Need to Know: Jan. 3, 2020

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: McClatchy’s financial distress has the company exploring options — including a sale (Poynter)

But did you know: McClatchy freezes some executive pensions pending federal negotiations (Sacramento Bee)

McClatchy, owner of 30 newspapers across the U.S., disclosed Thursday that it will stop paying supplemental or non-qualified executive retirement benefits. The company stated in a press release that a small number of executives will see their non-qualified pension benefits eliminated for now but will continue to receive the portion of their pensions that are guaranteed and insured. Late last year McClatchy had announced that it would be unable to meet its pension fund payment obligations in 2020, which amount to $124 million, prompting it to approach the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in the hopes that the federal guarantor would take control over the payouts. McClatchy also revealed in November it had begun talks with its largest debt holder, New Jersey hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, about restructuring more than half of its debt load, much of which it accrued with its 2006 takeover of the Knight Ridder publishing company.

+ Noted: The European Journalism Centre launches the Sigma Awards, which will recognize the best data journalism projects worldwide (Twitter, @ejcnet); The outdoor advertising market (meaning billboards, bus stop ads) is poised to eclipse newspapers (Financial Times)

API UPDATE

The application deadline for our summer internship in news analytics is midnight on Sunday

API is hiring a paid summer intern to learn about audience engagement and help us share best practices in audience analytics with the wider journalism industry. We’re looking for college students or recent graduates with an interest in how newsrooms can use their data to better engage audiences. The deadline to apply is Jan. 5, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. PST.

TRY THIS AT HOME

News publishers, here’s your 2020 financial strategy in three words: Customer Lifetime Value (Medill Local News Initiative)

Customer Lifetime Value, or CLV, is a common tool forecasting tool that allows businesses to calculate how much customers will be worth for the length of their relationship. For publishers leaning on subscriptions revenue, that number is determined by the amount of profit received each month and the monthly retention rate. Even small changes to subscriber retention rates can have a big impact on CLV, say researchers at Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center. If a news outlet can bring up its rate up just a few percentage points, the cumulative financial benefit will be major, the researchers found.

+ Earlier: A spreadsheet for calculating the lifetime value of a subscriber (Medium, Eric Stromberg); How to calculate the lifetime value of a member (Membership Puzzle Project)

OFFSHORE

Why Italian Vogue won’t publish photos this month (New York Times)

What’s a fashion magazine without photo shoots? A more environmentally friendly one, says Emanuele Farneti, editor in chief of Italian Vogue. In an attempt to match the fashion industry’s shift to more sustainable practices, the magazine crafted an issue entirely without photos, after explaining to readers the environmental cost of producing an issue with original photos. In December, Farneti and 25 other international Vogue editors made a pledge to help “preserve our planet for future generations” and show respect “for our natural environment.” “I think that the most honest way to face a problem is starting by admitting it,” said Farneti, referring to the environmental expenses of a typical photo shoot. “That was our way to say that we know we are part of a business that is far from being sustainable.”

OFFBEAT

How news organizations are embracing speculative journalism (Columbia Journalism Review)

In August, wondering how to combat climate-coverage fatigue in its readers and report on the latest findings from the National Climate Assessment, High Country News dedicated a special issue to “imagining what the West might look like in 2068.” The fiction stories, rooted in fact, helped readers understand the often-dense and abstract research around climate change, said Editor in Chief Brian Calvert. The New York Times has also launched a speculative journalism series titled “Op-Eds From the Future.” The rising genre could be considered another useful tool in a journalist’s toolbox, “allowing readers to better understand otherwise unfathomable issues and to see, through vivid fictions, the sorts of futures hinted at in research papers,” writes Robert Ito. But it also needs clearer lines drawn around it, “particularly given how much speculating goes on among journalists and commentators every day.”

UP FOR DEBATE

Should media studies be mandatory in schools? (Journalism.co.uk)

If media studies were mandatory, and educators partnered with journalists for their industry expertise and school librarians to support the underpinning information literacy, we would be in a good place to deal with misinformation, writes Julian McDougall. Media studies would better equip young citizens to combat misinformation than reactive resources such as fact-checking and verification tools, or small-scale projects which focus primarily on skills and competencies rather than critical thinking. “The latter is important and valuable as ‘giving a fish,’” writes McDougall, “whereas media studies is more a case of ‘teaching to fish.’”

SHAREABLE

‘Power, precarity and white-hot anger: what I learned in a decade in journalism’ (Guardian)

From his front-row seat at Gawker (and later Splinter), writer Hamilton Nolan watched the decline of traditional media and the rise, and then stumbles, of digital media. The experience taught him several cruel realities about the industry. One of the biggest, he says, is the share of “good” media jobs going to those who are undeserving. “There exists in journalism a discernible divide between those who see it as a cause, and those who see it as a career that might enable them to hang out with important people and get a hefty book deal one day,” he writes. “Some journalists will tell you what they want to write about, and others will tell you where they want to work. It is the latter, unfortunately, who get most of the jobs.”

FOR THE WEEKEND

+ These reporters lost their jobs. Here are the stories they couldn’t tell. (New York Times)

+ After merger, Gannett must keep local journalists in their jobs (Columbia Journalism Review)