Need to Know: January 14, 2019

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


You might have heard: “Predatory financial institutions have played an enormous, under-appreciated role in the ongoing local journalism apocalypse” (The New Republic)

But did you know: Hedge-fund-backed media group Digital First Media makes bid for Gannett (The Wall Street Journal)

A hedge-fund-backed media group known for buying up struggling local papers and cutting costs has made an offer for Gannett, reports Cara Lombardo. Digital First Media, one of the largest newspaper chains in the country, has quietly built a 7.5 percent position in Gannett’s stock and is urging the publisher to review its strategic alternatives. It also is calling on Gannett to commit to a moratorium on digital investments. Digital First has over the past few years made multiple approaches to Gannett about a deal but has been rebuffed, according to people familiar with the situation. It isn’t clear whether Gannett will be receptive now. In addition to publishing USA Today, one of the top-selling papers in the country, Gannett owns and operates dozens of other publications such as the Arizona Republic, the Record in North Jersey and the Naples Daily News in Florida. Its shares have tumbled in recent years and dropped roughly 15 percent in the past 12 months, leaving the company with a market value of about $1.1 billion.

+ Related: Digital First Media’s open letter to Gannett’s board (BusinessWire); “This seems like a good time for a thread on the impact of private equity companies on local news”: Democracy Fund’s Josh Stearns rounds up reporting on what’s happened to newspapers bought by hedge fund owners, and the effect on local news

+ Noted: Reporters Committee announces 2019 Freedom of the Press Award honorees (RCFP); Vox Media ramps up hiring, but mostly for contractors and freelancers (Thinknum); The Washington Post launches Arabic-language Global Opinions page (The Washington Post); Megyn Kelly officially splits from NBC with $69 million in hand (Axios)


Rebuilding trust by peeling back the curtain in newsrooms (It’s All Journalism)

“How often do you hear (newscasters) say this is why we chose to cover a story?” asked Lynn Walsh of Trusting News, an API-affiliated media literacy and education program for journalists. “You don’t hear that.” Walsh and Trusting News director Joy Mayer were guests on the latest It’s All Journalism podcast, discussing how journalists can explain their work to rebuild trust. Without the ability to discern when a journalist has done their due diligence on a story, Walsh said, readers and viewers will jump to conclusions. Those conclusions are often misguided and unfounded, Walsh said, but there’s much journalists can do to shine a light on their work from the start. “When we have a conversation and explain to [the audience] how you do your job, you get rid of those negative perceptions and assumptions.”


Der Spiegel made up stories. How can it regain readers’ trust? (The Atlantic)

Der Spiegel — and the German media world writ large — is still reeling from German journalism’s biggest scandal in its modern history: Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old Spiegel writer who was long the envy of his peers, fabricated part or all of many of his biggest stories. Der Spiegel has since been reporting steadily on its own scandal, with many of the pieces also translated into English for audiences beyond Germany. It published an open letter to readers from its top editors, posted lists of all Relotius’s published articles, and interviewed the Spiegel staffer who first uncovered the fabrications. The magazine’s first issue after the story broke devoted significant space to the scandal, with the cover reading, “Sagen, was ist,” or “Tell it like it is.”

+ How your newsroom can get more involved with  —  and get more out of  —  the Engaged Journalism Accelerator (Medium, European Journalism Center); Facebook tackles fake news in the UK with a new fact-checking service (Mashable)


Three ways to achieve your New Year’s resolutions by building ‘goal infrastructure’ (The Conversation)

The odds of realizing your resolutions could be improved by building “goal infrastructure” — that is, resources that enable goal attainment, writes Peter Heslin. There are three ways to put that infrastructure in place: 1) Link your goals to your cherished values. 2) Create implementation intentions. (For example, if-then-plans — “If situation X arises, then I will Y” — and when-then plans — “When situation X arises, then I will Y.”) 3) Establish peer accountability. The Agile software development methodology features mandatory morning stand-up meetings where team members publicly answer these two questions: “What did you do yesterday?” and “What will you do today?” Knowing that tomorrow you will answer the first question helps brings focus to what you do today.


How the fossil fuel industry got the media to think climate change was debatable (The Washington Post)

By demanding “balance” in coverage, the fossil fuel industry transformed climate change into a partisan issue, writes Amy Westervelt. “We know that was a deliberate strategy because various internal documents from ExxonMobil, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute and a handful of now-defunct fossil fuel industry groups reveal not only the industry’s strategy to target media with this message and these experts, but also its own preemptive debunking of the very theories it went on to support. It need not have been such a successful strategy: If news purveyors really wanted to be evenhanded on coverage of climate change, they could certainly weave in the insights of more conservative scientists — those whose predictions err on the sunnier side of apocalypse. Instead, many took the industry’s bait, routinely inserting denialist claims into stories about climate science in the interest of providing balance.”


Quid pro quo(te): The rise of partnership journalism (Medium, Shorenstein Center)

“The nonprofit news organizations we work with have consistently voiced an appetite for more knowledge and data sharing about newsroom partnerships  —  since both collaboration and syndication are seen as potentially robust aspects of the nonprofit business model,” writes Caroline Porter. Responding to the growing interest, the Shorenstein Center recently surveyed eight nonprofit newsrooms about the use of partnerships in their work. The main aim of partnerships, as defined by the survey participants, is to expand brand awareness. Since most of the news organizations surveyed are focused on niche subjects such as gun violence or education, and six of the eight qualify as small businesses with 49 or fewer full-time employees, audience reach is key. “Our site is growing, but modest,” said Gordon Witkin, executive editor at the Center for Public Integrity. “We’re not a daily news site and we have no Kardashians … so we need the eyeballs and the clout that come from a mainstream partner, and our funders want that too.” Five of the eight newsrooms in the study said that they outright prefer collaborations to syndications. For smaller investigative outlets with content that is expensive to produce, collaborations are a way to extract the most possible output value from the work being done.

+ Earlier: API’s strategy study on how to form partnerships between news organizations

+ Marketing has to win over the newsroom, says the New York Times’ David Rubin: “We have nothing to do with the process of writing an article. Where we get involved is shaping how users interact with The Times as a whole.” (Digiday); How the New York Times reported the FBI counterintelligence investigation into President Trump: an interview with journalist Adam Goldman (The New Yorker)