Need to Know: January 28, 2019

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


You might have heardMajor layoffs at BuzzFeed, Gannett and HuffPost bring a rocky week in journalism to a close (Poynter)

But did you know: Fears are growing that current models of paying for online journalism are broken (The Guardian)

BuzzFeed and HuffPost helped create an online media boom, helped along by investors confident that the digital sites were more nimble and more in tune with the desires of readers who grew up on the internet rather than with traditional newspapers and broadcasters. But after significant layoffs were announced at both outlets last week, doubts are growing over the long-term profitability of digital media companies, and, as a result, concerns over the future of online journalism itself. “What if there is literally no profitable model for digital news? Or none that actually scales and endures without, say, the established readership base and brand of the New York Times?” asked the MSNBC presenter Chris Hayes, summarizing a growing fear among media executives that the current model of paying for journalism on the internet is broken.

+ “There is NOT going to be one business model or revenue stream for news. There are many biz models to combine in unique ways for each product/audience. Chin up, eyes open, keep moving.” (Twitter, @jeffsonderman); Here are some examples of (local) digital news outlets that are finding success: City Bureau, The Front Porch Forum, 100 Days in Appalachia, Outlier Media (Twitter, @jcstearns) and WhereBy.Us, Spirited Media and Charlotte Agenda (Nieman Lab)

+ Related: BuzzFeed has started its layoffs, but it’s also talking about a merger (Recode); BuzzFeed is “reevaluating” laid-off employees’ demands to be compensated for unused vacation and comp time (Twitter, @hshaban); AAJA activates its network to support journalists affected by layoffs (AAJA)

+ Noted: Johns Hopkins to buy Newseum building in D.C. as journalism museum plans to relocate (The Washington Post); Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger (The New York Times); Sky News says it will livestream everything that’s happening in its newsroom for 17 straight hours (AdWeek); CNN’s Jim Acosta lands deal for book about his experience reporting on the Trump administration (Hollywood Reporter)


How do you cover what matters to your community? ‘Change your thinking.’ (Poynter)

Covering what really matters to the people in your community is as simple as stepping back and looking at where you live, what’s changing in the area, and what locals are talking about. “It sounds so silly, but we can miss those stories as journalists,” said Rebecca Salner, assistant managing editor for metro and business for the Bay Area News Group. Also, don’t be afraid to stop something in order to do a better job of covering something else. “That can be so hard,” said housing reporter Marisa Kendall, who previously covered startups and venture capital for the Bay Area News Group. “We want to cover everything.” With staffs dwindling, she said, you can’t do that anymore. “You’ve got to let go of something to embrace something that will maybe get you more readership.”

+ Related: API’s Metrics for News program is designed to help your news organization know what kinds of journalism really engage your audience

+ Earlier: How the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel focused on prioritizing with a “Stop Doing” list (Better News); How Charlotte’s NPR station, WFAE, fought news fatigue (and found a hit) with a music podcast (Better News)


Venezuela’s war on the press (Columbia Journalism Review)

Since 2002, when private news outlets backed an attempted coup against then-President Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan government has inhibited freedom of speech and of the press. The government frequently discredits negative reporting as propaganda by a hostile foreign media and pushes counter-narratives that deny many of the country’s problems. Much of Venezuela’s independent press has disappeared; actively shut down by the government or forced to close by the crippling recession. In December, El Nacional, Venezuela’s last nationally circulated anti-government newspaper, went out of print and blamed the government for restricting the supply of newsprint. It vowed to continue publishing online, but web-based outlets in Venezuela have long reported blockages. Last June, speaking on national journalists’ day, President Nicolás Maduro remarked that “only the debris of the bourgeois media is left.”


The hidden side effects of recommendation systems (MIT Sloan Management Review)

As with many other new technologies, digital recommendations can have unintended consequences. Research shows that recommendations do more than just reflect consumer preferences — they actually shape them. “If this sounds like a subtle distinction, it is not,” write Gediminas Adomavicius and Jesse Bockstedt. “Recommendation systems have the potential to fuel biases and affect sales in unexpected ways.”


Journalism is the conversation. The conversation is journalism. (Medium, Jeff Jarvis)

“I am sorely disappointed in The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and other journalists who these days are announcing to the world, using the powerful platforms they have, that they think journalists should ‘disengage’ from the platform for everyone else, Twitter,” writes Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis points out that many under- or misrepresented communities use social media as their only tool to connect with the mainstream media. “If you are an African-American who is shopping or barbecuing or eating lunch or going into your own home when a white person calls the police on you, you do not have a newsroom of journalists who look like you who will tell your story because they, too, have lived it. The outlet you have is a hashtag on Twitter.” Those stories only get told, writes Jarvis, because online communities are a way — often the only way — to flag the attention of the mass media. “When journalists delete, dismiss, or disengage from Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or Instagram or Reddit or blogs, they turn their backs on the people who finally  —  like the journalists  —  have a printing press to call their own.”

+ Earlier: Twitter is ruining American journalism. (The New York Times)


Cancel in protest? Or stay with a local newspaper that’s being strip-mined for profits? (The Washington Post)

Jeffrey Miller might be the ideal news consumer: He’s well-informed, thoughtful and understands the role good journalism plays in American democracy. For 20 years, he has subscribed to the print edition of his local newspaper, the Mercury News in San Jose. But over those years, he has watched “the Merc” decline from a vibrant, well-staffed watchdog and ambitious chronicler of its community to a sort of ghost — especially since the paper’s purchase several years ago by Digital First Media, which is viewed as one of the worst villains in the decline of regional newspapers. Controlled by a hedge fund, Digital First has drastically cut newsroom staffs “with no apparent regard for journalism or their future viability,” writes Margaret Sullivan. Now Miller faces a dilemma that tugs at many local news supporters: “The paper has become almost useless to me, and it feels like paying for it is only helping a hedge fund instead of advancing journalism.”