Need to Know: July 19, 2019

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


You might have heard: Earlier this year, Digital First Media, backed by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, made an unsuccessful bid for Gannett (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: It’s looking like Gannett will be acquired by GateHouse — creating a newspaper megachain like the U.S. has never seen (Nieman Lab)

Although the deal hasn’t been finalized (or spoken about publicly by the companies involved), sources say “there are no major stumbling blocks left to negotiate in a megamerger” between Gannett and GateHouse, the nation’s two largest newspaper chains, reports Ken Doctor. A combined Gannett and GateHouse would control 265 dailies — more than one-sixth of all the daily newspapers in the U.S. — with a combined daily print circulation of about 8.7 million. “These companies’ leaders think a megamerger buys two or three years — ‘until we figure it out,’” writes Doctor. “The ‘it’ is that long-hoped-for chimera of successful digital transformation. Gannett and GateHouse, like all their industry brethren, look at ever-bleaker numbers every quarter; the biggest motivation here is really survival, which in business terms means the ability to maintain some degree of profitability somewhere into the early 2020s.” 

+ Reactions: “[The merger will] get approved, no doubt. Might have to sell off a few papers in particularly clustered markets. But 1 in 6 dailies does not a monopoly make.” (Twitter, @jbenton); “Gatehouse is mostly on NewsCycle and Gannett on the homemade Presto CMS. So any merger is going to be years of consolidation. It is like lifetime guaranteed employment for Product, Project and Development teams.” (Twitter, @dkiesow); “The challenge, as always, will be cultural. Running properties like Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Phoenix with weekly chain metrics. As tight as Gannett has been, large metros are different than two-person weeklies.” (Twitter, @dbarkin)

+ Earlier: Let the 2019 Consolidation Games begin! (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: Verizon resurrects its media business as a “safe haven” on the internet (Reuters); Tensions rise at First Look Media as company shifts strategy (Intelligencer) 


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’ 

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually: games that teach media literacy; why some fact-checkers are no longer using the term “fake news”; and how misinformation has impacted the Hong Kong protests.


Is your journalism a luxury or necessity? (City Bureau)

What if journalists used a framework like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to address their communities’ information needs? At the foundation would be the information people need to survive — how to find housing and jobs, food and transportation, how to stay safe, etc. In the middle would be information that helps people and communities connect, and at the top would be information that appeals to more abstract desires and makes us feel engaged, intrigued or involved. “Often these are stories about someone else’s needs,” writes Harry Backlund — and yet that’s where most journalism is centered, at the top of that “pyramid.” Applying Maslow’s framework to their reporting can help newsrooms take stock of how well they’re addressing the urgent information needs of their communities, says Backlund. And more than that, “it could bolster the idea of using tax dollars to fund certain information needs because, after all, we already do this on a massive scale. Think: public information officers, librarians, city bus schedules, 311, the school lunch menu.”


The slow progress of Portugal’s publisher alliance shows limits of united fronts vs the duopoly (Digiday) 

An alliance of Portuguese publishers is squaring up for its own David-and-Goliath battle against Facebook and Google. The group, which calls itself Nonio and is comprised of six media companies, is hoping that the benefits they can offer advertisers — brand-safe environments for ads and more personalized customer service — will help them claw back some revenue from the “duopoly,” which currently consumes more than two-thirds of digital advertising spend in the country. Although challenges around scale and limited data targeting capabilities have made for a slow start to the project, advertisers seem happy with the relationships they’ve forged with Nonio participants so far. “When we are taking with Impresa or Media Capital or other publishers, we can start from scratch,” said Carmen Brizida of Carat, the media agency serving P&G. “We can have specific communications and projects designed for this specific process. When we have an issue with Facebook, we need to go to Ireland.”  

+ HuffPost is launching a journalism school at Birmingham City University (HuffPost)


Don’t scoff at influencers. They’re taking over the world. (New York Times)

Although they’re often dismissed as narcissistic and shallow, social media influencers (usually teenagers or young adults) should not be underestimated, writes Kevin Roose. Influencers have unlocked the path to internet stardom using skills like trendspotting, experimenting successfully with new platforms and formats, building an authentic connection with audiences, and understanding analytics — skills that are highly transferable to almost any industry. “As social media expands its cultural dominance, the people who can steer the online conversation will have an upper hand in whatever niche they occupy — whether that’s media, politics, business or some other field,” writes Roose.


To slow decline, newspaper print editions should act their age (Editor & Publisher)

“Maybe it’s time for publishers to radically lean in to serving and retaining their most loyal print readers — the elderly,” writes Matt DeRienzo. As newspapers focus their energies more on digital, their print editions remain “mostly frozen in whatever stage of tweaking when publishers stopped thinking about their evolution” — and it’s causing loyal print subscribers, who are mostly elderly, to cancel their subscriptions out of frustration. So what would “radically serving” this demographic look like? Perhaps more stories that evoke nostalgia, longer features, more puzzles, and a greater emphasis on obituaries. Catering to an older audience “will likely lead to quite a divergence between newspapers’ print editions and digital presence, but end up serving both audiences more effectively,” writes DeRienzo.

+ Earlier: “Print is dead? Not here.” A Florida newspaper that caters to retirees is bucking the digital trend as other publications around the country face layoffs and closures. (New York Times)


The Compass Experiment is on its way to Youngstown (Medium, Mandy Jenkins)

In March, Google and McClatchy launched a partnership to build three local news sites over the next three years, as part of the Google Local News Experiment to actually build newsrooms rather than simply putting money into one-off projects. Now it’s announced that it has chosen Youngstown, Ohio, as the launch site for the project, in light of the closing of Youngstown’s only remaining newspaper, the Vindicator. “At first blush, Youngstown doesn’t seem like the sort of place where an experimental digital news project would put down stakes,” writes general manager Mandy Jenkins. “It is a shrinking city in a region that has been suffering financially for decades, but it is also an area that has a distinct local identity and a need for a public watchdog now more than ever.” Jenkins has begun hiring a small local team (most of whom must have roots in Youngstown or the surrounding area), and she says partnerships with regional publishers will be a fundamental part of their approach. 


+ Have we hit peak podcast? If past experience (cough, blogs) is any indication, a shakeout is nigh. (New York Times) 

+ Man on Moon: Reflections on how humankind and the media came together on the surface of the moon 50 years ago (Poynter)

+ “The risks of a ladder arms race outweigh the rewards” — seeking better access to the president as he departs the White House, many reporters have started schlepping ladders to the South Lawn, where informal briefings often take place — so many ladders that it’s “created an unsafe environment,” says former WHCA president Olivier Knox (Washington Post)