Need to Know: July 24, 2019

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


You might have heard: The Outline and the curse of media venture capital (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: The fall of Mic was a warning (Huffington Post)

A months-long Huffington Post investigation into the rise and fall of millennial-fueled Mic exposed its reliance on hot-and-cold venture capital and young, underpaid journalists. The story, anchored with three dozen interviews with former employees, details its foray into what a former editor called “social justice clickbait” that targeted millennials, which coincided with unsustainable growth in the form of venture capital, as the company raised $60 million during eight years. Bergdahl, a former Mic employee, said of the company’s growth: “Journalistic institutions need to be institutions. … When I think about things that grow that wildly and that successfully, I don’t think of a media company ― I think of cancer.” Last year, the site announced to staff that it would sell to Bustle Digital Group, which threatened to sue Huffington Post’s parent company if the Post published its deep dive into Mic.

+ Noted: Continuing acquisition spree, Bustle buys Inverse (Digiday); The Charleston Gazette-Mail survived a merger and bankruptcy. Will it survive its new owner? (Pacific Standard); Internet advertising to grow at slowest rate since 2001 dotcom bust (The Guardian)


How Carolina Public Press led a statewide collaboration to investigate sexual assault convictions (Better News)

Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: Identify a statewide issue that requires reporting from various locations across the state. Enlist partners with a range of applicable skills who represent different localities and mediums, including print, digital, TV and radio. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


In Philadelphia, a radical idea for journalists: talking to human beings (Columbia Journalism Review)

At a recent school event in a marginalized Philly neighborhood, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Helen Ubiñas set up a “pop-up newsroom” to expose the students to journalism, but also to pick up a few story ideas. Her efforts demonstrate the importance of walking away from the comforting glow of a computer screen to engage with the community face-to-face. As Chip Scanlan writes, “Though phone or email interviews may sometimes be efficient or necessary, … only in person can an interviewer observe the  nuances of body language, details of environment, and give reassuring nods and smiles that create trust and intimacy.”


Why News UK halved the number of podcasts it produces (Digiday)

Last year, News UK stopped producing half of its podcasts, but its 22 remaining shows received twice as many downloads and three times the ad revenue within a year. News UK’s Wireless Studios solidified its commitment to audio with the purchase of Wireless Group, an audio production company, in 2016, and two years later, News UK “finessed its roster.” The podcasts’ ads are a growing revenue source made up of spot ads, advertisements read by hosts and brand-created podcasts, but they still bring in less than in US markets. For instance, The Ringer earned $15 million in ad sales for podcasts last year. News UK, which publishes The Times and The Sunday Times, plans to integrate audio into the subscriber experience in the next year.

+ Partnership, membership, and social justice: How publishers in repressive news environments are innovating (Nieman Lab)


How to know which ideas your company should pursue (Harvard Business Review)

Newsrooms constantly have to make decisions on which projects or initiatives are worth investing time and resources in. When it comes to selecting which ideas to pursue as a company, things like feasibility and market potential are sometimes viewed as the most important criteria, but another option is evaluating ideas based on their potential benefits and costs. Looking at things that way means ideas with small development costs may actually pay off the most in the long run. Weighing the benefits of a concept against its development costs also helps prioritize which projects you and your colleagues should pursue and could lead to identifying ideas that need more time to be developed.

+ Netflix sends reminders to viewers when their free trial is up in case they want to cancel the service.


The arts are thriving — and we can’t afford to ignore them (Poynter)

The journalism business is no stranger to layoffs and other cuts, and one of the casualties along the way has been arts coverage. In “a call to action,” Poynter graduate Alejandra Salazar writes about the vital need to cover the arts, an industry that added $804 billion to the United States economy in 2016. Even if a full-time beat devoted to the arts is a thing of the past in some newsrooms, it can be incorporated into other beats. Salazar gives the example of street art, which overlaps the arenas of law enforcement, politics and business. She adds that covering the arts “means recognizing the value in a community’s interests, voices, and talents, and, on a more pragmatic level, it means putting greater stock in an industry with massive social, economic, political and cultural implications.”


I was owed about $5,000 from late-paying publications. I tried to hold them all accountable. Here’s what happened. (Wudan Yan)

In May, freelance journalist Wudan Yan crunched the numbers and found that three publications owed her a total of $5,000, all of which was past due. She attempted to confront the publications and collect what was owed, including late fees, to mixed results. Although it’s not uncommon for freelancers to receive a late check, Yan wrote that it’s rare for them to pursue late fees because of the amount of time and emotional energy it takes. She added that freelancers have a “whisper network” that warns journalists of publications that pay late, adding, “This sort of information impacts who we decide to work with or not. Ultimately, it may mean that really important stories never get told.”