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Need to Know: January 24, 2019

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Hedge-fund-backed media group Digital First Media makes bid for Gannett (The Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: Gannett is laying off journalists across the country (Poynter)

Gannett began eliminating jobs all across the country Wednesday in a cost-cutting move that was anticipated even before the recent news that a hedge-fund company was trying to buy the chain, reports Tom Jones. News of the layoffs leaked on Twitter and across newsrooms on Wednesday afternoon and continued well into the night. It’s still unclear how many journalists and how many news outlets were affected. Poynter’s media business analyst Rick Edmonds said the move was “hardly surprising with a bad fourth quarter financially to be reported soon and more of the same expected for the first part of 2019. These cost reductions are typically planned at the end of the year, then carried out in January. So I doubt the layoffs and buyouts have anything to do with the Digital First takeover bid.’’ However, Bernie Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, laid the blame partly on Digital First: “Newsrooms that could be preserved are being decimated for Wall Street when there are productive paths forward. Let’s find a way to sell these properties to the communities they serve before it’s too late.”

+ “25 years in the industry and it’s over after a 10-minute chat in a sterile conference room. My heart aches for journalism and all my fellow #gannett colleagues who were laid off today. #journalismmatters” (Twitter, @DelawareJaci)

+ Related: BuzzFeed to cut 15 percent of its workforce (Wall Street Journal)

+ Noted: LA’s leading public radio newsroom is getting a new CEO (LAist); The Economist launches daily news podcast with 8 staffers (Digiday); Condé Nast to put all titles behind paywalls by year end (Wall Street Journal); Fact-checking network First Draft to open offices in London and New York (First Draft); Google gives Wikimedia millions — plus machine learning tools (Wired)

TRY THIS AT HOME

With tech’s reality a little too dystopian, The Verge is turning to science fiction for inspiration (Nieman Lab)

The Verge is making its first foray into fiction with Better Worlds, a science fiction series aimed at brightening up the outlet’s coverage of the dismal real world, reports Christine Schmidt. The project is one way to newly engage followers who may be getting burnt out by the mostly pessimistic, anxious reporting on tech — and of course to harness new readers coming through the fan followings of writers like John Scalzi and Leigh Alexander. “We asked writers to come up with stories that presented conflict but with the possibility for tech and science to make the world better and a glimpse of a better future,” explained Helen Havlak, The Verge’s editorial director. Each piece is accompanied by either a video animation or audio adaptation, making the stories more vivid, says Havlak. She noted that Instagram stories has brought a surprising amount of engagement to the series so far, and the team is planning Reddit AMAs with the authors as well.

+ Last year EducationNC, a journalism nonprofit focusing on education policy, said it hoped to become the “best in the world at facilitating community conversations.” This week, EdNC released a playbook showing exactly how it builds active listening, dialogue and engagement into its daily work. (EducationNC)

OFFSHORE

Don’t trust Daily Mail website, Microsoft browser warns users (The Guardian)

Visitors to the Daily Mail website who are using Microsoft Edge are now greeted with a warning: “This website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability,” “has been forced to pay damages in numerous high-profile cases,” and “regularly publishes content that has damaged reputations, caused widespread alarm, or constituted harassment or invasion of privacy.” The message is produced by a third-party startup called NewsGuard, a company run by news veterans who say they are trying to establish industry-standard benchmarks for which news websites can be trusted. This week Microsoft began installing the NewsGuard plug-in on all mobile editions of its Edge browser, in the first stage of what its creators hope will be a widespread roll-out across multiple platforms. NewsGuard’s business model relies on licensing its product to tech companies that want to fight online disinformation but do not want to take responsibility for making editorial judgments, reports Jim Waterson. “Unlike the platforms we’re happy to be accountable,” said NewsGuard co-founder Steve Brill. “We are totally transparent. We are not an algorithm.”

+ Earlier: NewsGuard has created the equivalent of nutrition labels for news organizations, rating more than 2,000 news and information sites with tags: red for unreliable, green for trustworthy. A team of roughly 50 journalists and analysts is making the evaluations. (The New York Times)

OFFBEAT

Succession planning can buffer organizations from loss of talent and institutional knowledge (The Nonprofit Times)

Succession planning is like making any good backup plan: You have to understand what could go wrong so you can plan for it. In organizations, that means being aware of which key positions are at risk of turnover. That could include mid-level management as well as C-suite roles, and you should also consider the specialization related to each job and the difficulty of filling it from the marketplace or internally. Then, think about the key competencies for each of those positions, and identify individuals within your organization who exhibit those skills or have the potential to develop them. A meaningful development program — which could include job rotations, participation in key internal committees, mentoring, and specialized and soft skills training — is critical to any good succession plan. Without development opportunities, it’s less likely that employees will be equipped to fill more senior roles should they unexpectedly open.

UP FOR DEBATE

What is Fox News? Researchers want to know (Columbia Journalism Review)

The uncertainty surrounding Fox — is it just another partisan news outlet, or something more akin to state propaganda? — is a challenge for researchers attempting to study a constantly changing news media environment, writes Jacob Nelson. It also hints at a deeper confusion when it comes to determining how news organizations are categorized within journalism research more broadly. What criteria should researchers rely on when it comes to labeling an organization “news,” “partisan news,” or outright propaganda? How should these distinctions affect which organizations are studied — and which are not? And finally, what are the implications of these decisions for the way that research is conducted and received?

+ Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 worst, most embarrassing U.S. media failures on the Trump-Russia story (The Intercept)

SHAREABLE

How many paying subscribers do you need to keep a money-losing magazine afloat? Arkansas Life finds out (Nieman Lab)

In December, subscribers to Arkansas Life received a printed letter along with their January issue. “Arkansas Life will soon cease publication unless a substantial number of readers become paid subscribers,” the letter from Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Arkansas Life, read. “In an effort to continue publication, we’re now asking appreciative readers to become paid subscribers at a rate of $20 a year.” The editorial staff repeated the call for help on social media, explaining that they needed readers to subscribe within two weeks or the magazine would fold. But the target number they were aiming for was unclear. “[Hussman] said we need a majority of our free subscribers,” said Democrat-Gazette president Lynn Hamilton, citing the letter. “A majority would be in excess of 10,000.” When the two-week campaign wrapped up last week, Arkansas Life had pulled in 1,033 new subscribers — only about 5 percent of the number of people who were getting the magazine free. Nevertheless, that was deemed enough to keep the publication from shutting down. Arkansas Life will become a quarterly print publication with a monthly digital issue.

+ Earlier: “Ask readers to support your purpose”: Lessons from the Guardian’s membership strategy (Journalism.co.uk); “Don’t sign a petition. Buy a subscription”: Stephen King complained about his local paper’s cutbacks. They responded with a challenge. (Boston.com)

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