Need to Know: January 30, 2019

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


You might have heard: For podcasting, the stakes have gotten higher, the big players have taken notice, and the influx of publishers of all shapes and sizes puts pressure on a podcast economy that still lags in terms of monetization and marketing muscle (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Publishers are getting serious about podcast revenue (Digiday)

More publishers are seeing meaningful revenue from podcasts, and beginning to consider the format as presenting a more viable ad model than video, reports Lucinda Southern. The Economist said that its monthly revenue from podcast ads served by platform Acast has increased 50 percent in 2018; that’s across the publisher’s five podcasts that collectively fetched 7 million average monthly listens or downloads. The Telegraph has said it’s prioritizing podcasts, which it has historically used as a subscription driver. On Monday, digital sports outlet The Ringer said it made more than $15 million on podcast ad sales in 2018, averaging 35 million monthly downloads. Advertiser demand for podcasts is fairly recent — although they’re attracted mostly to the top 5 percent of podcasts, in terms of audience size. It was only a matter of time for ad money to catch up, said Nic Newman, editor of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report. “What has held things up is that podcast advertisers have often been lower-quality brands that don’t feel right for the publisher, but this is changing.”

+ Related: What you need to know to begin podcasting, including what your listeners want to hear and how to make money off your podcast (Better News); The Boston Globe and WBUR briefly experimented with a daily sports podcast. Here’s what they learned (Lenfest Institute)

+ Noted: After backlash, BuzzFeed says it will pay out earned paid time off to laid off employees (CNN); BuzzFeed paid the teen making its top quizzes in free swag (Intelligencer); Facebook Watch isn’t living up to its name (Bloomberg); Apple News says it has 85 million monthly active users now (9to5Mac)


Fact-checkers adapt to heightened combat, facing politicians who are repeating lies and pushing back

“Fact-checkers in the past year have come to resemble emergency physicians doing triage in a raging epidemic,” writes Susan Benkelman, director of API’s Accountability Journalism Project. “The amount of work is overwhelming, but they feel more essential than ever.” Benkelman outlines the challenges facing fact-checkers as the 2020 election cycle looms: the sheer volume of falsehoods and misleading statements uttered by politicians and their representatives; a tendency by many politicians to persist in repeating false claims after they have been debunked; and aggressive pushback against fact-checkers — which, in some cases, can be a positive, notes Benkelman. “While some fact-checkers may have to deal with the complaints from politicians who don’t like their conclusions, at least such pushback can be taken as a grudging sign of respect, an indication that the politicians are paying attention … Being challenged, in other words, may be preferable to being ignored.”


Grappling with the local angle in Covington Catholic’s backyard (Columbia Journalism Review)

As the Covington Catholic story took off online, local outlets struggled to keep pace with the national narrative while also negotiating the expectations of a fired-up local audience. “People were going to look to us in this situation,” said Beryl Love, executive editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We needed to show that we were going to be there to help them sort out these very complicated events.” But seeking out local sources to add new information and perspectives was a fraught exercise. As the Enquirer and other local outlets secured a few hard-won interviews, the prevalence of Covington-connected sources quickly made coverage seem one-sided in the students’ favor. “The issue has been oversimplified into a ‘one side versus the other’ kind of thing, and the analysis has stopped there,” said Jeffrey Layne Blevins, head of the University of Cincinnati’s journalism department. Love hopes that once the dust settles, local audiences will be more receptive to solutions-oriented coverage that points to lessons learned. “We have to go beyond why this [is] a viral story and get at issues of what we’re teaching our kids and how to talk to them about this experience. Not just Covington Catholic families, but for the whole area.”


Republik bets on total transparency to boost renewals (Columbia Journalism Review)

Republik, a Swiss news startup, raised $2.4 million in less than two weeks in 2017, when a crowdfunding campaign that promised a new kind of journalism took off and set records. But in the year since its launch, the digital magazine has burst the bounds of its budget, spending more than $6.5 million. Republik now faces a critical juncture: This month its initial backers will have to renew their subscriptions, and pay again. “We know from experience abroad that retention rates are around 50 percent,” says publisher Christof Moser. “We want more than that.” A week before its self-imposed Jan. 15 deadline, Republik was about 400 renewals away from retaining even the average 50 percent. So it added transparency to its fundraising efforts. It has an interactive site where subscribers can view the totals and play with a tool that shows how editors must adjust for lower budgets. The point of the exercise, Moser says, is to demonstrate how tenuous the business is. “It’s crazy to think how little is needed to fail,” he says. So far, the effort seems to be working. By Jan. 23, renewal rates had jumped to 59 percent.

+ Guardian editor says the paywall is “not really a conversation” anymore as donations model gives advantage of scale (Press Gazette)


Time for happiness (Harvard Business Review)

The feeling of having enough time — “time affluence” — is now at a record low in the United States. In a Gallup study of 2.5 million Americans, 80 percent of respondents did not have the time to do all they wanted to each day. “Time poverty” has profound effects on our happiness and wellbeing, writes Ashley Whillans. It also amounts to billions of dollars in lost productivity costs to companies each year. In studying more than 100,000 adults all over the world, Whillans and her colleagues found that people who are willing to give up money to gain more free time — by working fewer hours or paying to outsource disliked tasks, for example — experience more fulfilling social relationships, more satisfying careers, and more joy, and overall, live happier lives. “If there’s one resolution that you keep this year,” writes Whillans, “it should be to focus on making choices based on time, not money.”


The crisis facing American journalism did not start with the internet (Slate)

The dire straits of the news industry is in full focus this week after layoffs at three major media companies. While a lot of the attention is focused on national players BuzzFeed and HuffPost, the cuts at Gannett are the most worrisome, because it is one of the last big newspaper chains that has properties in markets of all size, writes Paul Littau. “That the Gannett news is not a red-alert story in the U.S. reflects a misunderstanding of the major problems facing American newspaper companies, an economic story that goes back further than the advent of the public internet in the 1990s. But it’s a story Americans need to know and understand better, because the news crisis you keep hearing about is a local problem. If you think there’s corruption in D.C., what’s happening at City Hall is often worse — and in more and more places, there’s no longer anyone paid to root it out.”

+ “Shampoo the carpets, take the sheets off the chandeliers!” Those words announced to the White House press corps that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Trump’s press secretary, would hold a rare on-camera briefing yesterday — her first in 41 days. “Missed you guys,” Sanders told the press corps. But did they miss her? What’s the value in those briefings, anyway? (Columbia Journalism Review)


A high school allegedly banned students from covering a classmate’s arrest (BuzzFeed News)

When student reporters at Plainfield High School in Indiana began digging into the reasons behind a fellow student’s arrest, school administrators told them it was too sensitive of a topic to cover and shut down the story. “Our school is very concerned with image. They always have been,” said student reporter Kyra Howard. This situation has played out at high schools around the country in recent years, but the conflict between student media and school administrators has escalated recently, writes Tyler Kingkade. With many local newspapers downsizing, student journalists are picking up stories that otherwise might not get covered, including revelations of principals who faked their credentials, and districts that hid harassment complaints against teachers. School officials say they’re allowed to censor controversial articles, especially if the school pays for the publication, to guard against stories that might spark campus fights, defamation allegations, or even suicide attempts. But students, First Amendment lawyers, and some politicians see censorship as a growing problem that teaches students not to value free speech — particularly at a time when the president of the United States is openly hostile toward the press.

+ Nick Confessore reported on Facebook. Now he approaches it with caution: How the Times investigative reporter has changed his online habits after what he’s learned (The New York Times); GDPR makes it easier to get your data, but that doesn’t mean you’ll understand it (The Verge)