Need to Know: June 10, 2021

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Will Apple Mail threaten the newsletter boom? (Platformer)

But did you know: Apple is making changes that could bury news notifications and prevent email data from being collected (Nieman Lab)

Apple announced Monday that it will be introducing a “Focus” mode for iPhone users that may prevent breaking news alerts from showing up on screens. “Low-priority” notifications — determined by how often users open them — will be bunched together and delivered once a day to users’ screens in a “notification summary.” This is worrying for publishers, especially given that many people don’t need to tap a news notification to launch the app; they get value straight from the notification itself. Apple also announced a new feature called Mail Privacy Protection, which “helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.” Given that open and click rates are the bedrock of the newsletter industry, and Apple Mail is the dominant platform for email in the U.S., this could present a serious challenge for newsletter publishers.

+ Noted: Apple Podcasts says it’ll launch in-app subscriptions globally on June 15 (The Verge); Meet the 2021 MJ Bear Fellows, digital journalists under age 30 whose innovative work represents the best of the industry (Online News Association)

API UPDATE

How The Seattle Times focused on subscriber retention as much as acquisition (Better News)

The Seattle Times significantly reduced subscriber churn by focusing on three key areas: grace period, credit card management and targeted customer communication. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from Table Stakes, the newsroom training program; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

TRY THIS AT HOME

For newsletters, ‘Imagine that you are writing to friends’ (WAN-IFRA)

Many publishers see newsletters as an opportunity to take a less formal tone than they would otherwise use in their reporting. The conversational feel can be more appealing to readers, and encourage them to engage. “Ask them questions,” suggests Benjamin Quiring, head of editorial development at Germany’s Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. “Respond to their questions if they write to you. Ask for their knowledge, ideas, pictures, tips, etc.” Quiring also suggests trying something new every month or so “to keep the newsletter alive.” If it doesn’t work, he said, you can change it the next day.

+ Today at 2 p.m. ET ONA is hosting a free “idea swap” for newsroom leaders and business managers to discuss revenue opportunities for the rest of 2021 (EventBrite)

OFFSHORE

WhatsApp can be a black box of misinformation, but Maldita may have opened a window (Poynter)

In July 2020, the Spanish fact-checking organization Maldita added an automated chatbot to its WhatsApp tipline to keep up with the flood of reader questions coming in about the coronavirus. The chatbot both improved response times to users and enabled Maldita to build a database to track misinformation trends. One of the insights from the database — that WhatsApp messages that had been forwarded five or more times were three times as likely to contain misinformation than other messages — allowed Maldita to home in on viral misinformation. Prior to the chatbot but after the advent of COVID-19, a single Maldita staffer struggled to respond to an average of 950 pandemic-related requests daily.

+ Guardian Media Group chief Annette Thomas quits after clash with editor over direction and governance of the company (Financial Times)

OFFBEAT

Publishers add more online education programs following interest spurred by the pandemic (Digiday)

Publishers are finding that online education programs can lead to stronger relationships with audiences. In August 2020, The Wall Street Journal launched its first free “newsletter course” on personal finance, followed by a six-week Fitness Challenge that focused on exercising from home. The Fitness Challenge racked up “one of the highest open and click-through rates we’ve seen for a WSJ newsletter,” said New Audiences & Communities Chief Ebony Reed. But not every publisher has the resources to develop education programs in house — some, like Rolling Stone and WWD, have contracted with the online education platform Yellowbrick, which offers production and technology capabilities.

UP FOR DEBATE

Moorefield Examiner publishes blank front page as statement on future of community journalism (West Virginia Press Association)

On June 2, the Moorefield Examiner in Moorefield, W.Va., published a newspaper with a blank front page and the headline “Is no news really good news?” Publisher Hannah Heishman said they wanted readers to understand their financial distress — “Unless people continue reading and, especially, advertising in community newspapers, we’re done,” she wrote to readers on page 2. The Examiner is not the first newspaper to try such a stunt to draw attention to its struggle. And it often works — to raise awareness, perhaps, if not support. “We made them think about it,” Heishman said. “People love it or hate it, but they are all talking about it.”

SHAREABLE

Local newsrooms can combat polarization, if only they have the margins (Columbia Journalism Review)

Research has suggested that by prioritizing local news, limiting wire content and maintaining a robust local opinion section, newspapers can decrease polarization in their communities. But the opinion section in particular, if serving as a forum for community conversations, requires dedicated resources, and many newspapers are tempted instead to fill the section with nationally focused columns from a wire service. “I would love to see a survey of how many local newspapers still have opinion, or publish letters to the editor, have an editorial board or local columnist,” says Julie Makinen, editor of The Desert Sun, which in July 2019 experimented with dropping national opinion content from its opinion pages. “The loss of these kinds of forums has not been well studied.”