Need to Know: January 4, 2021

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: In the summer, hedge fund Alden Global Capital agreed to not increase its stake in Tribune Publishing until June 2021 (Chicago Tribune)

But did you know: Alden is seeking ownership of Tribune Publishing (CNN)

Alden, which has a reputation for cutting newsroom jobs, has made an offer to buy Tribune, the newspaper chain that owns the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other publications. Alden already is Tribune’s largest shareholder after buying a 32% stake in 2019, and three executives from the hedge fund serve on Tribune’s board. Through Alden’s majority stock ownership of MediaNews Group, Alden owns about 200 newspapers, including the Denver Post and Boston Herald.

+ Noted: Amazon Music is buying the podcast network Wondery (Vulture); Washington Post employees to receive bonus of $2,021 (The Wrap)

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TRY THIS AT HOME

How Talking Points Memo has found sustainability in memberships (Talking Points Memo)

For most of its history, Talking Points Memo’s revenue heavily depended on advertising. In 2015, the site began working to build membership instead, leading Talking Points Memo to double its revenue from the program, which also offset advertising losses. Since then, the site has focused on memberships as its core revenue vehicle, and Talking Points Memo currently has 35,000 members. Although its attention to membership was partially driven by a declining ad market, the shift is also part of being a reader-centric publication with a shared goal between the business and editorial teams to “(make) great journalism and (figure) out how to justify to our readers that it was worth paying for,” publisher Joe Ragazzo writes.

OFFSHORE

Trump appointee seeks lasting control over Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia (NPR)

As CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Michael Pack disrupted the agency by firing network heads and investigating coverage for anti-Trump bias. As chairman of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia, Pack and other board members have drafted an agreement that would allow them to stay in those positions for the next two years unless removed for cause. The agreement for Radio Free Europe is unlikely to go forward, but if signed, the other contract would allow board members, including Trump administration officials, to continue to influence the network after President-elect Joe Biden replaces Pack as CEO.

+ Earlier: In November, a judge ruled that Pack had acted unconstitutionally and ordered him to stop interfering with the Agency for Global Media’s news coverage and staff (NPR)

OFFBEAT

New FAA rule is a huge boost for night newsgathering by drone (Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Drone operators previously had to receive authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be able to fly at night. Now the FAA will instead require drone pilots to pass the latest version of a test that includes questions about night flying. Drones that fly at night must have visible anti-collision lights, which news organizations may need to add to their machines, most of which don’t include the lights when they leave the factory. 

UP FOR DEBATE

Can Facebook ever be made safe for democracy? (The New Republic)

Siva Vaidhyanathan writes that much of the criticism of Facebook surrounds perceived political bias and its content moderation, but a greater concern should be the site’s anti-democratic influence. After years of pressure, Facebook changed some of its policies surrounding election ads, tacking on a campaign ad blackout the week before the November election. Vaidhyanathan points out that the political ad ban was tempered by early mail-in voting, as the blackout went into effect after many Americans had already voted. 

SHAREABLE

On the border, a tabloid start-up defies the odds (The New York Times)

More than 20 counties in Texas have no newspaper, and in November, they were briefly joined by Vale Verde County as The Del Rio News-Herald printed its final issue. Months earlier, Joel Langton had started an events site called 830Times.com, and he opted to turn the fledgling outlet into a weekly print tabloid to fill the void left by the News-Herald. He also hired several of the paper’s former writers as freelancers to report for his ad-supported paper.