Need to Know: January 26, 2021


You might have heard: Reporters of color are launching a crop of news outlets (Washington Monthly) 

But did you know: Former execs launch newsletter seeking to expand local news on Black and brown communities to national audiences (Axios)

Two media executives — S. Mitra Kalita, formerly of CNN, and Sara Lomax-Reese of Philadelphia’s WURD Radio — are launching a newsletter focused on Black and brown communities. URL Media, which stands for Uplift, Respect and Love, will feature content from eight media partners, including Brooklyn’s Haitian Times and Scalawag from North Carolina. Their goal is to attract big advertisers while also highlighting news about underserved communities. Kalita says that they are in talks with other media outlets about creating go-to spaces for news about communities of color in different cities. The move comes as legacy institutions are under more pressure to diversify their ranks and expand their coverage of underrepresented communities.

+ Noted: The New Yorker returns a National Magazine Award for its story on a Japanese “rent-a-family” business (The New York Times); ElectionSOS is hosting a webinar on covering extremism after the Capitol riots (Zoom); Union says Idaho Statesman’s top editor was fired over tweet, demands reinstatement (BoiseDev); Twitter is acquiring the newsletter publishing company Revue (Axios)


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How Business Insider did nothing when the pandemic hit — and succeeded (The Wall Street Journal)

Unlike many media companies, Business Insider didn’t suffer dramatically in 2020 — it even turned a profit. The company’s combination of subscriptions and programmatic ads protected it from the worst of the pandemic’s economic fallout. In the previous few years, many media outlets had shifted to direct-sold ads, which dried up faster during the pandemic, while cheaper programmatic ads remained profitable. The outlet also doubled its number of subscribers to more than 100,000, at $12.95/month. Over time, Business Insider’s newsroom has bifurcated into a pop culture and general news site that drives traffic, and a business team that appeals to subscribers. 


How a YouTube channel in Thailand is clearing the way for more media freedom (Reuters Institute)

In Thailand, a country where criticism of the monarch can land someone in jail for 15 years, new media models are pushing the boundaries of press freedom in the country. Millions tune into the YouTube channel Voice TV’s daily morning show Talking Thailand, which government officials tried to shut down last year as pro-democracy protests swept the country. The channel had begun streaming the protests live online when mainstream television networks refused to air coverage, concerned that they would run afoul of government regulators. Voice TV has also made strides in featuring more people from various ethnicities and backgrounds who are not normally represented in the news media.


Twitter launches ‘Birdwatch,’ a forum to combat misinformation (NBC News)

On Monday, Twitter launched a feature that will allow users to flag and provide context to tweets that they believe are misleading. The platform hopes that this new feature, called Birdwatch, will help it combat misinformation and disinformation in a similar style to Wikipedia. The project will only be available to a small number of users at first, with no priority for traditional fact-checkers. Initially the Birdwatch section will be separate from the main site, Twitter said that the goal is for notes to be appended to tweets once “there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.” Birdwatch participants are also able to rate each others’ notes to discourage bad-faith suggestions, and researchers will be able to download bulk data from the project to analyze and audit the program.


Journalists are finding the industry’s money worries overwhelming (Medill Local News Initiative)

Nearly all — 99% — of journalists in a new Medill Media Industry Survey said that they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about the future sustainability of local news. The majority (52%) said that their biggest concern about the decimation of local news was the lack of watchdogs to hold governments accountable, while 23% worried most about the lack of information on local institutions. But while there was consensus about the threat, there was no agreement on the path forward. Asked to choose the most promising business model, 27% said it was switching from a commercial to a nonprofit model, while 25% said it was shifting to a reader revenue model. Just 7% chose growing advertising revenue, but the most popular (36%) was all three of these models combined.


Audience work is more important to journalism than ever (Poynter)

Working in audience engagement is still seen by some journalists as a “lesser” path than traditional reporting, writes Samantha Tomaszewski, but it shouldn’t be. At a time when social media is an integral part of political debate, there’s more need than ever for media outlets to engage meaningfully with audiences on the platforms. Audience editors are often underappreciated because their work — which spans everything from copy editing to graphic design to content strategy — can be hard to categorize. Building those skills as a young journalist, she writes, opens up doors that a singular focus on reporting may not.