Need to Know: March 1, 2019

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


You might have heard: A regular habit — not the number of stories read or the time spent reading them — is the best indicator that a subscriber will keep paying for news (Local News Initiative)

But did you know: How local news outlets are serving readers who may only have a few minutes each day to skim the news (Local News Initiative)

The old-fashioned image of the loyal newspaper reader who methodically read the paper from front to back is giving way to modern realities, in which people “check in” on the news for a few minutes throughout the day. Are local news outlets doing enough to serve these kinds of readers? “The major check-in behavior that newspapers have figured out is the creation of the newsletter,” says news industry analyst Ken Doctor. Beyond newsletters, though, Doctor sees a lack of special attention to skimmers. “I don’t see products out there that acknowledge that that’s how people will use their news websites,” he said. “What I see most often is a kind of same list of headlines,” versus a comprehensive snapshot of breaking news. Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said news websites would be wise to cater to people in a hurry as well as those eager to invest their time for a deeper understanding — considering not only homepage design but also story length. “I really think that what you need to do as a publication is serve the need for frequency and depth,” Rosenstiel said. “There’s something of a bell curve in the data that we’ve seen. Which means stories should be either quite short or quite long. It’s the mushy middle that hurts you.”

+ Related: Deep reading shows no correlation with subscriber retention (Local News Initiative)

+ Noted: ONA strengthens investment in local journalists with an expanded leadership training program (ONA); CNN launches app on Magic Leap AR headset (Variety); Applications for Type Investigations’ Ida B. Wells Fellowship for investigative journalists of color due March 3 (Type Investigations)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually (formerly “The Week in Fact-Checking”): What research says about crowdsourcing on Facebook; technology that lets you fake a new voice; and top Democratic leaders are trying to get 2020 presidential candidates to promise that they won’t use disinformation tactics against their opponents.


How to turn your readers into watchdogs (Medium, Ashley C. Woods)

Hosting a watchdog workshop can be a great way to connect with community influencers as well as people who are passionate about your journalism, especially if you have a big project that could benefit from citizen participation, writes Ashley Woods Branch, the founder of Detour, a local news community in Detroit. For a successful outcome, limit the scope of the workshop to a specific activity, she suggests. “Tell participants how you plan to use their findings and your next steps in the reporting process. Make sure to follow up with them as you continue reporting and publish stories  —  and give them credit!” She also suggests creating a welcoming environment — order pizza, offer drinks — because “If your event feels grim and uninviting, people won’t return.” Most importantly, though, explain the value proposition to attendees  —  telling them why what they are doing matters, and how they are becoming part of a solution.


Viral ‘Momo challenge’ hoax spurred on by the media (The Guardian)

Media coverage of the “Momo challenge” — a viral scare story blamed for child suicides and violent attacks — gave the story far more oxygen than it otherwise would have received, writes Jim Waterson. News stories about the hoax attracted hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook in a 24-hour period, dominating the list of U.K. news stories with the most interactions on the social network. Government authorities and other groups have dismissed the claims that the Momo challenge has resulted in violence, saying that while there is no evidence that it has initially caused any harm itself, the ensuing media hysteria could now be putting vulnerable people at risk by encouraging them to think of self-harm. “These stories being highly publicised and starting a panic means vulnerable people get to know about it and that creates a risk,” said a spokesperson for Samaritans, a U.K.-based nonprofit dedicated to mental health. “Currently we’re not aware of any verified evidence in this country or beyond linking Momo to suicide.”


Facebook and Telegram are hoping to succeed where Bitcoin failed (New York Times)

Some of the world’s biggest internet messaging companies are picking up where cryptocurrency startups left off, and trying to woo mainstream consumers to the alternative world of digital coins. Facebook (which owns WhatsApp), Telegram and Signal are all planning to roll out cryptocurrencies on their platforms over the next year, which will allow users to send money to contacts on their messaging systems, like a Venmo or PayPal that can move across international borders. “The messaging companies have a reach that dwarfs the backers of earlier cryptocurrencies,” write Nathaniel Popper and Mike Isaac. “Facebook and Telegram can make the digital wallets used for cryptocurrencies available, in an instant, to hundreds of millions of users.” However, the companies are likely to face the same regulatory and technological obstacles that kept Bitcoin from going mainstream.


We need a PBS for the Internet age (Washington Post)

A healthy public sphere needs a healthy public media, writes Erik Martin. “We’ve built the equivalent for television and radio. Now it’s time to do it for the Internet.” The simplest way to do that is to tax major technology companies to pay for better content, as they’ve proposed doing in the U.K., he suggests. But Congress and the FCC could also take creative advantage of these platforms to get high-quality news and smart children’s programming in front of all Americans — for example, requiring social media companies to provide an opt-in public media updates service, or requiring telecommunications providers to provide free access to public media on their hotspots. “This kind of regulation would recognize that it is not enough to create more high-quality public media content without making sure the platforms on which they’re delivered make that content easy to access,” writes Martin.


How The New York Times’ free student subscriptions strategy will pay off (Digital Content Next)

The New York Times’ decision to give away its news to 3 million students is one that many publishers, keen to emulate the Times in other ways, would likely balk at. On its face, the idea sounds crazy. But the Times is gambling that the free access will help demonstrate the value of quality journalism to future paying customers. “By offering the subscription for free, the NYT is effectively betting that it can create a relationship with enough students to make the scheme worthwhile,” writes Chris M. Sutcliffe. Some other publishers, particularly local papers, simply don’t have the time to let those experiments play out, Sutcliffe acknowledges. “If reducing the friction of onboarding, deepening the relationship with the user during their free trial, and using their data to support other parts of the business adds even a few percentage points to the number of people who will re-up that subscription, the endeavour will have been worthwhile.”

+ One way to improve coverage of the US-Mexico border? Move there. (Columbia Journalism Review)

For the Weekend

+ At Deadspin, can the cool kids of the sports Internet become its moral authority? (Washington Post)

+ “We really don’t have our own strong sense of place”: Vegas PBS is teaming up with community partners to document Las Vegas’ physical and cultural history by digitizing local residents’ photos (Current)  

+ A look at the origins of the Black press in the United States and its future, with recommendations for better practices moving forward (Medium, Engaged Journalism Lab)

+ Why I’m placing my bets on the American Journalism Project: “What is most needed is not one-year grants to support individual reporting projects, though those are nice. What is most needed is investment in organizations’ capacity to sustain themselves, and to grow.” (Medium, Elizabeth Green)