Need to Know: July 16, 2019

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


You might have heard: Print subscribers cite discounts and promotional offers as the biggest reason they chose to purchase their subscription

But did you know: Offering discounts on existing subscriptions makes those subscribers less likely to renew (Nieman Lab) 

According to a new study from Notre Dame and Emory, newspaper subscribers who negotiate a short-term discount on their subscriptions — a common concession of publishers to disgruntled subscribers — are actually less likely to renew when the time comes. “Discounting the cost of a subscriber’s service may lead subscribers to adjust the price they believe is fair for the service,” the authors write. “When their contract becomes due for renewal and subscribers compare the renewal price with the lower recovery-based price to which they have adjusted, they may hesitate to renew their contracts.” Instead of discounting the remainder of unhappy customers’ subscriptions, there a few alternative bargains publishers may strike, including offering renewal discounts or extending/upgrading the existing subscription.

+ Noted: Introducing The Accountability Project, a new resource for public data (Investigative Reporting Workshop); Firefox is building an “ad-free internet,” and plans to pay publishers directly (What’s New In Publishing); FTC approves roughly $5 billion Facebook settlement (Wall Street Journal); Applications now open for newsrooms who want to host a Report for America fellow in 2020-21 (Report for America); The Carter Center awards eight U.S. journalists Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism (Carter Center)


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Tools and tips for digging into Facebook from two investigative journalists (GroundTruth Project)

Journalists often overlook Facebook as a resource because “99 percent” of the stuff on Facebook is “photos of cats, dogs, food or memes,” but there’s useful information if you can sort through the deluge of personal posts, says Henk van Ess, investigative reporter for That’s why van Ess created online search tools and so that investigators like himself had a “quick method to filter social media.” The tools allow reporters to search keywords and find the accounts posting about a topic or event. For instance, journalists can search “restaurants visited by” and type in the name of a politician. “Or you could, like, put in ‘photos tagged with’ and name a politician or a lobbyist,” suggests investigative reporter Brooke Williams. Williams says she also uses Facebook groups as a phonebook of sorts when researching a story. “I have quite a bit of success with finding sources in community. People on the ground who care about local issues in particular tend to form Facebook groups.”


German fact-checkers are alert for conspiracy theories and dark humor surrounding Merkel’s tremors (Poynter)

After German chancellor Angela Merkel was witnessed shaking during a public event — the third such incident in less than a month — German fact-checkers are watching closely for a fresh crop of rumors and conspiracy theories about Merkel’s health. As German media begin to question whether the public has a right to know Merkel’s medical conditions, fact-checkers must be careful not to give voice to speculation, and remind the public (and journalists) that no official or reliable information has been made available yet. “We have to check the information and make sure we are aware of what society is talking about,” said Natalia Leal, director of content at Agência Lupa, a Brazilian fact-checking outlet that dealt with a similar scenario surrounding President Jair Bolsonaro. “Fact-checkers should stimulate people to look for facts; to doubt whatever they see, read or hear; and to search for information that is anchored in reality.” 

+ Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, becomes focus of Brazil press freedom debate (AP)


The fight that could change scholarly publishing for good (The Conversation)

This month, academic publisher Elsevier shuttered the University of California’s online access to current journal articles. UC’s subscription had expired in February and the negotiations to renew haven’t succeeded. As a leader of the open access movement, UC’s case could encourage other academic institutions to follow its example, which would force a concession from academic publishers, who have been criticized for excessive profit margins and hyperinflating the cost to access academic articles online. “As the head of the research library at UC Davis, I see this development as a harbinger of a tectonic shift in how universities and their faculty share research, build reputations and preserve knowledge in the digital age,” writes MacKenzie Smith. “…Paywalls and online subscriptions may make sense in other parts of the media ecosystem, but it’s not a good model for academic publishing, where authors and reviewers are paid by universities and research grants (with public money) rather than by publishers.” 

+ Facial recognition tech is growing stronger, thanks to your face (New York Times)


When showing credibility imperils a story’s subjects (Columbia Journalism Review)

When The New York Times published a story in May on rival gangs in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, it didn’t hold back on details about the subjects. The article included photos of faces, real first names, and other identifying details that the Times said it used with their consent. But after critics argued that the information could endanger the subjects, the Times decided to scrub certain photos from the story. The incident has renewed debate around what constitutes informed consent in places like San Pedro Sula, where violence often attracts foreign conflict reporters. “We … go back to the newsroom after we do our reporting with all our permissions in hand, and we should have the soul-searching conversation about whether we are doing enough to protect people,” says Amanda J. Crawford, an assistant professor of journalism ethics at the University of Connecticut. “If they gave us permission, is that enough? Who is on the ground and maybe in a better position to tell us this than we are?”

+ Tiptoeing around Trump’s racism is a betrayal of journalistic truth-telling, writes Margaret Sullivan (Washington Post)


How Free Press convinced New Jersey to allocate $2 million for rehabilitating local news (Nieman Lab)

Thanks to the efforts of Free Press, an advocacy group that believes the public should be more involved in journalism and information sharing, New Jersey has become the first state to provide public money for local news innovations (aside from traditional funding for PBS and NPR stations). “From the start, we knew if this campaign was about ‘bailing out the journalism industry in New Jersey,’ it wouldn’t go anywhere,” said Mike Rispoli, director of the News Voices program at Free Press. “We knew that at the heart of this campaign was that communities across the state were really feeling the loss of local news and how that was actively harming those communities.” Through dogged community outreach and conversations with academics and lawmakers, Free Press was able to build enthusiasm around the idea of public funds going to sustainable and innovative news projects. “I think it really demonstrates the hunger from everyday people to do something about the loss of local news,” said Rispoli.