Need to Know: June 20, 2019

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


You might have heard: BuzzFeed journalists staged a walkout Monday to push for union recognition (Bloomberg)

But did you know: BuzzFeed News is part of a union wave at digital media outlets (New York Times)

Starting with Gawker in 2015, a wave of digital media outlets have been pushing for unionization, including the original online magazines Slate and Salon; destination sites like Vice Media, HuffPost, Refinery29, The Dodo and Vox; the humor site The Onion; the podcasting company Gimlet Media; the music site Pitchfork; and New York Magazine’s online verticals The Cut, Vulture and Intelligencer. In joining unions, reporters and editors at these online publications are following in the footsteps of their print predecessors. The News Guild and the Writers Guild of America East, two unions representing writers and editors, estimate that the recent digital wave has brought them 2,000 new members. Now that digital media has matured, digital journalists have dropped the we’re-just-happy-to-be-published attitude that once sustained them, writes Marc Tracy. “People want a career,” said Hamilton Nolan, a staff writer at the website Splinter, who helped lead the Gawker union drive. “They don’t just want to jump every couple years from job to job.”

+ Noted: Chartbeat to integrate Apple News insights into the Chartbeat suite of tools (Chartbeat); Apple News is getting a much-needed upgrade (CNET); Fox, CNN, C-SPAN barred from live coverage of Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic Convention where 21 presidential candidates are expected to speak (Washington Examiner); Internet giants must stay unbiased to keep their biggest legal shield, senator proposes (The Verge); Five NY1 anchorwomen sue the cable channel for age and gender discrimination (New York Times); U.N. investigator calls for probe of Saudi officials in Khashoggi killing (Washington Post)


Making census news reach hard-to-count communities (Medium, LAist/KPCC)

About 30 journalists representing ethnic media outlets in Los Angeles County came together recently to discuss a collaborative approach to census coverage. The stakes are high: Ensuring verified information about the 2020 census is effectively disseminated could make the difference for billions of dollars in federal funding and maybe even a congressional seat (or more) in California. But LA is also home to the country’s largest immigrant population — communities that can be incredibly difficult to count. While LA’s ethnic media (comprised of more than 100 outlets) have trusted inroads into those communities, their reporting resources are scarce. A collaborative effort between mainstream and ethnic outlets could bring mutual benefits, writes Daniela Gerson: reporters can share expertise and tools to understand the impact of the census, surface and address common concerns from local immigrant communities, and ultimately increase their collective reach.

+ Earlier: “Collaborative journalism is all the rage, but when it comes to actually working with the ethnic press, few mainstream media do it” — we looked at some examples that break the mold


How New Zealand’s community newspapers are keeping local news alive (Noted)

Despite facing serious cuts and closures (just last year, the biggest news publisher in New Zealand decided to sell or close 28 of its community papers) a small wave of hyperlocal publishers is gathering momentum in Kiwi country. Their readers tend to be older and remarkably loyal, their advertisers (and vendors) are local businesses, and their focus is on print. David Mackenzie, president of the New Zealand Community Newspapers Association, is an outspoken crusader for community news and believes a renaissance is on the horizon as people lose faith in giant online platforms. “Newspapers have prospered for one reason: the trust that comes from representing readers’ interests and giving them the news that’s important to them.”

+ BBC global audience passes 300 million, with television overtaking radio as the most popular platform for international news for the first time in the corporation’s history (The Guardian); “42 words”: how Egyptian newspapers covered the death of former President Mohamed Morsi al-Ayat (Mada Masr)


Outsiders are redefining what a magazine can be (Publishing Executive)

As longtime magazine publishers jump ship, outsiders ranging from software moguls to streaming services to social media behemoths are sinking their teeth into print. But they’re not after huge circulations and traditional advertising deals — instead, they’re hyper-focused on tightly defined target audiences that would justify print’s high cost. The magazines, ancillary to the companies’ main products, function as high-impact advertisements that boost brand visibility without hitting consumers over the head with hard-sell marketing messages. Meanwhile, some publishers have also been experimenting with the magazine-as-an-ancillary-product approach, most notably Sports Illustrated (after it was purchased by Authentic Brands Group), Better Homes & Gardens and Playboy Clubs.

+ Six legal questions every digital media start-up needs to think about (Medium, JamLab)


Could local news driven by residents who pay fees in a special service district…work? (Nieman Lab)

In a “community information district,” residents must pay a fee to fund local news in their district. The system would be democratically set up, with community members lobbying local government for its creation. The fee levied on residents — analogous to regular fees for public services such as fire protection, water, sanitation, or business improvement districts in local areas today — would allow the community to essentially self-fund their own local reporters. “As much of the editorial process and agenda that could be driven by the community should be,” said Simon Galperin, a media consultant with experience at GroundSource and Opinary who spearheaded the idea. But the new idea brings up old issues: worries over government interference, objections from existing news organizations that are sustained by advertising or philanthropy, and low-income communities being less able to fund local journalism than wealthier areas.         

+ Earlier: Should a Colorado library publish local news? (Columbia Journalism Review)


ESPN just decided to stop sponsoring sportswriting’s most prestigious prize. Why? (The Ringer)

After 10 years, ESPN has discontinued its sponsorship of PEN America’s annual prizes for lifetime achievement in sportswriting and nonfiction sports book of the year, effectively eliminating the awards.  ESPN says it wants to focus its support on “emerging sports journalists,” but some question whether ESPN will remain as devoted to the craft of sportswriting as it was under its previous president John Skipper — especially considering the network announced it would cancel its print magazine in April. “It’s safe to say [current president Jimmy] Pitaro’s regime doesn’t have the romance for print that Skipper and his lieutenants had,” writes Bryan Curtis. “The PEN/ESPN prizes now feel like artifacts from the network’s High Longform period: when ESPN was run by one alumnus of Rolling Stone and curated by another.”