Need to Know: July 29, 2019

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


You might have heard: Media coverage of the Mueller testimony has been heavily criticized for focusing on optics and theater, and critics say it’s indicative of a larger problem with American political journalism (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: As it prepares to cover new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the U.K. media should learn from U.S. mistakes in covering Trump (The Guardian)

The British media’s penchant for style over substance — similar to the U.S. media’s — threatens to overtake the tone of its political coverage as Boris Johnson steps into the role of prime minister, writes Emily Bell. Clickbait-style reporting, especially in the political arena, has long been a business model in British journalism — but the model is failing, Bell points out. “Perhaps the biggest lesson the British media can learn from the U.S. experience of Trump is that their work matters to people beyond their readership or audience, and to that end it needs to become more rigorous and more serious.”

+ Related: A letter to the U.K. about Boris Johnson from a White House reporter who’s spent the last year covering Trump (The Independent) 

+ Earlier: “Political coverage in the U.S. is in crisis … Here’s what needs to happen” (Twitter, @moorehn)

+ Noted: There’s an underground economy selling links from The New York Times, BBC, CNN, and other big news sites (BuzzFeed News); Vice Media is in talks to buy Refinery29 (Wall Street Journal); Judge dismisses libel suit against Washington Post brought by Covington Catholic High School student (Washington Post); Study suggests high quality journalism delivers greater ad viewability (The Drum)


Do more reporting that is based on audience needs 

In our report “How a culture of listening strengthens reporting and relationships,” we explore ways newsrooms are listening to their communities — particularly groups that have traditionally been misrepresented or marginalized in the past — and how they’re responding to their information needs. See how you can adapt their listening strategies for your own audience.


Cutting back on content could boost reader loyalty (Medill Local News Initiative)

According to a recent Medill study, subscribers who read more articles and spend more time on those articles are actually less likely to renew than those who skim. The surprising finding suggests that publishers may be overwhelming subscribers with content, says Ed Malthouse, research director at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Executives at Gannett (whose newsrooms lent data to the study) decided to try cutting back on content in the hopes that it would boost retention. About half of Gannett content used to account for only 6% or 7% of overall readership, said Mackenzie Warren, senior director of news strategy at USA Today Network. “What that tells you is, half of your efforts are going for almost no dividend.” 

+ Related: Curious to try Gannett’s experiment in your own newsroom? Learn which content is underperforming and why — and which is engaging readers the most — with API’s Metrics for News.


In Australia, a new women’s site is using a charitable pitch to try to break through (Nieman Lab)

In February, a new online women’s magazine went live in Australia, despite following one of the media industry’s worst years in history. The site will focus on fashion and beauty from a socially conscious lens, says co-founder Anna Saunders, and it promises to donate half its profit to charity. Saunders believes there is potential in the social enterprise model. “There’s been a real rise in social entrepreneurs that help people make changes in their everyday life,” she says. “We’re in a moment right now where people are really conscious of their impact and they’re trying to make a difference.”


Junky TV is actually making people dumber — and more likely to support populist politicians (Nieman Lab)

In research published in the American Economic Review this month, Italian researchers showed that people with greater access to former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s trashy entertainment TV network, Mediaset, in the 1980s were much more likely to vote for Berlusconi later in later elections. It also showed that people with greater exposure to Mediaset as children were “less cognitively sophisticated and civic-minded as adults, and ultimately more vulnerable to Berlusconi’s populist rhetoric.” “The language codes that were popularized by TV also made people much more susceptible to the populist party because they used very simple language,” Ruben Durante, one of the paper’s coauthors, said. “They used accessible language. And that can potentially be very powerful.”


Facebook needs more than a $5 billion fine. It needs a new business model (CNN)

The Federal Trade Commission’s decision last week to levy a $5 billion fine on Facebook won’t stop the tech giant from abusing its users, writes Sally Hubbard. “For Big Tech, fines are a rational cost of doing business. Google, for example, has handed over more than $9 billion to the European Commission since 2017 for antitrust violations, without skipping a beat.” Instead, tech giants like Facebook and Google need new business models that course-correct in four key areas, she says: privacy, antitrust, interoperability and non-discrimination.


How one small news organization’s investigative reporting took down Puerto Rico’s governor (Washington Post)

It took 11 days from the moment Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism published shocking private chat messages between Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his staff, to the moment Rosselló announced his resignation — to the intense celebration of many Puerto Ricans. “Our reporting connected people’s suffering to the administration,” said CPI’s executive director Carla Minet. “It was like a stew that has been bubbling for a long time, and then it finally boiled over.” But it wasn’t just publishing the chats — CPI has been doing impressive investigative work in Puerto Rico for years. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, it reported on the true number of deaths the storm caused, and along with CNN, successfully sued the government for refusing to release the actual tally (which was eventually raised from 16 into the thousands). “In Puerto Rico, the firestorm may have seemed to span a mere 11 days,” writes Margaret Sullivan. “But the kindling had long been laid. And investigative journalism came along to light the match.”