Need to Know: January 31, 2019

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


You might have heard: When newspapers close, the cost of government goes up (

But did you know: Loss of newspapers contributes to political polarization (Associated Press)

The steady loss of local newspapers and journalists across the country contributes to the nation’s political polarization, a new study has found. With fewer opportunities to find out about local politicians, citizens are more likely to turn to national sources like cable news and apply their feelings about national politics to people running for the town council or state legislature, according to research published in the Journal of Communication. The result is much less “split ticket” voting, or people whose ballot includes votes for people of different parties. In 1992, 37 percent of states with Senate races elected a senator from a different party than the presidential candidate the state supported. In 2016, for the first time in a century, no state did that, the study found. “The voting behavior was more polarized, less likely to include split ticket voting, if a newspaper had died in the community,” said researcher Johanna Dunaway.

+ Noted: Lenfest Institute announces $475k in new grants to support collaboration and new business models for news (Medium, Lenfest Institute); NY Attorney General targets fake social media activity, the first finding by a law enforcement agency that such activity constitutes illegal deception and illegal impersonation (CNN); New York magazine unionizes during sale talks (New York Post)


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stopped putting every single story on social media and tripled its following (Poynter)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel used to use social media the way a lot of newsrooms do — as the digital paperboy meant to deliver the news and get people back to their site. And like a lot of other newsrooms, the Journal Sentinel sent that paperboy out a lot. But in 2017, they started making some changes. Instead of posting everything the 137-year-old newspaper publishes, the Journal Sentinel takes a more strategic approach. They’ve figured out the rhythms of their readers, which stories should go on different platforms and how those platforms differ. And the measure now isn’t click-throughs, but getting people engaged with what they’re doing on the platforms where they are.

+ Related: Here’s how the Journal Sentinel hammered out a strategic plan for posting content on social media (Better News)


The Polish magazines publishing one another’s work (The New York Times)

In Poland, where a populist right-wing government is undermining democratic checks on power, political polarization has deeply fractured the country — and the Polish media isn’t helping matters. “What we have in Poland isn’t journalism,” said Jarema Piekutowski, chief expert of social affairs for the conservative magazine Nowa Konfederacja. “They are just soldiers for one or another political army. Some are more professional than the others, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t choose sides in the battle.” But in July 2017, a young high school teacher named Jedrzej Malko reached out to five Polish magazines — chosen for their differing political views — with an idea: Every few weeks, one of the magazines would write an article making a policy proposal on an important disputed issue, and the others would publish it alongside their responses. So far, the project has been popular with readers at all five magazines. Although one editor involved in the project said the idea likely wouldn’t be adopted by commercial media — “who feed themselves on conflict and emotion” — Malko says it’s an important symbolic gesture for anyone who pays attention: “It’s important to show readers we agree to sit around the table and hear the other side — not that you should agree, but you are neighbors.”


Teaching hope during the 2020 campaign season (The Conversation)

An article on teaching civic engagement (with a dose of optimism) in the classroom offers advice that can carry over to political reporting. Disenchantment with democracy leads to distrust in fellow citizens, pursuing self-interest versus the common good, and apathy toward democratic processes like voting, writes Sarah Stitzlein. Her advice for “teaching political hope” involves highlighting the endeavors of leaders and everyday citizens who bring about solutions to community problems — particularly those that involve compromise; educating students (in journalists’ case, audiences) on how to participate in local government; and using storytelling as a means of improving listening and sparking change. “Stories show examples of how to take action and why it’s worthwhile to do so,” writes Stitzlein. “…Learning how to pay attention to the lives of others can improve citizens’ visions for the future.”


Media’s fatal flaw: Ignoring the mistakes of newspapers (Wired)

Journalism has been slow to realize that its competitive advantage was always in being embedded in communities and serving the public interest, writes Jeremy Littau. “Technology made newspapers’ dominance possible in a pre-internet world, and a lack of understanding about the threat — and opportunity — of new technologies has been their downfall.” Littau points out that some of the most promising innovations in the news industry in recent years have been based solely on audience engagement and community needs. (He gives a shout-out to the Texas Tribune and the Trusting News project.) “An audience neglected by newspapers becomes an entrepreneurial opportunity for someone else,” he writes. “But we ought to learn from newspapers’ mistakes. Rebuilding local media starts with figuring out what people truly want and need from their news.”

+ Related: Getting better at listening to your audience can be about making simple changes to the reporting workflow, like inviting story ideas from readers or having more of a presence at community events and gathering places  


College journalism students will tackle statehouse coverage in Florida (University of Florida)

This week the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications announced the launch of “Fresh Take Florida,” an effort to provide coverage of Florida state government at a time when state capitals are increasingly under-covered. Six student journalists will cover executive-branch agency operations as well as legislation throughout the 2019 legislative session. “State government is the level of government that has the greatest importance in people’s daily lives, and it’s by far the least-covered level of government in America,” said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, who conceived of and organized the program. “Our goal is to help fill the growing gap in coverage that’s been left by years of attrition in statehouse press corps. We hope the students who spend a semester covering Tallahassee come away with the know-how to unearth the untold stories of state government and a sense of excitement about the impact they can have.”

+ Related: Why 2019 is the year of the student journalist: “Sometimes they are the only reporters in the room at important public meetings. They often break stories through diligent investigation and good reporting. Yet student journalists are continually threatened by censorship, retaliation, budget cuts, lack of access and many other challenges.” (Student Press Law Center)

+ An almanac of conservative media: Fox News, and then the rest (Poynter)