Need to Know: July 23, 2019

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


You might have heard: The News Project, a publishing platform designed for small- and mid-sized publishers, goes live with its first customer, CALmatters (TechCrunch)  

But did you know: The CMS war between Vox Media and The Washington Post is heating up (Digiday)

Vox’s Chorus and the Post’s Arc, both relatively young CMS products (Chorus has only been on the market for about a year), now reach nearly 1 billion users every month across more than a dozen countries. Both publishers have been pouring money into their platforms, hoping to significantly grow market share. While Arc and Chorus are priced differently — Chorus negotiates the price upfront based on the size of the audience plus a flat onboarding fee, while Arc offers both a per-seat pricing model and a volume model based on impressions and bandwidth — neither product is cheap. Both costs run in the six- to seven-figure range annually. They each have some different strengths. For example, Chorus does not have subscription tools yet, and Arc’s community-building tools are more limited than the ones that Chorus offers. They also appear to be going after different audience groups, with Vox focusing on adding digital media outlets and the Post increasingly going after marketers and brands.

+ Earlier: Heightening the CMS race: and News Revenue Hub devise a toolkit for local newsrooms (Nieman Lab)


+ Noted: Americans think declining trust in the government and in each other makes it harder to solve key problems (Pew Research Center); For-profit fact-checking is on the rise, and more teams have full-time employees (Poynter)


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The New York Times’ commercial plan for live events? Put editorial in charge (The Drum)

The New York Times is using its upcoming Food Festival as a testing bed for a revamped live events strategy, in which editors and journalists will be giving shape to the content. Having editorial staff develop and run the event reflects the Times’s commitment to putting its journalists at the heart of everything it does, said Lisa Howard, senior vice-president and general manager for media. “There’s this idea of readers wanting to get to know the journalist behind the stories that they’re reading … and so we knew that we wanted to bring our editors to life for our readers.” Such a strong editorial focus has meant the festival’s monetization strategy will be twofold: sell tickets and secure sponsorship deals. The model is rather like that of the Times’ journalism, writes Katie Deighton: Charge the readers a subscription for journalism they want and augment that revenue with advertising dollars.

+ 7 story structures to try out in your next investigation (Global Investigative Journalism Network)


Malaysian sex-tape scandal poses a challenge for Muslim reporters (Columbia Journalism Review) 

A series of sex videos purportedly featuring two political leaders would present a challenge for any journalist looking to cover the scandal without spreading unverified information and fueling rumors. But for Muslim journalists, it’s not only professional ethics that may hold them back from reporting on the sex-tape scandal, which has dominated the country’s news cycle for the last six weeks. “Islam carries strict prohibitions against defamation, backbiting, and exposing shameful secrets,” writes Janet Steele. “Perhaps surprisingly, there is a history of reporting on sex scandals in Malaysia at publications of all political stripes — which makes balancing the needs of the news with the strictures of religion a very real challenge for many Malaysian journalists.”


Why too much flexibility can be a turn-off for customers (Digiday)

As subscription startups grow, they will typically add more flexibility and variety to their business models in an effort to grow their customer base. Yet it’s a careful balancing act between providing flexibility and not introducing too much complexity in the options for subscribers, writes Anna Hensel. Too many options can be a turn-off to customers, especially when they’re dealing with multiple subscriptions at a time — as many of us are. 

+ Related: Keeping subscription offer pages simple and user-friendly 

+ Deploying humor on social media channels is a tactic often used by organizations of all types to improve their public image and connect with their audiences. But as this example from NYPD shows, the tactic can backfire — badly — if there are trust issues with your audience. In NYPD’s case, the attempt fell flat for locals who had experienced misconduct at the hands of the police. (Vice)


The media is getting a second chance to cover Robert Mueller’s findings — and this time get it right (Washington Post) 

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday represents a chance for the media to rectify its reporting around the Mueller Report, writes Margaret Sullivan. The “no collusion” headlines spooled out after Attorney General William Barr summarized the report’s findings in March hid the fact that there were important nuances to the report’s conclusion, says Sullivan. “There is an opportunity here to remove a false, cartoon version of Mueller’s investigation and to substitute a well-rendered portrait of a subject that could hardly be more important to the country.”


Can’t read just one: Slate’s daily advice columns are strange, funny, deep, and increasingly a major traffic driver for the site (Nieman Lab)

Slate’s advice content has soared in popularity over the last year, with unique visitors up by 85% and page views up 43%. Dan Kois, a senior writer and editor at Slate who oversees the parenting advice column, thinks part of the appeal lies in the “non-expert” tone of the columnists. “We’re all figuring it out together,” he said. Even those giving you advice are likely to be screwing up just as much as you are.” Although it may feel counterintuitive, taking a less authoritative tone has helped generate a stronger community feel around the advice content, which have taken the form of live chats, podcasts and in-person events, in addition to the traditional text-based columns. “From an audience development perspective, the advice columns are a dream,” said Bill Carey, Slate’s senior director of strategy. “We’ll see loyalty build within the advice column, and then they start reading more of Slate as a whole.”

+ The New York Times is out to make its obituaries less white and less male (Daily Beast)