Need to Know: March 10, 2021


You might have heard: The truth is paywalled but the lies are free (Current Affairs) 

But did you know: The pandemic has forced news outlets to reassess their paywalls (Columbia Journalism Review) 

Last spring, major news outlets across the country dropped their paywalls to allow anyone to read stories about the pandemic. The move was widely seen as a recognition of COVID-19 information as a public service, and that logic has led to paywalls being dropped for other major events with “life-or-death stakes,” like police brutality and Black Lives Matter protests, hurricanes and the presidential election. But pulling down paywalls can seem to undermine the reality that they are a necessity for news organizations, and forces organizations to reconsider who is normally being left out when paywalls are up. Only 16% of news readers pay for a news subscription, leaving many who cannot afford to pay for news locked out of high-quality information. “I think that what we’ve seen, and will hopefully see more of, is a mixed-model approach where some premium content is under a paywall and content that is a public service is free,” said Arionne Nettles, a journalism lecturer at Northwestern University’s Medill School. “We can and should encourage people who can afford it to invest in paid subscriptions or memberships, but we can’t expect everyone to be in that category.”

+ Related: How newsrooms are building better paywalls (Medill Local News Initiative)

+ Noted: BuzzFeed announces deep cuts to HuffPost staff after acquisition (HuffPost); HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Québec abruptly closed on Monday (CBC); Branded Content Project announces $1M milestone in content series sponsorship sales revenue (Local Media Consortium) 


Is local journalism dying? Look closer. 

In the second edition of his column, API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel covers four major challenges to journalism today and four attempts to confront them that are worth watching.

+ Trust Tip: Use comments to explain and defend your work, part two (Trusting News) 


Network mapping is a concrete method to include more voices in reporting (Nieman Lab) 

Many journalists find that, despite their best intentions, it’s difficult to include more diverse voices in their stories. Elise Stolte of the Edmonton Journal writes that Hearken’s network mapping technique has taught her a strategy to overcome inertia and address the issue. Network mapping involves literally drawing a map that connects all people who may be interested in the topic at hand, including those outside the publication’s traditional audience. Once all the interested groups are written down, a reporter can then work their way through the list, reaching out to contacts in each circle for their thoughts. Building those relationships can lead to more story ideas and more connections in a part of the community that may be underrepresented in the media. 

+ Related: Chalkbeat and the Reynolds Journalism Institute are building a better system for tracking source diversity — and they’re looking for help from newsrooms (Chalkbeat) 


UK paper clears seven pages to show photos of local COVID-19 victims (Behind Local News)

Britain’s Manchester Evening News dedicated its first seven pages to photos of the region’s COVID-19 victims to mark the one-year anniversary of the area’s first pandemic death. The front cover featured 40 photos, and the tribute overall included 218 pictures sent in by readers whose loved ones have passed. The tribute mentions that for every picture shown, there have been another 25 deaths in the Manchester area. The paper has been running “Loved and Lost” articles, which allow readers to pay tributes to victims of COVID-19. In January, the Evening News ran an interactive piece online dedicated to the more than 4,000 locals who died from COVID-19 in 2020. 


NPR’s training team walks applicants through writing a cover letter for a public media job or internship (NPR Training) 

As part of NPR’s publicly available training materials, Holly J. Morris, NPR Training’s Digital Storytelling Specialist, has written a guide to writing a cover letter for a public media job or internship. The tongue-in-cheek sample letter gives tips on how to stand out among a crowded field of applicants, how to focus on what the applicant would bring to the specific role, and how to avoid overused internet jargon. The letter also includes step-by-step tips on creating a letterhead and a signature that are suitable for cover letters. 


Being owned by a billionaire is a struggling newsroom’s dream, but it can turn into a nightmare (CNN) 

With so many newsrooms struggling, many have debated whether billionaire owners are the solution to the industry’s woes. In interviews with multiple people who work at news outlets owned by billionaires, Kerry Flynn writes that staffers often feel “at the whims of a super rich and sometimes capricious owner.” Some assumed that their billionaire owners were primarily interested in the public good, instead of profit-making, and that they could use their wealth to keep the lights on during a difficult economic period. But the same struggles for sustainability exist, and often the attempts to stay afloat, such as layoffs and story quotas, leave staffers demoralized. 


Newsrooms are getting creative about presenting long-form journalism in the internet era (Axios) 

Long-form journalism is having a digital resurgence, in everything from newsletters to podcasts to documentaries. As news outlets have moved away from text-heavy pieces toward smaller, more digestible formats, engaged time on individual news stories has risen. More stories are now rolled out with accompanying formats — such as short-form courses, pop-up newsletters or limited-run podcasts — while many large outlets are licensing their longer articles to streaming companies to turn into documentaries. These new formats can be difficult to reconcile with traditional journalism rules, as The New York Times discovered when its Caliphate podcast failed to meet the paper’s editorial standards.