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Need to Know: January 11, 2019

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: As media emphasize subscriptions, news organizations seek to understand different reader types and how to drive each type to subscribe

But did you know: Subscription and membership models will become the key revenue focus for the news industry this year (Reuters Institute)

In an annual survey of 200 media executives, senior editors and digital leaders across 29 countries, Reuters Institute researchers found that over half (52 percent) of respondents expect subscription and membership to be the main revenue focus in 2019, compared to 27 percent for display advertising. However, as more publishers chase a small group of people willing to pay for online news, they may find that such funding models have their limitations. There is also growing acceptance that some types of news may need to be subsidized, with 29 percent of survey respondents expecting to see significant help from nonprofits in 2019 and 18 percent expecting tech platforms to contribute more. The report also warned that the rise of paywalls could lead to news avoidance and adoption of “paywall-blocking software.”

+ Related: “Launching a paywall is easy. Pivoting a whole business from an advertising-centric mindset to one focused on reader revenue is not.” Here’s API on what it takes.

+ Noted: Refinery29 becomes latest digital outlet to unionize (WWD); Chrome’s ad blocker will go global on July 9 (VentureBeat); Layoffs hit Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group (Variety); Lawmakers pay tribute to slain journalist Khashoggi 100 days after killing (Washington Post)

API UPDATE

The week in fact-checking

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of “The Week in Fact-Checking” newsletter, fact-checkers’ exchange with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ends on a high note; PolitiFact tells TV networks it’s ready to do live fact-checking; and Nieman Lab rounds up its 2019 predictions about misinformation.

TRY THIS AT HOME

How The Correspondent raised $2.5 million in 30 days (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)

In November, the founders of the Dutch journalism platform De Correspondent embarked on an ambitious crowdfunding campaign to raise $2.5 million for an English version of the site, whose mission is “building a movement to unbreak news.” The Correspondent managed to snag appearances on The Daily Show, CNN and The Young Turks, which greatly expanded the campaign’s reach. But the team also employed a careful email campaign strategy tailored for members and nonmembers. Emails came from ambassadors as well as staff members, who shared news about fundraising milestones and explained the organization’s vision for participatory journalism. The team also opted to operate the campaign from its own site rather Kickstarter or Indiegogo, which allowed more control over messaging and design. And it seemed to pay off: 15 percent of visitors to the website ended up donating, a high conversion rate.

OFFSHORE

What a report from Germany teaches us about investigating algorithms (Columbia Journalism Review)

After a nearly year-long investigation, German news outlets Der Spiegel and the Bavarian Public Broadcaster revealed several algorithmic flaws in the German credit scoring system Schufa, including outdated versions of the algorithm still in use. The investigation is an example of algorithmic accountability reporting: an attempt to uncover the power wielded by algorithmic decision-making systems and shed light on their biases, mistakes or misuse. Some outlets are introducing coverage that amounts to an emerging algorithms beat, oriented around reverse engineering, auditing, and otherwise critiquing algorithms in society. “Journalists should be increasingly attuned to the age of the algorithms they are investigating,” writes Nicholas Diakopoulos. “When they were created, and how often they are changed, may be pertinent to their ongoing use, especially in light of evolving social contexts and new data availability — algorithmic infrastructure built today could reverberate in society for decades.”

+ BBC journalists have been told to stop saying “BBC understands” because it’s “slightly pompous” — “Either it’s true and we know it in which case just report the story, or we’re unsure in which case don’t report it until we are,” BBC executive Gavin Allen wrote in an email to management. (BuzzFeed News)

OFFBEAT

‘People need feedback’…is a lie (MarcusBuckingham.com)

“We’ve been told over, and over, and over again that if you want someone to excel, you need to give them feedback,” writes Marcus Buckingham. “Companies have embraced this idea so entirely that courses on how to give and receive feedback and apps that allow you to constantly rate your peers have become a fixture in the world of work. And the theory underpinning this is that we will all get better if we have the benefit of feedback.” But Buckingham argues that negative feedback, in particular, is actually detrimental to people’s performance for a couple reasons: Humans are unreliable raters of other humans, and excellence can’t be defined in advance — each individual can bring his or her own version of success to a role.

UP FOR DEBATE

Why horse-race political journalism is awesome (Politico)

Critics of horse-race coverage say it trivializes politics into a game or a sporting event, nudges substantive policy coverage out of the public eye, and encourages voters to board the leader’s bandwagon. “Horseracism might be scary if the campaign press corps produced nothing but who’s up/who’s down stories,” concedes Jack Shafer. “But that’s never been the case. American newspapers overflow with detailed stories about the issues and the candidates’ positions.” And horse-race stories do play a critical role in voters’ decisions, he argues: “Especially in the opening days of a candidacy, a politician must alert potential supporters of his existing supporters. Not many voters will join a bandwagon that doesn’t have followers or wheels.” He argues that horse-race coverage also helps clarify the voters’ minds when candidates converge on the issues, steering them toward the politician most likely to implement their views. A resolution to do away with horse-race journalism, Schafer writes, would result in campaign coverage resembling “an endless series of policy white papers that nobody reads.”

SHAREABLE

Condoned by Trump, press attacks hit local reporters hard (Columbia Journalism Review)

There have been a number of instances during the midterms and beyond in which local reporters with longstanding community ties were shunned, spurned, harassed, and otherwise treated with disdain by elected officials. As President Trump’s press bashing continues unabated, such incidents seem to suggest his example is being taken up at the local level. “Local journalists seem to be vilified now,” Kevin Goldberg, an attorney who serves as legal counsel to the American Society of News Editors, says. “Whether it’s federal officials outside of DC or it’s actually state or local officials, I feel like people are more emboldened to act against journalists.” “Everyone should be worried about the tactic of saying There’s no objective truth and we reject the role of the press,” adds Matt DeRienzo, vice president of news and digital content at Hearst Connecticut. “Everyone should be afraid of that filtering down to the local level, and I think you’re starting to see signs of it.”

+ Earlier: Campaign journalism needs an overhaul. Here’s one radical idea. (Washington Post)

For the Weekend

+ The newspaper that #MeToo missed: At Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, allegations of misconduct were met with little change — and a big payout for the man in charge (Columbia Journalism Review); The Nevada Independent explains why it didn’t break the story on sexual harassment at the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “We live in a world where wealthy individuals can intimidate or destroy media outlets by using the slow and expensive justice system as a Damoclean sword.” (The Nevada Independent)  

+ What it was like to report on the Camp Fire, one of the deadliest and most destructive fires in California history, as told by Sacramento Bee staff. “This might be the best and most moving journalism you see all day, a stunning piece of work,” writes Poynter’s David Beard. (The Sacramento Bee)

+ “Thank you to everyone who can’t redact documents properly”: In the past, redacting a document involved actual black ink, but the digital kind is a lot more tricky — and that’s bad for anyone who is trying to keep certain facts classified, but good for journalists who are trying to shed light on the behavior of bad actors both inside the government and elsewhere. (Columbia Journalism Review)

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