Need to Know: July 15, 2019

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


You might have heard: As of 2016, 78% of newspapers with circulations over 50,000 are using a digital subscription model

But did you know: Reputation and uniqueness of content are driving factors in paywall success, study finds (Harvard Business School) 

For news orgs with high circulation and large amounts of exclusive content, paywalls tend to increase overall sales, often by increasing demand for print subscriptions — but those with less exclusive content have typically experienced losses when implementing a paywall. That’s the conclusion of a new study that incorporates data on the four primary revenue components of traditional newspaper companies — print subscription, print advertising, digital subscription and digital advertising. “To our knowledge, ours is the first study to do that,” said author Doug J. Chung. The data suggests that small publishers lacking the muscle of larger news brands should brace themselves for an initial loss in digital revenue that likely will not be offset by a bump in print subscriptions. “If you’re a media firm thinking about pursuing a digital paywall sales strategy,” said Chung, “you have to make sure you have the reputation and the uniqueness of content to do it, because if you don’t, then you will likely fail.”

+ Related: How some for-profit local news outlets are building subscriptions (Nieman Lab); How nonprofit Philadelphia Inquirer is growing revenue from digital (Local Media Association)

+ Noted: Google rolling out redesigned News tab for desktop Search (9to5Google); First Draft is hosting a discussion series for journalists on responding to disinformation (First Draft); Instagram now asks bullies: “Are you sure?” (BBC); Podcasters need listening data, so Nielsen is going to call people’s homes to ask for it (The Verge)


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How to build an effective cross-border investigative team (

Cross-border investigative projects can easily be tripped up by disputes over journalistic methods, which vary from country to country, as well as differences in writing styles. It’s important to discuss these factors at the beginning of a collaboration, said Brigitte Alfter, director of the Arena for Journalism in Europe. Alfter was speaking to the audience at the Center for Investigative Journalism’s summer conference in London. She described a time from her own experience on a cross-border reporting project when a Romanian journalist rewrote the lede of a major story because it contained the conclusion — something journalists in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. are taught to do, but which isn’t a universal convention. “If you do this in Romania, people would look at the kiosk, walk by and not buy the newspaper,” said Alfter. “What they want is a crime scene, the headline is a teaser — page after page — and only at the end, would they unveil what they have found.” 


How BBC made a pick-your-own-path episode of its show ‘Click’ (BBC)

To celebrate its 1,000th episode, the BBC show “Click” created a choose-your-own-adventure story for viewers — one that had about a “gazillion” possible outcomes, said presenter Spencer Kelly. “Click” reviews the latest tech gadgets and news, so viewers of the pick-your-own-path episode were able to choose what level of explanation they hear about the products, how much detail they want and whether they are more interested in the tech or the people behind the tech. “Creating stories like this is a whole different way of thinking,” said producer Talia Franco. “The concept of beginning, middle and end go out the window. We have to think about every combination to make sure it is engaging and works editorially.”


Making the customer’s journey convenient, not creepy (VentureBeat)

Thinking about how your customers will experience personalization is critical to making sure your efforts don’t seem too invasive, says Chris Williams, chief product officer at iHeartMedia. “I think the trick is to ask permission, you have to be transparent about it. It can’t be a surprise.” Williams explained how iHeartMedia has been offering audio recommendations to users based on different activities; for example, music suggestions for their workouts or podcast suggestions for their morning commutes. “We found that the more and more we got it right … users who are subscribers to one of our on-demand services had a higher retention rate, because we built up radio trust with them,” said Williams. 


The unpredictable legal implications of Trump’s Twitter-blocking defeat (The Verge)

Last week’s decision by a federal appeals court that President Trump cannot block his critics on Twitter has left confusion over how it would be applied to other public officials. “[Trump] made this a very easy case” by clearly using his account as an official White House communications tool, said Cornell Law School professor James Grimmelmann. “It’s a harder question if a politician is using it to interact with the public but is not claiming to use it for official business.” The decision has also raised questions around how public officials would deal with their online harassers on their government accounts. Some legal experts say one solution would be for officials to establish clear moderation rules that could be enforced across the board, the way a town hall could expel people who genuinely disrupt a meeting, even if they’re engaging in political speech.


Video as revenue: Start with listening (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

In 2017 the Alabama Media Group launched a separate video entity, Red Clay Media, to focus on feel-good, inspirational and comedic “southern content” — content they knew resonated deeply with their audience. It’s become a thriving venture, completely separate from the newsroom but benefiting it through revenue earned primarily from sponsored video, custom content and merchandise. “We were creating this content in the newsroom and seeing a lot of people engaging and sharing these southern experiences,” said Elizabeth Hoekenga Whitmire, senior director of audience development for Alabama Media Group and Red Clay Media. “It was listening to the audience that led us to this place. For any newsroom who is thinking about trying something similar, that is so important — listen to your audience and figure out what the experience is in your community that is bringing people together.”

+ Would people in your neighborhood pay $3.99 a month to receive hyperlocal news via one or two text messages per day? Lakewood Together is running an experiment to find out (