Need to Know: Jan. 2, 2020

You might have heard: Acquiring a new subscriber is up to 25% more expensive than retaining an existing one (INMA) 

But did you know: In 2020, publishers will arm up for the ‘churn war’ (Digiday)

2020 will see more publishers joining the constant battle against subscriber churn, writes Lucinda Southern. “It’s very hard for anyone now to keep hold of subscribers, particularly the more mature subscription publishers,” said Nic Newman, digital media strategist and former visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute. “What this comes back to is collecting more data and testing to see what keeps people from churning.” In Sweden, MittMedia stops people from leaving by letting them pause monthly payments based on the season. Publishers like Axel Springer and NRC Handelsblad have sworn off cheap discounts as an acquisition tactic, after finding that readers will quickly cancel once the price is hiked. The Economist launched an app designed to encourage a daily reading habit in subscribers, which it hopes will prevent churn.

+ Earlier: Frequency is the highest predictor for retention (Twipe); We look at how publishers are retaining subscribers by keeping their engagement levels high over time

+ Noted: L.A.’s Asian-American activist newspaper from the ’70s is back in print (Los Angeles Magazine)


We curate the best journalism advice on the web and put it all in one place

Better News is a free resource for news innovators, offering hand-picked journalism wisdom from around the internet and organizing it into “big picture,” “strategic” and “tactical” categories, depending on how ready you are to implement the advice. It also features lessons learned by newsrooms that participated in the Table Stakes training program managed by API.


Our journalists stopped calling people hard-to-reach and listened to them. Here’s what worked. (ProPublica)

During an investigation into medical debt in Memphis, Tenn., ProPublica reporters struggled to reach individuals who were fighting lawsuits for being unable to pay their medical bills. Phone calls to potential sources weren’t getting them very far, but in-person outreach proved more effective. They also used letters and flyers to explain the goal of their investigation and why they needed help from those with direct experience of the subject. Talking to community leaders and local health groups also gave them valuable insight into the audience they were trying to reach. “If you don’t have a reporter with this expertise on your team, don’t make assumptions about a group. Run it by a community expert first, and brainstorm ways to reach the quieter voices in the crowd,” write Beena Raghavendran and Maya Miller.


U.K. journalism schools adopt BBC methodology for improving on-air gender balance (Press Gazette)

The BBC’s 50:50 Project is designed to increase the proportion of women contributors appearing in its radio, TV and online content. Teams within the BBC are encouraged to track gender, not of story subjects, but of the journalists, experts and other sources who contribute to their work. Now, seven higher education institutions within the U.K. are partnering with the 50:50 Project to help “young journalists think about who they are approaching when they are working on stories, and consider the importance of diversity in their work,” said lecturer Polly Sharpe. News organizations like the Financial Times and Australia’s ABC broadcaster have also signed up to replicate the project.

+ Related: How one reporter is tracking the diversity of his source list (Twitter, @bencasselman)


GDPR was just a warmup. CCPA will arrive with a bang. (Digiday)

While the fallout from Europe’s broad-reaching privacy law was minimal, publishers should not expect the same from the California Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect today, writes Tim Peterson. Some companies have already decided or are considering pulling their marketing programs from California, which could put many publishers in a bind. Publishers are also worried that the required “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” homepage notice will sabotage site traffic. Those that don’t have many logged-in users and rely on cookies to collect information are in a particularly precarious position. “If you visited our site on Jan. 5 and in May you reach out and say ‘I visited your site in January and want to know everything you have on me or I opted out and want you to prove you didn’t collect anything on my session,’ that’s going to be extremely hard for a lot of publishers to comply with,” said one publisher.


Using attention as a tool to encourage ‘healthier’ news (Twitter, @baekdal)

Most news, the way it’s done today, is unhealthy for us, writes Thomas Baekdal. So he started treating news the same way he treats other unhealthy things: Instead of “snacking” on news 100 times a day via social media, Baekdal designated one or two times each day to sit down and intentionally engage with the news. In doing so he found that he switched to other forms of media, including newsletters and podcasts, which tend to eschew “outrage” reporting for deeper, more contextualized perspectives.

+ The New York Times ran a disturbing op-ed. But the backlash misses the mark. (The Guardian); Why the fight over The New York Times’ 1619 Project is not about the facts (The Atlantic)


New Year’s resolutions for covering President Trump (Washington Post)

Trump is an expert in getting the media to amplify his unsubstantiated, self-serving claims, writes Catherine Rampbell. In 2020, journalists can deploy a few basic strategies for remaining “in the information business, not the disinformation business”: Don’t spend more time analyzing an idea that the president proposes than he spent coming up with it, and spend more time talking about the things the government actually does and less time covering what government officials say. “We in the pundit class often instead emphasize palace intrigue, political jockeying, or how a particular development advantages one party or another at the ballot box,” writes Rampbell. “We need to remember that the purpose of elections isn’t just to win more elections; it’s to elect a government that actually does stuff.”

+ Here are some of the most influential journalism stories in U.S. history (Global Investigative Journalism Network)