Need to Know: February 5, 2019

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


You might have heard: Hedge-fund-backed media group makes bid for Gannett (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: Gannett rejects takeover offer from Digital First Media (USA Today)

On Monday Gannett’s board unanimously rejected an unsolicited proposal to be acquired by media company MNG Enterprises Inc., also known as Digital First Media, saying the proposal undervalues the company and the board doesn’t believe the offer is credible, reports Philana Patterson. In response to the Jan. 14 offer, Gannett posed questions that included how MNG would finance the deal, what MNG’s view on antitrust concerns was, and what its approach would be to newsroom staffing and pension obligations. Gannett said MNG’s response was to require a non-disclosure agreement — a red flag that suggests the company is unable to finance the transaction. “Indeed, given MNG’s refusal to provide even the most basic answers to Gannett’s questions, it appears that MNG does not have a realistic plan to acquire Gannett,” the company said in a statement released Monday.

+ Noted: A pending lawsuit could tear down a pay wall that hides public court filings (New York Times); Magazine censored, editor dropped for covering Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic newspaper (Columbia Journalism Review); A tip from a “concerned citizen” helps a Washington Post reporter land the scoop about Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (Washington Post)


How the Seattle Times is empowering reporters to drive subscriber growth (Digiday)

Over the past year, the Seattle Times has been helping reporters think more entrepreneurially about driving subscriptions. The newsroom gave reporters access to a dashboard that tracks the stories driving the most subscriptions, and formed several “mini-publisher” teams in which editorial staffers were paired with members of the product and business intelligence teams to figure out what kinds of content the audience likes. Many product tweaks the Times has rolled out this past year came from reporter suggestions. For example, its sports reporters, sensing an opportunity to make the Times more of a habit among football fans, decided to launch a second newsletter about the Seattle Seahawks that runs only during the regular football season. In another case, reporters working on a series about orca whales in the Puget Sound started publishing more quick-hit, breaking news pieces because they noticed immense audience interest in the topic. “The Seattle Times is part of a broader movement among news publishers pivoting away from content that does not build habits or direct connections with their audiences,” writes Max Willens. “By getting reporters directly involved in driving subscriptions, the publisher can create a stronger link between the content its newsroom is making and conversions.”

+ Related: API’s Metrics for News provides dashboards about what stories drive subscriptions, and many other measures of engagement

+ Six ways media outlets are tracking presidential candidates for 2020 (Storybench)


Chequeado is teaming up with citizens and robots to expand the fact-checking universe (Poynter)

The technology that can identify fact-checkable statements from video transcripts could soon deliver fact-checkable statements to the rest of us, too, writes Manuela Tobias. That’s because Chequeado, a fact-checking organization based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is starting to share Chequeabot’s code with the public on GitHub. As a result, anyone with some programming know-how will be able to use the technology in their newsroom, down to the dashboard that displays statements to fact check during their Monday editorial meetings. The team also plans to share the software with which they scraped closed captions from YouTube videos, facilitating the transcription process.


Individually, people aren’t great at judging news sources. En masse, they’re almost the same as professional fact-checkers (Nieman Lab)

A new study finds that “politically balanced layperson ratings [of news sites] were strongly correlated with ratings provided by professional fact-checkers,” pointing to a possible solution for social media companies trying to decide which news content to up-rank: Try trusting the crowd. “Incorporating the trust ratings of laypeople into social media ranking algorithms may prove an effective intervention against misinformation, fake news, and news content with heavy political bias,” the authors wrote. Ultimately, they found “remarkably high agreement” over which mainstream news sites could be trusted and which hyperpartisan and fake news sites lacked credibility. “Incorporating the trust ratings of laypeople into social media ranking algorithms may effectively identify low-quality news outlets and could well reduce the amount of misinformation circulating online,” the study concluded.


Will the media ever figure out how to cover Trump? (Washington Post)

“Although editors have pledged to dial back the reactive coverage that revolves around the president’s words and tweets, they remain addicted,” writes Jill Abramson. “After all, they are swimming in Trump-generated revenue, clicks and ratings.” The problem is exacerbated by the loss of local news and the concentration of journalism in large, digital-forward outlets on both coasts, where journalists often move inside ideological bubbles. “One way out of the reactive cycle is to report the story from the places where the pro-Trump and Trump-curious live, to cover the facts and truths of their lives,” suggests Abramson. Not parachute journalism — but finding contributors from, or placing well-resourced correspondents in, the communities that support the president, “to soak up the sense and sensibility of under-covered America. That way, we mix with the other tribe.”  

+ Has Facebook been good for the world? 15 influencers weigh in on the company’s 15th birthday. (Vox); The 10 most important moments in Facebook’s not-so-great relationship with the news industry (Nieman Lab)


The AP is using data journalism to help strengthen local newsrooms (Poynter)

In 2013, AP began offering data used by its data journalism team to local newsrooms, to see what stories they could find for their audiences. “Whenever AP produces a large data-driven project with granular data (for example, with data points for every county or for a large number of cities), we package it up with supporting documentation and customizable queries that news organizations can use to localize the story,” said Troy Thibodeaux, AP data team editor. “We deliver the data via the data sharing platform through a special AP organization that includes our data distribution members.” Often, member newsrooms get the data and the national story on embargo so they have time to work on it. And for complex data sets, the AP offers a webinar to walk users through the data. In 2018, the AP saw 1,400 downloads from 300 local newsrooms on its platform, said AP managing editor Brian Carovillano. “Given the crisis in local news, I think it’s something really notable,” he said. “We’re enabling local news coverage on hard-hitting topics at a really massive scale.”

+ The Newseum was a grand tribute to the power of journalism. Here’s how it failed. (Washington Post)