Need to Know: June 23, 2022


You might have heard: Ben Smith and Bloomberg’s Justin Smith are starting a new global news organization (The New York Times) 

But did you know: Semafor readies entry into tricky digital news market (The New York Times)

Semafor, a news organization scheduled to launch this fall, will attempt to tackle the lack of trust in the news media, with articles to be “broken into sections distinguishing facts from opinion,” write Katie Robertson and Benjamin Mullin. Initial funding of $25 million for the project, founded by Justin Smith and Ben Smith, is coming from a variety of wealthy people, some who have invested in journalism projects in the past. Justin Smith told The Times he thinks the conditions for such a venture are better than they’ve ever been since the arrival of the internet, owing to “the ubiquitous broad adoption of subscriptions and the loosening grip of tech platforms on global ad markets.” The outlet will launch with a staff of 30. 

+ Noted: The Documenters network is expanding to Atlanta, Fresno and Omaha (City Bureau); Ukrainian photojournalist ‘executed in cold blood’ by Russians, group says (The Washington Post)


How news organizations can boost revenue with locally themed merchandise

A number of local news organizations are selling merchandise like T-shirts and creating alliances with local businesses and artists — and in the process boosting revenue that can help pay for their journalism, Stephanie Castellano writes. “Our very local merch strategy has been a win/win/win for our newsroom,” said Block Club Chicago co-founder and managing editor Stephanie Lulay. API has gathered several examples of newsrooms that have tested out merchandise strategies or mutually beneficial partnerships with members of their communities, with an eye toward what others might learn from their experiences.


Hearst Connecticut Media is on track to hit 100,000 paid subscribers (Editor & Publisher)

Hearst’s Connecticut Media Group’s statewide investment has put it on track to achieve its goal of 100,000 paid print and digital subscribers, its top business and editorial executives told Editor & Publisher’s Mike Blinder. The group said in March that it would hire 13 new staff members, including 11 journalists who will report on statewide issues for as well as the group’s eight dailies and its network of community weeklies. In a video interview, Wen­­dy Metcalfe, the group’s SVP of content and editor in chief, told Blinder that the goal is to have journalism that is relatable and recent. “Statewide journalism is not at the expense of local. They supplement and complement each other,” she said.


Dom Phillips’ alleged murder highlights dangers of environmental journalism (NBC News)

The killing of journalist Dom Phillips in the Amazon rainforest illustrates how covering the environment “is one of the most perilous beats in journalism,” writes Eric Freedman. The director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University, Freedman says he’s been talking to reporters around the world for research into how journalists can effectively cover international environmental issues. Attacks on journalists — physical as well as legal, psychological and economic — have led some to leave the business, Freedman writes. Others have found a stronger sense of their mission. “Either way, many suffer long-term psychological ramifications, such as depression and substance abuse,” he writes. 


We’re not done with alt-weeklies (Poynter)

Three alternative weeklies — The Beat in Baltimore, Little Village Des Moines in Iowa and Racket in Minneapolis-St. Paul — are finding “new ground in old traditions,” writes Kristen Hare. The three startups are in communities that aren’t news deserts, Hare writes, but rather “information patchwork quilts” with very specific needs to fill. One common element is a wariness of power. “I don’t want to talk to the chamber of commerce for a story. Our point of view is not tied to the bothsidesing that you get from a lot of formulaic newspaper reporting,” said Jay Boller, a co-owner and co-editor of Racket. 


From ‘pariah’ to ‘move past it’: How Biden set aside press freedom (The Washington Post)

President Biden should use his upcoming trip to the Middle East to advocate for press freedoms and harsher consequences for attacks on journalists, writes Karen Attiah. To do so would send a clear message that the U.S. will not look the other way when journalists like Jamal Khashoggi and Shireen Abu Akleh are killed. While campaigning, Biden said he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” Attiah notes, but recently a U.S. official was quoted as saying “we need to move past it” in order to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. “This is not stability, it is American-enabled repression,” Attiah writes.


Streaming news is going to change the way everything — including politics — gets covered (Politico) 

The failure of CNN’s streaming service CNN+ obscured the enthusiasm that other networks have toward streaming, which many executives see as the future, writes Jack Shafer. Other networks have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the medium, and some of these investments are already paying off. He notes that last year viewers spent more time streaming than they did watching broadcast TV, showing that the networks “aren’t chasing a chimera.” The potential advantages include the ability to serve specialty news interests, changing the way news is covered, Shafer says, but he also notes their potential for contributing to the “audience polarization” fed by channels like Fox News and MSNBC.