Need to Know: March 10, 2020


You might have heard: Coronavirus climbs up keyword block lists, squeezing news publishers’ programmatic revenues (Digiday)

But did you know: Coronavirus shapes up as a double wallop for media businesses’ advertising and events (Poynter)

Events have become a major revenue source for some publishers, and a strong prospect for others, writes Rick Edmonds. But any events planned for the next few months, if not already canceled, are likely to be, causing newsrooms to miss out on associated sponsor revenue. Newsrooms are also bracing for a loss in digital ad revenue. Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Company, disclosed last week that the Times expects digital advertising to decline by 10% this quarter. European newsrooms are already facing a sharp drop in advertising led by the tourism industry.

+ Noted: The Kansas City Star is canceling its Saturday print edition (Kansas City Star); Staff cuts at The Cleveland Plain Dealer announced for March 23, which will leave 77 journalists covering Northeast Ohio (


People pay for news that reinforces their social identities

A recent study found that one of the biggest motivations for subscribing to news is the desire to “fit in socially.” Researchers found a strong, statistically significant relationship between survey respondents’ agreement with the statements that the news they consume “defines” and “promotes” their membership in the groups to which they belong, and their subscribing to both local and national newspapers. This article is part of API’s Research Review series, which highlights academic research that could be relevant and useful to the news industry.


How the media can avoid perpetuating harmful social norms during coronavirus (Twitter, @jayvanbavel)

Newsrooms may want to think twice before publishing images of empty store shelves and people hoarding supplies, as it will “likely contribute to the perception that is appropriate to hoard supplies,” wrote Jay Van Bavel, a social neuroscience professor at New York University. At this point, such images are more likely to create panic than lessen it. “People on social media — and especially the mainstream media — play an important role in establishing norms during periods of great uncertainty. Be mindful that you might be perpetuating harmful social norms that become self-fulfilling during #Coronavid19.”

+ Related: How newsrooms can tone down their coronavirus coverage while still reporting responsibly (Poynter); Hearken is presenting a free webinar on Thursday, March 12, on ways newsrooms can respond to their community’s COVID-19 information needs (Zoom)


U.K. government creates team to tackle coronavirus ‘fake news’ (Press Gazette)

The “counter disinformation unit” will monitor social media and respond to false claims related to the outbreak, said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. The unit will also work with social media companies to boost official government information on coronavirus to the top of search results. Searches for “coronavirus” on Facebook and Twitter, for example, bring up links to official NHS guidance at the top of the pages, while a Youtube search directs users to the World Health Organization.


New evidence shows how Russia’s election interference has gotten more brazen (Brennan Center for Justice)

The Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin-linked company behind an influence campaign that targeted the 2016 elections, is attempting to interfere with the 2020 elections using many of the same tactics as before, writes Young Mie Kim. The social media accounts set up by the IRA pretend to be those of American people, posting divisive political content that is designed to provoke outrage, and in many cases, encourage people not to vote. Many of the accounts target swing-state voters. But this time around, Russian trolls have gotten more sophisticated at impersonating candidates and parties, more closely mimicking logos of official campaigns. And they have moved away from creating their own fake advocacy groups to mimicking and appropriating the names of actual American groups.


Media coverage of coronavirus feels ‘a lot like horse-race coverage of politics’ (Twitter, @wrightbryan3)

How well do incremental updates about the spread of coronavirus actually serve and inform audiences? “We should all be focusing on big picture response, holding officials and agencies accountable and answering questions from the public,” wrote Alexander McCall, audience producer at WAMU. Wright Bryan, business development manager at LaterPay, added, “More on the science, less use of words like ‘surge’ without context or perspective, stop using ‘live’ for rolling stories as if it’s a sports event.”

+ Related: The coronavirus crisis demands journalism collaboration, not competition (Medium, Dan Gillmor)


The legal needs of local news (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press)

In a new study examining the legal needs of local newsrooms across the country, RCFP found that journalists are increasingly facing a culture of secrecy in local and state governments that shields data, documents and other public records, especially in the law enforcement context. Journalists are frequently shut out of public meetings and court proceedings, making it difficult for them to report on government entities and the judicial system. Many of the journalists responding to the study specifically cited the 2017 bidding war among local governments seeking to persuade Amazon to establish its second headquarters in their city, saying they were blocked from seeking information about the tax breaks and other incentives public officials were offering Amazon.

+ Earlier: In 2019, RCFP launched the Local Legal Initiative, which provides local news organizations with the direct legal services they need to pursue enterprise and investigative stories in their communities (RCFP)

+ The future of journalism may live on through family-owned newspapers (Editor & Publisher)