Need to Know: January 29, 2019

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


You might have heard: “This increase, as with others in recent years, is not about inflation. It’s about survival and about how the economics of news is changing” — The Washington Post’s former ombudsman Patrick Pexton explaining to readers, in 2013, why the Post (among other metropolitan dailies) raised its single-copy prices by 25 percent (The Washington Post)

But did you know: Newspapers cost more than twice as much today as they did a decade ago (and that was a smart move by publishers) (Nieman Lab)

The cost of a subscription to a daily print newspaper has, for most papers, gone up fast. Between 2008 and 2016, “Seven-day home delivery price more than doubled, and weekday single-copy price tripled. Seven-day subscription now costs $510 a year — print subscribers are paying on average $293 more to have the same newspaper delivered to their doorstep,” write researchers Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim. Chyi and Tenenboim argue that the dramatic price hikes have contributed to the decline in print revenue — creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that print is dying. But print newspaper circulation has been dying steadily for more than 70 years, argues Joshua Benton. When the advertising business model collapsed, many publishers were actually able to keep circulation revenue steady or slightly up by increasing the cost of subscriptions. “Generating more money from their most loyal customers is a good thing,” wrote Benton. “It’s literally just about the only strategic move that’s worked industry-wide over the past decade. It’s not a play you can run forever — but it’s worked better than anything else in the playbook.”

+ Noted: GateHouse Media buys South Bend Tribune, other newspapers from Schurz Communications (South Bend Tribune); Images show Apple preparing News app in iOS 12.2 for new magazine subscription service (9to5Mac); By the end of 2019 almost every major TV network and provider will have adopted a personalized ad product (Axios); Facebook moves to block ad transparency tools — including ours (ProPublica)


Readers ask questions about The Fresno Bee’s news gathering. Editor Joe Kieta offers answers (The Fresno Bee)

Since last year, The Bee has been engaged in a project with Arizona State University’s News Co/Lab, part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The goal: To become more transparent and open about what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. “We have to do a better job of explaining how news is made,” writes editor Joe Kieta. To that end, the Bee recently conducted a community survey inviting readers to ask questions about the newsgathering process. Kieta responded to those questions — which ranged from the newspaper’s perceived bias to its new leadership team to the need for more community-centric reporting — in a column he says he plans to do regularly.   

+ The metric every publisher should use in 2019: “Revenue at risk” (Publishing Executive); Tools to help journalists dig for people, trawl the web and keep themselves safe online (Global Investigative Journalism Network)


How volunteers for India’s ruling party are using WhatsApp to fuel fake news ahead of elections (Time)

A new WhatsApp policy that limits the ability to forward messages to no more than five contacts has had little impact on curbing the spread of fake news in India, reports Billy Perrigo. Ahead of national elections in April and May, India’s political parties are pouring money into creating hundreds of thousands of WhatsApp group chats to spread political messages and memes, which could theoretically reach more than 700 million people out of India’s population of 1.3 billion. But the app is also a major thoroughfare for those trafficking in misinformation — who experts say are often acting on behalf of political parties. “There is an army of volunteers whose job is to sit and forward messages,” says Soma Basu, a fellow at the Reuters Institute at Oxford University. Basu says the limits on forwarding messages haven’t deterred these groups. “The volunteer is not able to forward a message to 20 people in one go [anymore]. So they’ll just do it five times.”

+ Canadian Journalism Innovators launches to accelerate digital media growth (J-Source)


When seeing is no longer believing: Inside the Pentagon’s race against deepfake videos (CNN)

In an interactive look at how the U.S. government is investigating deepfake technology — which relies on artificial intelligence to create convincing fake audio and video — CNN explores how deepfakes could take the war on misinformation to a whole new level. The Pentagon, through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is now working with several of the country’s biggest research institutions on what could amount to an “arms race” around deepfake technology. “Some people already question the facts around events that unquestionably happened, like the Holocaust, the moon landing and 9/11, despite video proof,” writes reporter Donie O’Sullivan. “If deepfakes make people believe they can’t trust video, the problems of misinformation and conspiracy theories could get worse. While experts told CNN that deepfake technology is not yet sophisticated enough to fake large-scale historical events or conflicts, they worry that the doubt sown by a single convincing deepfake could alter our trust in audio and video for good.”


Takeaway from BuzzFeed’s Michael Cohen-Donald Trump report: Journalists police each other (USA Today)

In the hours after the BuzzFeed report, which alleged that President Trump ordered his lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, was formally disputed by special counsel Robert Mueller, at least one thing was made clear: Journalism is a self-policing profession. “BuzzFeed is being challenged by multiple news organizations that do not view their job as defending the president — or their media brethren,” write Paul A. Weber and Martin Kaiser. “The episode shows that ‘the media’ are not a monolith, but rather a wide range of outlets, most of which regard accuracy and credibility as core values.”  

+ Does LGBT media have a future? “Is LGBT media really sustainable after all? Now, we can read about ourselves in the Sunday Times and find an online community anywhere from Gay Twitter to Instagram meme account pages. At this point, do we really need to keep prostrating ourselves — proving that LGBT stories are not only valuable, but ‘safe’”? (BuzzFeed News)


How independent journalists are covering more than just ‘the amount of rust’ in America’s overlooked regions (Poynter)

At a time when rural, economically depressed, politically red areas are described dismissively by outsiders as “Trump country,” freelance reporters have launched several independent outlets or projects that take a more nuanced look at those communities; particularly in Appalachia, the Rust Belt and the South. Local news outlets play a critical role in “going beyond the national talking points” to provide more in-depth coverage of communities that have been painted with a broad brush, says Lyndsey Gilpin, whose popular weekly newsletter Southerly examines environmental justice and culture in the Southern United States. But freelance reporters have the freedom to regularly travel to underserved locations and suss out untold stories, something that a beat reporter at a city newspaper may not have the luxury of doing. Freelancers are also able to plug the gaps in reporting on issues that local outlets may not have the resources to consistently tackle. That work has become increasingly important as more communities lose access to comprehensive journalism. “We can kind of pick up the slack where national media isn’t doing the job they said they want to be doing,” Gilpin said. “Having … more independent journalists that love their region and that are really attached to a place can be a benefit to the industry.”