Need to Know: June 3, 2021


You might have heard: The coronavirus has closed more than 70 local newsrooms across America. And counting. (Poynter)

But did you know: Less local news means more polarization (FiveThirtyEight)

A growing body of research shows that when local newspapers go away, local government is worse off: corruption rises, municipal spending rises, fewer people run for office, and those who are in office tend to be party hard-liners who are less accountable to their constituents. And those constituents become more partisan as well — few people seek out another source for local news when their newspaper goes away, turning to national outlets instead. This is shown by an increase in news deserts of people voting for one party up and down the ballot. That’s because local news offers a “cross-cutting identity,” writes Joshua Darr — something that connects partisans on a different dimension instead of further dividing them along party lines.

+ Earlier: One newspaper helped slow polarization in its community by dropping national politics from its opinion section. Not only did conversation around local issues like architecture and transportation increase, online readership of its opinion section actually doubled. (American Press Institute)

+ Noted: CUNY’s journalism school is launching the Video Business Accelerator, a free virtual training program to help news organizations design and implement sustainable business strategies around video (CUNY); The Membership Puzzle Project will sunset in August, after a five-day virtual event that will cover how to maintain a successful news membership program (Membership Puzzle Project); The Trump administration secretly seized the phone records of New York Times reporters (The New York Times)


API is hiring a Senior Web Applications Engineer

API is hiring a full-time developer to support the institute’s Metrics for News application, which contextualizes web analytics for publishers around the world. The Senior Web Applications Engineer will be responsible for maintaining the existing codebase for Metrics for News, writing and optimizing SQL, and developing custom solutions using JavaScript, HTML/CSS, PHP and AWS. Learn more and apply, or please pass along to someone who may be interested.


Helping audiences understand and navigate public records (Twitter, @RachelDissell)

A collaborative of Ohio newsrooms working with Cleveland Documenters has launched a free text-message course to help Cleveland residents explore and request public records. The seven courses, each five to 10 minutes long, will cover basic questions like what is a public record, how to phrase a records request, and how long requesters should expect to wait. Once users complete the course, they will receive a cheat sheet, free help in requesting public records, and a chance to win $300.

+ Related: API has launched a new initiative to help local newsrooms do more audience-centered accountability and government reporting (American Press Institute)

+ Earlier: How the Minneapolis Star Tribune helped its readers “be better voters” (Better News)


Australian regulator claims victory in scrap with Big Tech over news (Financial Times)

Australia’s largest publishers — and dozens of smaller media outlets as well — have signed content licensing deals with Facebook and Google, after the passage in February of a groundbreaking law that requires the tech companies to pay publishers to feature their content on their platforms. The deals could generate about A$200 million a year for some publishers. “We are on track for deals all around. It’s been a big success,” said Rod Sims, chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Under the new law, news providers can first try to negotiate payment with tech groups, but if that is not successful they can request compulsory final-offer arbitration, for which there are stiff penalties for non-compliance.


Our ability to focus may be limited to 4 or 5 hours a day (The Washington Post)

Many productivity experts support the idea that humans max out their ability to focus and churn out productive work after four to five hours. While some types of work don’t require us to be at our sharpest and most creative, not allowing the brain to rest — ideally for about 20 to 30 minutes after about two hours of focused work — can dampen our motivation as well as our productivity. So, even if you can’t negotiate a four-hour work day, it’s still important to give yourself these blocks of time to rest, says Kalina Michalska, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Riverside.


Could more funding of public media strengthen US democracy? (Columbia Journalism Review)

New research shows that the U.S. government is unique among democratic nations in how little it funds public media. In 2020, the $465 million in federal funding that went to public media amounted to $1.40 per capita; the U.K., Sweden and Norway each devote about $100 or more per capita to their public media. This lack of government funding, write Victor Pickard and Timothy Neff, is “particularly troubling considering the connections we and other researchers have found between robustly funded public broadcasting systems and well-informed political cultures … Indeed, one of the links among the world’s strongest democracies is their substantial government funding of public media systems.”


 How Philadelphia media covered the George Floyd protests (Reframe)

A newly released study from Reframe, an initiative of Resolve Philly, examines how local Philadelphia media outlets covered the George Floyd protests from May 30 through June 7, 2020. Researchers looked at headlines, photos, sources and keywords used in articles. One of their findings is that the majority of coverage was episodic (that is, reacting to single events) rather than deeply contextualized. Also, much of this type of coverage was highly similar between news outlets — leading researchers to suggest that local news outlets share resources “for episodic, response-focused coverage in order to free up reporters for coverage that highlights thematic context and meets additional information needs.”