Need to Know: July 22, 2019

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


You might have heard: Citing quality concerns, Forbes, HuffPost and others said last year they will overhaul their unpaid contributor networks (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: How the unpaid contributor model supported a PR effort to save Jeffrey Epstein’s image (New York Times)

After Jeffrey Epstein got out of the Palm Beach County jail in 2009, having served 13 months of an 18-month sentence resulting from a plea deal that has been widely criticized, he began a media campaign to remake his public image. The effort led to the publication of articles describing him as a selfless and forward-thinking philanthropist with an interest in science on websites like Forbes, National Review and HuffPost — many of whom had adopted a contributor publishing model in which writers are paid little or nothing, with little oversight from editors, reports Tiffany Hsu. While the approach has been profitable, the contributor model also comes with risks, leading many publishers to discontinue it in recent years. The program for outside contributors “used to be a free-for-all model, where anyone could publish anything,” said Alejandro Tauber, the publisher of The Next Web, which on Friday took down an article that praised Epstein’s philanthropic work and failed to mention his status as a sex offender. He said that the story on Epstein “was one of the layovers from the old system.” 

+ Noted: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to “phase out” all print operations to become fully digital (Pittsburgh Current); Knight Foundation announces $50 million investment to develop a new field of research around technology’s impact on democracy (Medium, Trust, Media & Democracy)


See best practices for serving targeted audiences  

We scour the web for the best advice on how to tackle common newsroom challenges. Then we put that content all in one place on Get advice on creating targeted content for audiences, or quickly navigate to another area you need help in.


How Bloomberg Media takes a test-and-learn approach to product development (Digiday)

When product engineers noticed that nearly half of visitors to Bloomberg’s company profile pages were under the age of 34, they theorized that the younger visitors might be looking for jobs at those companies. Their hypothesis led to the development and testing of Work Wise, a limited-edition newsletter covering career advice that people access via an interactive quiz. Bloomberg’s research and development team, internally known as B-Hive, is observing audience behaviors during the six-month test run of Work Wise, and they’ll make tweaks as they go along. The approach is emblematic of the work Bloomberg is doing to diversify its revenue streams and build products that can be monetized from several different angles at once, writes Max Willens. Said Chief Product Officer Julia Beizer, “If you look at [CEO] Justin Smith’s strategy for Bloomberg Media overall, it’s about inventing new businesses as we go. We start with our audience and work backwards.”

+ Related: Looking for ways to better engage specific audiences? Test your hypotheses and run experiments using API’s Metrics for News

+ Four steps to finding new revenue streams for journalism (Medium, European Journalism Centre)


Tips from European news organizations on ‘stronger journalism through shared power’ (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)

Last March 47 practitioners of engaged journalism from 10 European countries came together in Birmingham to share how they’re making engagement integral to their work, and how they’re involving their local communities in the practice of journalism. The resulting (extremely helpful) report surfaced several key practices: Provide training as a way to offer something of value to those who contribute their time and expertise to your organization (City Bureau offers a fantastic example of this in Chicago); know when a subject can tell his or her own story better than the journalist (and let them); and be clear about your organization’s goals, values and rules of engagement. 

+ Instagram hides likes count in international test “to remove pressure” (BBC); The U.K. government will establish a £2m innovation fund to support public interest journalism, with a focus on local and regional news providers (Press Gazette)


How our brains decide what to trust (Harvard Business Review)

Human brains have two neurological idiosyncrasies that allow us to trust and collaborate with people outside our immediate social group (something no other animal is capable of doing), writes Paul J. Zak. The first is called “theory of mind”; it’s essentially our ability to think, “If I were her, I would do this.” It lets us forecast others’ actions so that we can coordinate our behavior with theirs. The second idiosyncrasy is empathy, our ability to share people’s emotions. “To trust someone, especially someone unfamiliar to us, our brains build a model of what the person is likely to do and why,” writes Zak. “In other words, we use both theory of mind and empathy during every collaborative endeavor.”


It is up to journalists to define ‘trustworthy’ news (Medium, Global Editors Network)

Projects like the Journalism Trust Initiative and NewsGuard are relying on journalists to establish criteria for determining trustworthy sources of information in the digital age. The goal of these projects is to create standards for the journalistic process that participating media organizations would allow themselves to be audited against. “I think we all understand by now that just claiming ‘trust me, I am a journalist’ is not enough anymore these days,” says Olaf Steenfadt, director of JTI. “The rise of ‘fake news’ has led to a much-needed look into the mirror for the professional community — asking ourselves what it is really that makes people trust us and our product. If we don’t do it as journalists, someone else will do it and impose it on us. So better take it into our own hands.”

+ Tech journalism’s “on background” scourge (Columbia Journalism Review)


10 years later, the death of its daily newspaper still haunts Ann Arbor (Chicago Tribune)

Ten years ago Ann Arbor News ended its print edition, becoming the first U.S. city to lose its daily newspaper, and replaced it with and a twice weekly printed digest. As an educated, comparatively affluent town, Ann Arbor represented a good testing ground for owner Advance Publications to roll out what it called “a new media enterprise” — a stripped-down, mainly digital publication that would supposedly continue to provide the news coverage locals relied on, writes Eric Zorn. But 10 years after the change, some locals aren’t happy with what Ann Arbor News has become. Advance Publications “is now running what amounts to a very elaborate blogging operation,” said Dave Askins, who along with his wife, News-alumna Mary Morgan, published the online watchdog Ann Arbor Chronicle from 2008 to 2014. “It’s weak, thin and poorly contextualized.” And Ann Arbor is not an outlier: “We are still in the early days of figuring out what the internet will do to local news operations and what’s going to save them,” said CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis. “But no one thing seems to be working.”

+ ONA is celebrating its 20th birthday. It’s asking journalists to share stories about their ONA experience and the impact on their work and careers. (Twitter, @ONA)