Need to Know: Jan. 23, 2020


You might have heard: Blockchain probably can’t save journalism (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: Blockchain could be used as an important news literacy tool (Nieman Lab)

Blockchain’s ability to store data immutably and track its usage over time can be used to help the public understand more about the news they’re consuming. An initiative by The New York Times, the News Provenance Project, recently used blockchain technology to surface metadata for images circulating on social media — for example, creating flags that show the user when an image was taken, when it was published and republished, and how the caption has changed over time. While the tool is still being developed, it ultimately “needs to be as easy to install and use as something like WordPress,” says Marc Lavallee, executive director of Times’ R&D team. “From a workflow and best practices perspective, it needs to be as easy and common sense as writing web-friendly headlines for articles.”

+ Noted: CNN is kicking off a podcast push with a Jeffrey Epstein series (Digiday); The News Co/Lab in ASU’s Cronkite School will use Facebook grant to boost media literacy ahead of 2020 elections (News Co/Lab); Miami Herald to close production plant, move printing operations to Broward County (Miami Herald)


Do more reporting that is based on audience needs

In our report “How a culture of listening strengthens reporting and relationships,” we explore ways newsrooms are listening to their communities — particularly marginalized or misrepresented groups — and responding to their information needs. See how you can adapt their listening strategies for your own audience.


Spending money to make money: case studies on paid acquisition (Lenfest Institute)

Publishers who engage in paid acquisition are thinking about the relationships they have with their audience in increasingly nuanced ways, writes Phillip Smith. Thinking beyond the traditional marketing funnel, many are designing strategies to reach readers who may not be paying members, subscribers, or donors, but have recently engaged in some way with the publication. Using smaller buckets (than top-of funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel) to categorize people who are at different steps in their “customer journey” can help marketers plan for more than just a single trajectory toward a financial relationship for each audience member.

+ Testing our hypotheses: Here’s what we learned from our 7 Local News Business Model Challenge grantees (Lenfest Institute)


India likely to force Facebook and WhatsApp to identify the originator of messages (TechCrunch)

The pending legislation would require social media companies and instant messaging app providers to help law enforcement agencies identify users who have posted content — or sent messages — they deem questionable. The policy would be “devastating” for international social media companies, a New Delhi-based policy advocate told TechCrunch. For WhatsApp, it would compromise end-to-end encryption for users. It also strikes at the heart of the “safe harbor” laws that technology companies have so far enjoyed in many nations, including India and the U.S., which hold that such companies are not responsible for the content on their platforms.


How publishers are planning for the end of the third-party cookie (Digiday)

Some are working with Google’s “Privacy Sandbox” project, which explores ad-targeting strategies for a post-third-party cookie world. One of the key approaches being tested is using publishers’ first-party data to map audience segments on the open marketplace. Publishers would need to work with Google, not only to hand over their users’ data, but to establish a common “taxonomy” that would be used to segment audiences. Publishers wary of working so closely with Google, like Vox and The Washington Post, are flexing their own first-party data strategies to reduce the reliance on third-party cookies and other intermediaries. That creates a dynamic in which the only way to buy an audience is by going to the publisher, says Amit Kotecha, marketing director of the data management company Permutive. “First-party data becomes the new currency and advertisers know where to buy the media at scale across many publishers.”


Public infrastructure isn’t just bridges and water mains: Here’s an argument for extending the concept to digital spaces (Nieman Lab)

In a piece for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia, Ethan Zuckerman lays out what he calls the case for digital public infrastructure. Because huge swaths of the internet are owned by private companies with their own incentives (many of which have had hugely negative impacts on society), governments should consider the creation of alternative technologies (like ad-less search engines) that don’t restrict tech companies, per se, but still manage to limit their damaging effects. While these kinds of public services may sound very “European” to Americans, writes Joshua Benton, “It’s common even in this country for sectors of life to begin through private, profit-driven experimentation and then — once the nascent sector becomes critical to American life — to become more public, either through regulation or public ownership.”


These North Carolina papers used to compete. Now, they watchdog together (Poynter)

The North Carolina News Collaborative, or NCNC ( “nick-nick”), formed last summer and now comprises 22 newspapers from across the state. They share content and resources, ironing out the logistical difficulties that occur around republishing arrangements. NCNC is one of many legacy newspaper collaborations that have been growing of late, writes Kristen Hare. Like legacy news organizations in other states, North Carolina newspapers have been battling shrinking circulation (down by 38% since 2004), and they’ve watched many of their former rivals fold. “Our egos were the biggest thing getting in the way of us doing this in the past,” said Robyn Tomlin, executive editor of the News & Observer and Durham Herald-Sun and McClatchy’s Southeast Regional Editor. “Now we’re at a point when we recognize that in order for us to be as strong as we need to be for our communities, we have to work together.”