Need to Know: July 8, 2019

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


You might have heard: How AI and machine learning helped journalists make sense of election-related conversations happening on Twitter (Medium, MIT Media Lab)

But did you know: A nonprofit is building listening devices to help journalists tune into what their audiences are talking about (Nieman Lab)

Cortico, a three-year-old nonprofit working out of the MIT Media Lab, is developing a high-tech listening network for communities and local newsrooms seeking to tune in. The Local Voices Network is made up of people who gather around listening devices, which Cortico calls “digital hearths,” for conversations. Selected members of a given community — not a random mix — voluntarily sit and discuss a particular topic like policing or climate change, led by a trained facilitator. The device records their conversations, which are then coded by a backend system so local partner journalists can get a sense of what people are talking about as background for their own reporting, or for future source connections. So far Cortico has raised more than $10 million for the Local Voices Network from the Knight Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Reid Hoffman and others. 

+ Earlier: How a culture of listening strengthens reporting and relationships; How one local publisher gathered input using a Listening Post recording device: “A standalone microphone and a question will get you a long way

+ Noted: The Chicago Defender, a 114-year-old African American newspaper, to stop print publication and become digital-only July 11 (Chicago Sun-Times); Mozilla teases $5-per-month ad-free news subscription (The Verge)


How newsroom leaders can retain diverse voices: Get email tips from API’s summer fellow Marlee Baldridge

API summer fellow Marlee Baldridge is working on an email newsletter series that offers small, actionable ways editors and managers can create a more inclusive newsroom culture. A graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Marlee is studying newsroom diversity and media business models. She is still in the research phase of her project, so if you are a newsroom manager who would like to share your experiences around diversity and inclusion, please get in touch with Marlee. 

+ Register for the 5-part email series on newsroom diversity, or suggest it to others you know


How The Tyler Loop uses events to connect with readers (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

For The Tyler Loop, a digital news startup covering the small town of Tyler, Texas, events are a critical way to expand its readership and connect with potential members. Co-founder Tasneem Raja says she is amazed at how their events have drawn community members from wildly different backgrounds — such as at the Loop’s very first event, a live storytelling show where local residents recounted their wide-ranging experiences of life in Tyler. The events are also a meaningful way for Raja to get a better understanding of her audience. “I don’t look at page views,” she says. “I don’t look at site visitors. I’m really much more interested in events. Who is coming to the events? How many people? How many of these people came to the Loop for the first time?”

+ Earlier: Deep in the heart of Texas, The Tyler Loop is working toward sustainability (Lenfest Institute)

+ A helpful Twitter thread from Canadian journalist Dan McGarvey walks us through how he files a news story for all platforms using only an iPhone and an iPad (Twitter, @DanMcGarvey)


The Economist uses sports coverage to grow its audience (

The Economist is mostly known for reporting on business, politics and economics but it has now expanded into sports coverage in a bid to grow its audience. Its data team is behind much of the new coverage, producing numbers-centric stories that data editor Dan Rosenheck hopes will capture more U.K. audiences. “An average American sports fan has not only a decent data literacy but also higher expectations when it comes to data-driven sports reporting,” he explained. “Whereas in the U.K., an alarming share of popular sports coverage is still pretty innumerate and that creates a market opportunity for us.”


The complete list of alternatives to all Google products (TechSpot)

With growing public concern over data privacy, more people are looking for alternatives to Google products that respect their data. TechSpot’s guide aims to be the most exhaustive resource for documenting alternatives to Google products. Using alternatives not only better protects your data, writes Sven Taylor, but it’s also a way to put a tiny dent (very tiny), in Google’s ad revenue — which last year ballooned to over $116 billion.


Climate change: making the biggest story small (Columbia Journalism Review)

Most media coverage of climate change is not only boring, it fails to move readers to take any action other than to feel angry, writes Charles Foster. “Environmental stories are almost always couched in big, global, abstract terms (‘environment,’ ‘global warming’). Yet we are small, local, concrete people. We are inherently incapable of relating meaningfully to more than a few people at a time, or to more than a small patch of land.” Foster puts the responsibility on local papers to lead the way on climate coverage, “to show how the pond around the corner has dried up, to explain how tadpoles’ tails slowly stopped wriggling before they died, and to describe how the smell of decomposition ruined someone’s picnic.”


A ‘Daily’ producer on how a ‘crazy idea’ became a news show for millions (New York Times)

For Theo Balcomb, executive producer of the New York Times hit podcast “The Daily,” managing the stress of running an immensely popular morning newscast comes down to thinking about her friends and family. “I try to think of the show as our passion project that’s heard by The Times’s audio team, my close friends and my family. That’s it … If I keep thinking, ‘Hey, we’re just making something that we would want to listen to, that would make our friends feel something, that my mom would want to share with our neighbors,’ then I can ignore a lot of the pressures of the job,” she said. It’s possible that Balcomb’s coping strategy is behind the show’s “homemade” feel, which she likens to a hand-stitched quilt: “Everybody on our team comes together, every single day, to embroider an episode … Listeners can hear our devotion to crafting each show.”

+ A reporter for whom “Burn in hell” meant a job well done (New York Times); Whatever happened to Breitbart? The insurgent star of the right is in a long, slow fade (Washington Post)