also be effective at fighting misinformation, and have been used this way by governments and news organizations (The Guardian; Poynter)


On the rise of media unions, and why they’re necessary (Substack, The Media Nut)

Unionizing has become increasingly common in digital newsrooms over the past few years, but many in management and ownership remain hostile to the idea. Josh Sternberg writes that although media outlets are happy to expose poor working conditions in other industries, they often balk at the idea of journalists demanding better workplaces. But, he writes, it’s a poor long-term strategy for news outlets, since unions can be a great recruiting tool. “This is a small industry; and a gossipy one,” he writes. “We talk to each other. We know the good companies and the bad ones. Media companies need to recognize that their biggest boosters aren’t their PR departments, but their workers.” 


Journalism and the language of loss: How a pointillistic data graphic offers realization and consolation (Poynter) 

To illustrate the half a million people that have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., the cover of the Sunday New York Times featured a data graphic inspired by pointillism. Along a horizontal timeline, the graphic showed one dot representing each death caused by the virus, moving from a light gray last spring to an almost black bar in recent weeks. Roy Peter Clark writes that the effect recognizes “that tension between crowdedness and emptiness” that has marked this past year. He also highlights the accompanying news story, where he says “the language of loss appears with creative and purposeful repetition and variation.” Clark argues that features like this highlight the ritual function of news, which can bring people together in times of celebration and mourning.