Need to Know: February 6, 2019

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


You might have heardThe Wall Street Journal measures “active days” — the number of days a reader engages with content — to determine how likely they are to subscribe (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Building habit — not page views — matters most for keeping subscribers, data analysis finds (Medill Local News Initiative)

As publishers’ business models shift from advertising to reader revenue, an analysis by Northwestern University of reader and subscriber data from three big-city news websites sought to answer the question, what makes readers willing to pay for news? The researchers found that frequency of consuming local news is the single biggest predictor of retaining subscribers — more than the number of stories read or the time spent reading them. “Our data analysis shows that in this new era for local news, metrics like page views and time spent on articles — two commonly cited benchmarks — are not nearly as important as the number of readers who are frequent users,” said Tim Franklin, a senior associate dean at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. “With that knowledge, the question then becomes: What are the tools and types of news and information that local outlets can generate to grow a daily reader habit?” While the study’s main finding was that a regular reader habit is essential for “stickiness” (how likely a reader is to become a paying subscriber), it also identified consumption of unique local content as a key factor in retaining subscribers.

+ Related: “Reorienting ourselves to focus on subscription revenues requires not just adding a paywall, but overcoming organizational reluctance to focus on the needs of readers instead of advertisers” — part of what it takes to transition a news organization to a reader revenue-based model

+ Earlier: 74 percent of new subscribers used a news product without paying for at least a few months before converting, according to our study of recent subscribers

+ Noted: Montana Democrats troll Rep. Greg Gianforte with journalist assault bill (Politico); Spotify has bought two podcast startups and it wants to buy more (Recode)


What are the keys to an effective subscription offer page?

The latest addition to API’s Reader Revenue Toolkit explains how to design a good subscription offer page. Poorly designed offer pages can turn away potential customers on the brink of subscribing, writes Gwen Vargo, director of reader revenue at API. “The best subscription offer pages inspire trust. Language is clear and straightforward. Options address different customer needs. Clean layouts and user-friendly design make it a breeze for readers to find the product that is right for them and move on to registration and payment.”

Trusting News launches its ‘Trust Tips’ newsletter

Trusting News, a project affiliated with API that helps journalists earn consumer trust, just 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: Acknowledge to your audience that you know trust is low, and ask for their feedback (this edition offers some good language to use). 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. (Or keep reading!)


Knight Commission report calls for ‘radical transparency’ in journalism. Trusting News can help. (Medium, Trusting News)

Yesterday the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy released a set of proposals for restoring public trust in civic institutions, including journalism. One of the suggestions: “The media should develop industrywide, voluntary standards on how to disclose the ways they collect, report and disseminate the news.” With the help of its newsroom partners, the Trusting News project has been working toward this goal, essentially by increasing newsroom transparency across four categories: mission and motivation, disclosure and ethics, explanations around process, news vs. opinion, and accessibility and engagement. “Community newsrooms need to tell a consistent, repetitive story about what motivates their work, the range of information and stories they offer, what sets them apart, who they are, how they operate and how people can reach them,” writes Joy Mayer. “Telling that story should be a constant drumbeat  —  part of the rhythm of our work as journalists.”


In Japan, a content-sharing platform for publishers aims to even the playing field between big and small (Nieman Lab)

Nordot, a Tokyo-based joint venture launched in April 2015, operates on a common publishing and content-sharing platform that offers more than 50,000 articles from hundreds of publishers in Japan. The company — the first of its kind to get any real traction — brings together content providers and distributors so that both can minimize costs. Major outlets can source news at no cost; smaller publishers can reach a far larger audience; both sides earn ad revenue. “It can be difficult for smaller content providers or distributors to work with more powerful ones — for instance, a smaller regional newspaper might face major hurdles in selling its articles to Japan’s biggest news aggregator websites,” says Ryutaro Nakase, founder and CEO of Nordot. “Our platform can help correct this imbalance. In addition, users don’t have to negotiate about content sharing and ad revenue.”

+ Earlier: Is it finally time for media companies to adopt a common publishing platform? “If companies can set aside their (considerable) differences and use a single publishing platform, they could collectively mount a winning fight against Facebook.” (Nieman Lab)


How our careers affect our children (Harvard Business Review)

“In light of the deservedly increased attention we’re now paying to mental health problems in our society, it’s worth taking a fresh look at some of our findings on how the emotional lives of children — the unseen stakeholders at work — are affected by their parents’ careers,” writes Stewart Friedman. Friedman’s research examines how children are negatively affected by their parents being digitally distracted, also known as “technoference,” and by the harmful effects of stress at work on family life. “We can and should focus on the value we place on our careers and experiment with creative ways to be available, physically and psychologically, to our children, though not necessarily in more hours with them. Quality time is real.”


Trump is a mental health story: Reporters need to stop covering him as if he’s strictly a political one (Medium, Amanda Ripley)

To make sense of President Trump’s behavior — which has led to decisions and actions repeatedly called “unprecedented” and “remarkable” — journalists need to stop calling only on pundits, pollsters and political scientists for explanation and analysis, writes Amanda Ripley. “At this point, it’s not biased to acknowledge that Trump behaves in ways that most mental health professionals recognize as symptomatic of a larger problem. It’s not unreasonable to ask them to help explain and even predict his behavior. In fact, it may be more biased not to do so.” Ripley spoke with mental health experts, including one who treats narcissistic clients, to get some insight into Trump’s behavior, and called it the most useful conversation she’d had about the president in months. “If journalists want to help the public understand the world in which we live, it is time to find new pundits  —  the kind who have seen this all before, who can empathize with the president and his opponents, and who do not benefit from perpetuating the chaos.”

+ Earlier: Amanda Ripley wrote an influential essay about “Complicating the Narratives” to cover controversial issues differently in a polarized society (Medium, Solutions Journalism)


The rise of the robot reporter (The New York Times)

As reporters and editors find themselves the victims of layoffs at digital publishers and traditional newspaper chains alike, journalism generated by machine is on the rise. Roughly a third of the content published by Bloomberg News uses some form of automated technology. The system it uses, Cyborg, assists reporters in churning out thousands of articles on company earnings reports each quarter. Robot reporters have also been prolific producers of articles on minor league baseball for The Associated Press, high school football for The Washington Post and earthquakes for The Los Angeles Times. And last week, The Guardian’s Australia edition published its first machine-assisted article, an account of annual political donations to the country’s political parties. Journalism executives say the use of artificial intelligence is not a threat to human employees, but rather a chance to allow them to spend more time on substantive work. “The work of journalism is creative, it’s about curiosity, it’s about storytelling, it’s about digging and holding governments accountable, it’s critical thinking, it’s judgment — and that is where we want our journalists spending their energy,” said Lisa Gibbs, the director of news partnerships for The AP.