Need to Know: July 24, 2018

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


You might have heard: New York Daily News staff cut in half by Tronc, top editor ousted (The New York Times)

But did you know: About a third of large U.S. newspapers have suffered layoffs since 2017 (Pew Research Center)

Newspaper layoffs have far from abated in the past year, and digital media outlets are also suffering losses, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. At least 36 percent of the largest newspapers in the United States, and at least 23 percent of digital media outlets, experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018, according to the study. Among newspapers, those with the highest circulation were most likely to be affected. The analysis comes amid a series of highly publicized staff reductions by hedge fund companies that had acquired well-known newspapers, including The Denver Post, where employees publicly criticized the cuts made by the papers’ owners.

+ Tronc is planning more layoffs today at some of its other papers (CNN); “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you,” tweeted ousted Daily News editor Jim Rich (Twitter, @therealjimrich)

+ Noted: Newsprint tariffs are a Black Swan event that could speed up the death of U.S. newspapers (Nieman Lab); Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler hired as tech opinion editor for The New York Times (Business Insider)


For news publishers, smart speakers are the hot new platform (Digiday)

Publishers are stepping up their efforts to hire and create content for home voice assistants and smart speakers, writes Lucia Moses. Once the job of product teams, now newsrooms like NPR, Al Jazeera and Bloomberg are assigning editorial staff to help create content specifically for voice assistants. The content is often shorter than regular podcasts and has a daily frequency. The Washington Post has its “Daily 202” and “Retropod,” which are short and created with smart speakers in mind; in the same way, NPR created a short, daily spinoff of its Planet Money podcast called “The Indicator.” Publishers’ articles can also be surfaced to answer users’ basic questions on the devices. However, with questions hanging around monetization, and device makers being cagey about sharing user data, it’s hard for publishers to know how much to invest in any one device, writes Moses.


Hybrid, a collection of targeted news sites in Asia, embraces growing slowly and knowing its audience (Nieman Lab)

Hybrid has been deliberate about matching its sites’ audiences with relevant news and information, writes Shan Wang. What began as an independent blogging project is now a profitable business that attracts millions of readers per month. Every Monday, the analytics team meets to look at audience engagement numbers. “We look at whether stories get actual engagement: time on page, bounce rate, will a reader come back to us organically afterwards, are they engaging with our social platforms outside of any targeting, are they really reading the content on the site, or can we tell they just have the tab open?” said Hybrid chief digital officer Chris Cammann.

+ Inside Indonesia’s fake Twitter account factories (The Guardian); Russia, accused of faking news, unfurls its own “fake news” bill (The New York Times)


‘Scraper’ bots and the secret internet arms race (Wired)

Retailers are waging an invisible data war online, employing bots to “scrape” rival websites for pricing information so they can adjust their own prices. The attempt to scrape other websites, while preventing their own websites from being scraped, has resulted in an “arms race” of defensive and offensive tactics, writes Klint Finley; which can impact other players who use scraping, including search engine companies, academics, publishers and journalists. One big challenge in managing bot-related traffic is the need to allow some, but not all, bots to scrape a site, he writes. “There’s really a lot of different scenarios where scraping is used on the internet for good, bad, or somewhere in the middle,” said web security expert Josh Shaul.


We need a new model for tech journalism (Columbia Journalism Review)

For decades, journalists’ coverage of tech companies has used the same upbeat narrative: scrappy upstarts are fueled by a creative idea and elbow grease, usually in someone’s garage. “Journalists have been too slow to spot how things have changed and to cover the sector as the corporate behemoth it is,” writes James Ball. Today, the four biggest tech companies — Alphabet (Google’s parent), Amazon, Apple and Facebook — have a combined market capital of more than $3 trillion, and customer numbers in the billions. As the tech industry changes, so should the journalists who cover it, argues Ball. “We need a new journalism which treats tech the same as every other major vested corporate interest — people who can sit back and aside from the tech industry maelstrom and try to see the picture from above.”


Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on his contentious interview with President Putin (The New York Times)

He confronted President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia about meddling in American elections, presented him with a copy of the special counsel’s indictment of a dozen Russian intelligence agents and, to Mr. Putin’s clear displeasure, asked why so many of his political opponents ended up dead. So Chris Wallace, after wrapping up his contentious interview with the Russian leader in Helsinki last week, did the logical next thing: He took a vacation. To Russia.

+ Women’s lifestyle magazines increasingly turning to political reporting, capitalizing on the “growing appetite” for coverage on topics critical to women (Bloomberg)