Need to Know: July 1, 2019

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


You might have heard: How The New York Times is experimenting with personalization to find new ways to expose readers to stories (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: The New York Times puts personalization front and center (Nieman Lab)

In mid-June The New York Times began rolling out “For You,” a new tab that now sits prominently at the bottom of the Times’ iPhone app homepage between Top Stories and Sections. For You will suggest content recommendations to users based on their reading history and what they’ve indicated they are interested in — not an entirely new feature, but one that the Times now has enough confidence in to make a focal point within its app. “The major national/global news publishers have worked around the edges of personalization for a while,” writes Ken Doctor. “Each can bring more firepower to personalization than they have thus far. But all are mindful to maintain the tradition of making top editors’ judgment what leads the news presentation. Most are wary of the dreaded filter bubble and enabling readers to simply re-enforce — and not challenge — their own worldviews.”

+ Noted: Days after its 150th birthday, The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, announces it will stop production (WFMJ-TV); Quartz lays off business-side employees for second time this year (Digiday); Arc Publishing unveils streaming video app Broadcast (Washington Post); Fighting Theranos charges, Elizabeth Holmes blames advocacy journalism (Bloomberg)


Habit formation: How The Wall Street Journal kept subscribers coming back (Nieman Lab)

Wall Street Journal members tend to stay members if they download the WSJ app or subscribe to an email newsletter — that much is known. But the Journal recently conducted an experiment to see whether other actions might also be linked to retention. Making a list of everything members can do on their site (like “email article,” “comment,” or “play puzzle”), a cross-functional team then compared the “survival rate” of new members who have taken particular actions against the survival rate of those who did not. They found that there are many habit-forming actions members can take that increase their likelihood of renewing — especially if they develop those habits early on. Armed with this knowledge, the team made tweaks that would drive members to take retention-driving actions. Since then, they’ve seen active days — their key engagement metric — steadily rise.   

+ Earlier: Building habit — not page views — matters most for keeping subscribers, data analysis finds (Medill Local News Initiative)


How can we lure back all the people who avoid news? (The Guardian)

The issue of how to recapture audiences is preoccupying a larger number of journalists than ever — particularly in light of the recent Reuters Institute finding that 32% of people worldwide actively avoid the news. Many news organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. — where the polarizing effects of Donald Trump and Brexit have driven off many news consumers — have begun experimenting with community outreach as a method to re-engage audiences and find fresh ideas and perspectives. Just last week, the U.K.-based “slow news” startup Tortoise announced a pivot toward this approach, saying that it will begin forming partnerships with a variety of non-media organizations to hold “news events” that aim to draw in broader audiences and use their conversations to inform their reporting. “The burgeoning of current engagement initiatives offer at least real-life contact with other humans, addressing not only the business problems of news organisations, but some of the digitally isolating effects of their cause,” writes Emily Bell. “How society feels about not just consuming the news but being part of the news process remains to be seen.”

+ Related: Offbeat ways to reach new audiences and how to host live events (Better News)

+ Feeling pressure from tech companies, foreign journalists are scrambling. One outlet is even buying a tour bus company. (Medill Local News Initiative)


Greed is to blame for the radicalization of social media (Wired)

“Growing up, your parents most likely diverted your attention away from invented tabloid cover stories at the supermarket checkout counter,” writes Alexander Heffner. “They might have admonished you that such stories were fake — or, better yet, made up. Today, such tabloids may be financially imperiled, if not defunct, but their conspiracy-driven, largely fiction-first approach has become the dominant culture of social media.” Why don’t more of us view extremist content on social media with the same sort of healthy suspicion and disregard as we used to view tabloids? It comes down to lack of willingness by social media executives to quarantine such content, if not fully remove it, argues Heffner. “Insatiable profit motives have led to the toleration of bigotry and the exploitation of users across major social media platforms. There is money in hate.”


How the first U.S. city with no daily newspaper will help Trump in 2020 (Philadelphia Inquirer)

On Friday night, the family-owned Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio, stunned the journalism world when it announced that it will stop printing in late August, making Youngstown the first U.S. city without a daily newspaper. It’s another hit for a region that’s suffered 40 years of industrial job losses and is still reeling from GM’s shutdown of its giant Lordstown assembly line, but there’s a much deeper significance to this news, writes Will Bunch. The loss of the Vindicator doesn’t mean that the region’s 200,000 will no longer be getting information. It just increases the likelihood they’ll be getting bad information — intentionally manipulated, and sometimes out-and-out fakery. 

+ When a local team wins a national championship, your daily newspaper will tell you all about it! (Um, 36 hours later) (Nieman Lab); Trump joking with Putin over eliminating journalists is a betrayal of America. So is ignoring it. (Washington Post)


A solutions journalism class confronts a college’s notorious binge drinking problem (Medium, Solutions Journalism Network)

Eager to examine the cause and effects of the drinking culture at DePauw University (where 65% of students report that they regularly binge drink), student journalists on the school newspaper decided to take a solutions approach to reporting on the issue. They thought the solutions angle would help break through the common mentality of “everybody does it. It’s just going to happen,” said editor Maddy McTigue. One of the biggest challenges in reporting the story was getting students to talk honestly about it, McTigue said. But she and her classmates’ careful persistence paid off. Having a cross-section of students candidly share their experiences with drinking added a poignant and impactful element to a series that explored how other colleges have successfully responded to student drinking.

+ Student journalist uncovers high school’s use of prison labor (New York Times)