Need to Know: January 6, 2021


You might have heard: There’s still debate about whether digital startups are the great local news hope (Medill Local News Initiative)

But did you know: Patterns are emerging for successful community news organizations (Center for Journalism & Liberty)

As small community news organizations have risen to fill the void left by closing newspapers, there’s no single template for success. But a new study by Tom Davidson for the Center for Journalism & Liberty finds that there are emerging patterns that can help journalists, entrepreneurs and policymakers make decisions about the best business models going forward. Nonprofit startups, he writes, are ideal for small niche sites, but it can be a struggle to grow and devote the necessary time and money to fundraising — Davidson says one-third of resources should be spent on bringing in money and readers. He also explores the best conditions for news cooperatives, conversions to nonprofit and public benefit corporations.

+ Noted: McClatchy names Colleen McCain Nelson as new executive editor (The Sacramento Bee); Union seeks removal of Alden members from Tribune board in wake of buyout offer (The Wall Street Journal)


Trust Tip: Three fundamental ways to invest in trust in 2021 (Trusting News)

One key way to focus on building trust in the new year is to spend time exploring how your work is perceived, writes Trusting News director Joy Mayer. Ask for feedback, then collect and analyze that data to identify attitudes, misassumptions and frustrations you need to address. Another area of trust-building to invest in is defending your credibility and ethics when attacked. Explaining your processes and decision making to your audience can serve as a proactive defense. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


Daily Yonder seeks to cover rural America without stereotyping it (Medill Local News Initiative)

Online news site the Daily Yonder began in 2007, with the mission of covering rural life in the U.S. Much of its reporting is based on examining rural and nonrural data from around the country, allowing counties from different places to be measured against each other and see how they fit into the national picture. One challenge has been to write about the wide variety of rural areas without relying on tropes, such as an undue focus on farming and factories. The Daily Yonder also works to change policy surrounding rural issues outside of agriculture, including healthcare, education and energy. Another of its challenges is expanding its audience in areas where reliable, high-speed internet is often unavailable.


Female journalists in Scotland say the pandemic has set back gender equality (Press Gazette)

A new study of female journalists in Scotland finds that women in journalism are “back at almost square one” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. They warn that women have been hit particularly hard by job cuts and that women in the field are more likely to move to freelance or part-time work. Of the 92 journalists surveyed, 18 percent had lost their job in the last year, and 29 percent worried they could lose theirs in the next year. Most of the women with children said that the responsibility of childcare had fallen on them during the pandemic, with nearly a third saying their employers hadn’t been accommodating of the changes.


Lessons in subscription retention from HBO Max’s launch of Wonder Woman 1984 (A Media Operator)

HBO Max saw a huge jump in subscriptions in December in anticipation of Wonder Woman 1984, but the task for the platform will now be to retain those subscribers in a crowded streaming market. Jacob Donnelly writes that the platform’s strategy is to use big-ticket events to attract viewers, then encourage continued watching with a deep library of HBO shows stretching back decades. Donnelly suggests that publishers can use this idea by reaching out to new subscribers with content related to what they have previously read. He also suggests that media companies consider quarterly instead of monthly subscriptions, giving users more opportunity to develop the habit of consuming that content.


Flywheels instead of funnels: What public media should reconsider in 2021 (Current)

With the pandemic still in full swing, Andrew Ramsammy of Arizona State University argues that public media needs to forget some of its current strategies and embrace new ways. For instance, instead of focusing only on a marketing funnel, which ends when a purchase or donation is made, he suggests adding a flywheel that continues the process. The approach gains momentum from discovering what drives audiences and letting that feedback fuel future endeavors. The method also serves to attract other partners — such as underwriters and staff — who are drawn to the audience-centric approach.


How to reduce the spread of fake news — by doing nothing (Nieman Lab)

While it can feel important to debunk misinformation or disinformation online, psychologist Tom Buchanan says that the best thing to do is to ignore it. When information is repeated — even when accompanied by warning flags or fact-checking labels, people are more likely to remember and repeat it. In a series of experiments, Buchanan found that people were more likely to share information if they had seen it before. Other studies have shown that people find it less unethical to share misinformation that they’ve encountered repeatedly, even if they know it’s false and don’t believe it themselves.

+ Earlier: 10 questions news organizations should ask before covering misinformation (First Draft); and if you do cover it, don’t repeat the falsehood in the headline (American Press Institute)