Need to Know: July 31, 2019

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


You might have heard: Here’s how some for-profit local news outlets are building subscriptions (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Trouble at the Los Angeles Times: Memo says digital subscriptions way below goal (Poynter)

The Los Angeles Times’ future depends on driving up digital subscriptions, which are below expectations, according to a memo to staff. The papers’ goal was to double its digital subscriptions from 150,000 to 300,000 this year, but this year, growth has been far shorter than those goals, netting just 13,000 new digital subscriptions. The memo said the paper wouldn’t be able to cover its editorial costs until it reaches an ambitious 600,000 digital subscriptions, with Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine and Managing Editor Scott Kraft adding, “Our future depends on rapid and substantial subscription revenue growth.” In response to the call to action, the paper plans to do a deep dive into its data from every department.

+ Noted: New bill would ban autoplay videos and endless scrolling (The Verge); CNN plans not to air Trump rallies live this campaign season (The Washington Post); Oregon company wins auction for The Bulletin (The Bulletin)


Trust tip: Reporters, explain your purpose (Trusting News)

Unless you tell them, there’s no way your audience will know why you chose to cover one story over another. Trusting News Director Joy Mayer recommends filling your audience in, as KPCC/LAist does with reporter mission statements that spell out their priorities and invite readers to send questions or comments. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


Audiences are (finally) paying more attention to climate stories (Columbia Journalism Review)

Environmental journalism gets a bad rap for being unpopular, but new data shows a growing interest in this topic. Chartbeat data scientist Su Hang examined analytics for climate stories and found that the amount of time people spent reading the posts almost doubled in 2019 from previous years. Investing in climate change coverage pays off in other ways. For the Guardian, the environment beat is one of the biggest draws to the publication’s donation drive, with contributions stemming from climate coverage up 50 percent during the past financial year. Other newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times have seen a significant boost the performance of climate stories.


Plan for safeguards to protect ‘dignity’ of reality TV participants (The Guardian)

The British media regulator Ofcam is proposing broadcasting rules aimed to protect reality TV participants, but some journalists are concerned the policies would also impact the production of news and documentaries. The rules would require producers to protect the dignity of participants and ensure that the public doesn’t receive “unjustified distress or anxiety by taking part in programmes or by the broadcast of those programs.” This rule, sparked by a death during production of The Jeremy Kyle Show, would also apply to radio and television programs, leading to concerns that the regulation could interfere with investigative reports or create an unaffordable regulatory burden for journalists.


Libra may never launch, Facebook has warned investors (MIT Technology Review)

About a month after Facebook first announced its plans to develop a cryptocurrency called Libra, its quarterly report suggests that the digital currency’s launch might not be a sure thing. According to the report, Libra relies on “unproven technology” amid an uncertain legal environment that may lead the currency to be blocked or delayed beyond its original 2020 launch date. Some media analysts had speculated about how the currency could impact the journalism industry, throwing out possibilities like a micropayment system for news. Spotify, for instance, had suggested in a press release that Libra could expand media’s reach to a new audience that doesn’t have credit cards or bank accounts.


Is it time for ‘strategic silence’ in news coverage of mass shootings? (Nieman Reports)

According to an analysis of more than 6,000 stories on the mass shooting this year in Christchurch, New Zealand, only 14 percent of publications in the United States named the shooter and almost none shared his manifesto. This approach falls in line with the philosophy of strategic silence, the idea that perpetrators of a mass shooting, along with photos of them and details on their ideologies, should be downplayed or omitted from coverage. Advocates of this method believe naming mass shooters rewards them with fame, while some journalists, such as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, believe these reporting omissions “(start) to run into the public’s right to know, and that is in the extent to which it suppresses legitimate journalistic inquiry.”

+ Full Fact has been fact-checking Facebook posts for six months. Here’s what they think needs to change (Nieman Lab)


Black journalists push media to cover ‘hyper-racial’ moment in politics (Politico)

Growing frustrated with how the media covers race, prominent journalists of color are pushing the industry to address the issue directly in political coverage. Tanzina Vega, who hosts WNYC’s “The Takeaway,” said that although there have been slight improvements in the coverage of race and politics since the 2016 election, “the leading voices” on race haven’t changed. Whether or not media outlets opt to have a race beat, she said, “your reporters need to be versed in dealing with the sensitivities and nuances and comfortable with the language being used.” Associated Press reporter Errin Haines Whack, who left the race and ethnicity beat to cover the 2020 election, said that race and politics are “really the story of our time,” and covering politics requires an understanding that “we’re in a hyper-racial moment in the country.”