Need to Know: January 16, 2019

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


You might have heardThe ad-blocking wars are moving to mobile (Poynter)

But did you know: Ad blocking is still a ‘substantial threat to publisher revenue streams’ (Digiday)

Ad blocking, which caused mild hysteria in 2016, no longer grabs as many headlines but is still a substantial threat to a publisher’s bottom line. Multiple studies show the growth of ad blocking on desktop has steadied while the number of blocked impressions on mobile is growing, due to new ad blocking entrants in the mobile market. “It definitely feels to me that ad blocking took a back seat in terms of publisher priorities last year, due to the impact of GDPR, but it shouldn’t be forgotten,” said Nick Flood, managing director of digital at Dennis. “This threat certainly won’t be going away.” For French news publisher Le Monde, ad blocking on desktop is stable at 25 percent, but mobile, 15 percent, is growing. But rather than reduce this, the publisher is focusing on driving reader revenue instead. “[Ad blocking] used to be the main priority two years ago; now we have one word: subscriptions,” said Pierre Buffet, head of digital at the publisher. “We have a more narrow scope, and we don’t want to lose energy trying to get people to turn off an ad blocker.”

+ Related: Hold on there, pardner: Texas Monthly’s experiment to stop readers who use ad-blockers (Lenfest Institute)

+ Noted: Attorney general nominee William Barr doesn’t reject the possibility of jailing journalists (Vox); 16M U.S. homes now get TV over-the-air, a 48 percent increase over the last 8 years (TechCrunch); Takeover bid interrupts Gannett’s quest for Gizmodo (Wall Street Journal)


Apply for funds — by Friday! — to start 2019 with better newsroom analytics

Thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, subsidies are now available for newsrooms to use API’s Metrics for News software and consulting services. Metrics for News is an analytics dashboard that centralizes data from various analytics tools, social media, and commenting platforms, to show how audiences are engaging with content. It can help newsrooms answer important audience questions such as why users engage and what drives them to subscribe, or measure key journalistic qualities (beats, enterprise, watchdog reporting, and more). Ultimately, Metrics for News helps newsrooms identify and refine content strategies to grow audiences and deepen engagement. Those interested should reach out by Jan. 18, and we’ll follow up to discuss individual applications.


Inside The Seattle Times: A case study in community-funded journalism (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Facing falling ad revenue and forced budget cuts, The Seattle Times has been experimenting with outside funding for three reporting projects: the Education Lab, the Traffic Lab and Project Homeless. For each funder and each lab, there are individualized grants and expectations, according to Kristi Waite, who oversees community funding at the Times. Each funder receives quarterly reports on the metrics and impact of stories. Waite said that during initial conversations, the Times establishes its independence to ensure funders cannot “buy” stories. Language used in each grant also prohibits funders from having input on new hires, story ideas, editing, reporting or publishing. “We took a big risk and it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but it can happen,” Waite said. “Someday we probably won’t print a paper, but all the important work and stories that hold the powerful accountable still has to get out there and we have to figure out how to fund them.”

+ RCFP launched a legal guide for journalists on open records and open meetings laws in every state and D.C.,  as well as a compendium that provides the latest information in each state and federal circuit about the right not to be compelled to testify or disclose sources and information in court (RCFP)


How Politico Europe grew its subscriptions business by 50 percent in 2018 (Digiday)

Politico Europe rolled out six paid-for products in 2018, leading to 50 percent growth in revenue compared to 2017. Revenue growth has been as much thanks to the data and resource tools developed for subscribers as it has to pure editorial packages, writes Jessica Davies. One such tool, Pro Intelligence, acts as a dashboard that tracks European Union and national legislative and political developments and allows users to customize the information they follow. The publisher’s editorial content is also integrated within the dashboard, to give context and explain the importance behind certain documents and updates. Politico Pro expanded to include a Brexit Pro in 2017, and in 2018 it introduced four more Pro editorial products. “We’ll continue to invest in pure editorial products, but we have seen the potential of combining data and journalism within a single product,” said Johannes Boege, chief product officer. “People would typically have to use a range of monitoring tools to get this kind of information but having the data and insights, news, tech and political expertise in one place, saves policy professionals precious time.”


Don’t organize your to-dos by project, organize them by mental state (Medium, Getting Art Done)

When it comes to doing a high volume of creative work with ease, mental state is critically important. You want to do the right work for your given mental state in any given moment. That’s why productivity expert David Kadavy has started organizing his task list according to his mood. His to-dos fall into these buckets: prioritize, generate, explore, research, polish and administrate. “Yes, some of my tasks are assigned to projects, but I rarely view tasks in that way,” he explains. “As long as you have the proper due dates attached to your tasks, it doesn’t matter what project those to-dos are for. What matters is your ability to do those tasks in an energy-efficient way. Productivity is about mind management, not time management.” (H/t to Poynter’s Try This! newsletter for recently including this piece.)


Don’t believe the hype: the media are unwittingly selling us an AI fantasy (The Guardian)

The media is parroting the tech industry line that AI will, despite frequent glitches and serious concerns like privacy and bias, be good for humanity, writes John Naughton. In a recent Reuters Institute study of how the UK media cover AI, researchers found that media coverage of AI is dominated by the industry itself. Nearly 60 percent of articles were focused on new products, announcements and initiatives supposedly involving AI; a third were based on industry sources; and 12 percent explicitly mentioned Elon Musk. Critically, AI products were often portrayed as relevant and competent solutions to a range of public problems. Journalists rarely questioned whether AI was likely to be the best answer to these problems, nor did they acknowledge debates about the technology’s public effects. “This research reveals why so many people seem oblivious to, or complacent about, the challenges that AI technology poses to fundamental rights and the rule of law,” writes Naughton. “The tech industry narrative is explicitly designed to make sure that societies don’t twig this until it’s too late to do anything about it.”

+ Earlier: We need a new model for tech journalism: “Thanks to a compliant and often cheerleading media, [tech] companies could easily control their narratives and shut critics and reporters out.” (Columbia Journalism Review)


With foreign bureaus slashed, freelancers are filling the void — at their own risk (The Conversation)

For decades, most leading media outlets have shuttered news bureaus abroad and cut the number of foreign correspondents on staff. In a groundbreaking 2004 report, “Redefining Foreign Correspondence,” authors John Maxwell Hamilton and Eric Jenner wrote that economic pressures, globalization and technological advances have all led to the “chronic decline” of the full-time foreign correspondent. Since then, freelancers — much cheaper to employ — have increasingly filled the void. But freelancers, too often, are victims of a level of exploitation that most staffers don’t experience. In a blistering Columbia Journalism Review article about Vice News’ treatment of freelancers, for example, Yardena Schwartz wrote that “in an era of journalism in which freelancers have grown accustomed to being treated like disposable cogs of news production, Vice appears to be in a league of its own.” And freelancers often deal with more obstacles than just pay, frequently venturing into the world’s most dangerous regions without the security and preparation typically offered to full-time correspondents.

+ editor in chief Meredith Artley tells Recode’s Kara Swisher that in 2019 CNN Digital will go beyond the marketing campaigns of “Facts First” and “Democracy Dies in Darkness” to get better at showing their work and “dialing up the efforts to be transparent.” (Recode)