Need to Know: January 22, 2019

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


You might have heardSpecial Counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday denied an explosive BuzzFeed report that his investigators had gathered evidence showing President Trump told his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress (The Washington Post)

But did you know: BuzzFeed investigative reporter says ‘Our reporting is going to be borne out’ (CNN)

BuzzFeed says its sources are “standing behind” the bombshell report about the special counsel investigation. “We’re being told to stand our ground. Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate, and we’re 100% behind it,” investigative reporter Anthony Cormier told CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday. Cormier was joined by BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith to defend their story published on Thursday that said Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about a potential hotel construction project in Moscow. The information was attributed to two unnamed “federal law enforcement officials” involved in the investigation. Cormier, who wouldn’t reveal his sources when asked, said the story had been in the works for months and went through a “rigorous” vetting process. The story was reviewed by at least three editors, Smith said. Smith said BuzzFeed is “eager” to understand which parts of the report Mueller’s office is challenging as inaccurate. He said BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold, who co-authored the story, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for details on how the statement from Mueller’s office was constructed.

+ Noted: Hearken is opening a new office in Denmark (Twitter, @JenniferBrandel); Facebook’s WhatsApp limits users to five text forwards to curb rumors (Reuters)


How a mentorship program for bilingual student reporters led to a Murrow Award-winning story (RTDNA)

KUNR Public Radio in Reno, Nev., almost missed the story that ended up winning a 2018 national Murrow Award for best sports reporting in small market radio. It was a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno who pitched the story, about the city’s new professional soccer team, and explained its significance for the city’s Latino population to KUNR news director Michelle Billman. “I still didn’t fully understand why” it would be big news, writes Billman, “but I trusted her gut and told her to go for the story.” Through a partnership with a Spanish-English news outlet, KUNR was able to hire student reporter Stephanie Serrano to produce radio features in English and Spanish, as well as Facebook Live coverage in the field. Following Reno’s first soccer fan club as they marched to the stadium, Serrano interviewed player Junior Burgos, an immigrant from El Salvador. “In under five minutes, Stephanie was able to tell a story that resonates far beyond any soccer team or sporting event. She gave voice to a struggle many children and their families are experiencing in this country by doing what the best reporters do — cultivating understanding and empathy through personal storytelling.”

+ KUNR often hires students who have participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, a useful recruitment tool for local media outlets (RTDNA); API looked at how mainstream and ethnic media outlets are collaborating in changing communities


Top UK publishers say they’ll reduce ads sold through open ad exchanges (Digiday)

For some UK newspaper publishers, reducing how much of their inventory is sold via the open exchange is a trend they anticipate rising in 2019, reports Jessica Davies. The Guardian, which currently relies on open-exchange selling for around 80 percent of its display inventory, wants to reduce that in favor of programmatic direct deals this year. News UK stopped open-exchange selling for its subscriptions brand The Times (which also carries advertising), last year and wants to lure more advertisers away from the open exchange. It has also claimed that the number of private-auction and programmatic guaranteed deals have increased for its newspaper brands The Times and The Sun. “While private marketplaces have been criticized in the past for being expensive and ineffective for scale buys, programmatic guaranteed deals are tipped for growth,” writes Davies. “Increased direct-to-publisher transactions are a priority for media agencies.”


Get company culture right, and everything else in digital transformation will fall into place (Power to Fly)

At the heart of company culture are the values and beliefs of the organization. It’s one thing to have those values posted on walls throughout the office, but another for employees to feel them at their core and reflect them in their behaviors and decision-making, writes Oriana Kachaochana. “We collectively talk about positioning strategies, technology roadmaps, and potential acquisitions, but are we talking enough about values and beliefs? Establishing clarity around what we believe and stand for will more than make up for our positioning or roadmaps being a little off.”


Beware the permanent exclusive (The Washington Post)

In October, Bloomberg dropped what it intended to be a bombshell report on a hardware hack that supposedly affected major American tech companies. But the story was instantly met with demands for retraction, and other media outlets attempting to retrace Bloomberg’s investigation have come up empty-handed, casting more doubt on its accuracy. “The story’s status as a journalistic dangling modifier puts Bloomberg in league with a couple of other major stories of recent months that stand by their lonesome, with just one news brand attesting to their bona fides,” writes Erik Wemple. Every journalist loves to produce an exclusive, but no journalist wants a permanent exclusive. “Being alone is great for about two days and then you start saying, ‘Where is everyone else or where is anybody else?’” says Bob Woodward, who partnered with Carl Bernstein on The Post’s coverage of Watergate. Referring to former Post eminences Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee, Woodward says, “Ben would say, ‘Kay says if it’s such a good story, where’s everybody else? Why are we alone?’”


Niche publishers pursue an ‘everything about something’ approach to local news (Editor & Publisher)

In the search for people willing to pay for online news, legacy news organizations and new media entrepreneurs alike are seeing promise in niche publishing with a local layer. Deep coverage of one particular topic in a defined geographic area can be an antidote to dissatisfaction with the shallowness of coverage provided by legacy newsrooms still trying to do “everything” with depleted staffs, writes Matt DeRienzo. Some newspapers are banking on this approach by launching a la carte digital subscription plans around niche coverage. The most successful ones build and join existing communities around their topics, using channels like newsletters, social media, podcasting and events to cultivate an loyal audience. Even if your newsroom lacks the resources to fully pursue this strategy, “there are still many lessons for publishers in the approach of niche sites,” says DeRienzo. “The biggest is realizing that there are segments to your audience bound by common interests and problems.”

+ How journalism survives: An interview with Jill Abramson (New Yorker)