Need to Know: January 15, 2019

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


You might have heard: Starting in 2014, several media companies began to take their own publishing systems and repurpose them as platforms that could be used by other publishers (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: announces funding to design a publishing platform for small- and medium-sized news organizations (Nieman Lab) will launch a new toolkit, called Newspack, for small and mid-sized publishers to streamline their technical decisions — and make choices that add to the potential of finagling a business model, reports Christine Schmidt. Yesterday WordPress announced backing from the Google News Initiative, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Civil Media and the Knight Foundation. The News Revenue Hub and Spirited Media will serve as partners on the project. “We’ve seen through our work at the News Revenue Hub how many small and medium-sized news organizations struggle with their websites,” said CEO Mary Walter-Brown. “They’re limited by everything from stale design and poor user experience to mobile responsiveness and SEO.” The CMS limitations experienced by most publishers make it extremely difficult to grow their audiences and implement any kind of reader revenue program, she added. Newspack is designed to address both the technical and business challenges caused by current technology. “It’s not simply a CMS for a newsroom, but a full business system that enables publishing and monetization at the same time,” says president Kinsey Wilson, who is spearheading the initiative.

+ WordPress is inviting small- and medium-sized publishers to be part of beta testing — apply by Feb. 1 (NewsPack blog)

+ Noted: Facebook says it will invest $300 million in programs supporting local news over the next three years, and will expand its subscriptions and memberships accelerator (Facebook); Entire East Bay Express editorial staff laid off on Friday (Mercury News); The New York Times launches daily news briefing and an interactive news quiz for Alexa-enabled devices (New York Times Co.)


Inside The Hechinger Report’s partnership strategy: ‘It’s all about producing impact’ (Lenfest Institute)

The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news site covering education, shares about half of its content with other news outlets. To make its partnerships more mutually beneficial, a Hechinger representative will ideally begin the conversation about partnering before a story is reported and written. That way the Hechinger Report can adapt its angle and approach to the story to suit the partner’s audience as well, says executive editor Sarah Garland, as well as enable Hechinger to see if partners would potentially want to contribute reporting resources as well. That gets them more invested in the partnership in a way that’s more intensive than just republishing a story. When Garland approaches a potential partner newsroom about sharing coverage, she approaches them as if she was a freelancer pitching an editor. “I worked as a freelancer for several years and it’s the same process,” Garland said. “…It’s not ever cold pitching someone without reading their coverage, knowing what kind of stories they like, and that kind of thing.”


How foundation funding changes international reporting (Journalism Studies)

Funding by private foundations is inadvertently changing the international journalism it supports, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia. While editorial independence remains carefully guarded in most relationships of this nature, foundation funding can cause three changes over time to a newsroom’s reporting. One, it tends to cause journalists to carve out time for new marketing and administrative tasks, leading to a reduction in news output. Two, foundations often require news outlets to provide evidence of impact. This incentivizes journalists to produce longer-form, off-agenda content aimed at influencing specialist audiences, rather than shorter, timelier pieces for wider audiences. Three, foundation funding usually supports coverage of specific thematic areas, honing journalists’ focus to topics that align with the priorities of the most active foundations. “Foundations support a significant amount of important international journalism,” said the study’s lead author Martin Scott. “But we are concerned that the nature of this journalism … is inadvertently being shaped by a handful of foundations, rather than by journalists themselves.”

+ Earlier: API worked with foundations and journalists to develop guidelines for how they should work together and we reported on how these relationships currently work


The problem with research at the intersection of tech and mental health (Wired)

Research into technology’s effects on our thoughts, behaviors, and development has produced limited — and often contradictory — findings. The culprit? Too much data. “The problem is, two researchers can look at the same data and come away with completely different findings and prescriptions for society,” says psychologist Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Technological optimists tend to find positive correlations. If they’re pessimists, they tend to find negative ones.” Przybylski and fellow researcher Amy Orben have used a novel statistical method to show why scientists studying these colossal data sets have been getting such different results and why most of the associations researchers have found are very small — and probably not worth worrying about.


Local news organizations are slow to invest in neighborhood economics reporting (Local News Initiative)

Local journalism often overlooks the economic and financial dynamics at work in small communities, writes Joe Mathewson. What does it take — what should it take — for a neighborhood’s changing economic facts of life to become a news story? “To recognize, report and write such a story requires a journalist with a modicum of training, or at least an instinct. Today, as always, the typical journalist is a verbal person, averse to business and finance and economic intelligence. The political squabble, the racial conflict, the social justice issue, they’re more obvious, more manageable. Yet most of them have economic roots or ramifications. Economic (read, money) stories often require more insight, more digging, more time. Consequently they’re the kind of story most likely to be overlooked by a local news organization.”


Stephen King complained about his local paper’s cutbacks. They responded with a challenge. (

Facing declines in circulation and revenue, the Portland Press Herald recently decided to trim back reviews of local authors in the Books page of its Sunday edition. But the decision did not go over well with many readers, including one Stephen King. The prolific author and Bangor native took to Twitter Friday afternoon asking his more than 5 million followers to retweet in protest of the cuts. As they watched King’s post garner thousands of retweets, the Press Herald figured they could use his influence for more meaningful action. In a reply to the author, the paper offered to reinstate the local reviews “immediately” — if he could get 100 people to buy digital subscriptions with the promo code “KING.” “Stephen King sent me!” reads the special subscription page. After a surge of support on Twitter — where several pointed out that purchasing a subscription would have a far bigger impact than simply protesting the cuts online — the paper hit its 100-subscriber goal in a matter of hours.

+ Let the 2019 Consolidation Games begin! First up: Alden Global Capital seeks to swallow Gannett (Nieman Lab)