Need to Know: March 11, 2019

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


You might have heardFrom 2008 to 2017, newspaper newsrooms shrank by 45 percent (Pew Research Center)

But did you know: More than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. have lost a newspaper over the past 15 years (AP)

As circulation and ad revenue have plunged over the last several years, all newspaper owners face a brutal reality that calls into question whether it’s an economically sustainable model anymore — unless, like the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, the boss is the world’s richest man. That’s especially true in smaller communities. “They’re getting eaten away at every level,” said Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst at Harvard’s Nieman Lab. While family-owned newspapers were once common in smaller towns and cities, the vast majority of American newspapers are now owned by a handful of corporations — several of which are controlled by hedge funds that have been accused of following a strategy of aggressive cost-cutting without making significant investments in newsrooms. Meanwhile, residents of smaller communities that have lost their local newspaper must come to grip with what’s missing in their lives. “Losing a newspaper,” said Keith Pritchard of Waynesville, Mo., where the last local paper recently closed, “is like losing the heartbeat of a town.”

+ Noted: Leak prosecutions under Trump chill national security beat (Columbia Journalism Review); Homeland Security is investigating immigration officials’ secret list of journalists, attorneys, and activists to question at the border (BuzzFeed News); Report for America announces $250k in support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies (GroundTruth Project); Adnan Syed of “Serial” is denied a new trial by Maryland Court of Appeals (New York Times)


Nine news organizations receive API’s Metrics for News analytics with Knight Foundation support

API is excited to announce a new cohort of newsrooms using Metrics for News, our analytics dashboard and content strategy program. Thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, these nine newsrooms will receive subsidized access to the dashboard as well as customized support from our staff. They’ll join more than 80 newsrooms that have used Metrics for News to understand what types of journalism engage users, empower journalists to measure and improve their own performance, and to design strategies that drive reader revenue. We continually add new publishers to this program, so anyone who is interested can get in touch with us for a demo or more information.


What would journalism look like if it was generated from within communities? (Engaged Journalism Lab)

In December 2018 practitioners from more than 30 newsrooms across Europe came together for a two-day workshop on engaged journalism. Their insights and best practices have been distilled into this report. Here’s one useful tip (out of many): Instead of asking readers to suggest story ideas, ask them to submit their questions. Story ideas could reflect inherent biases; questions tend to lead to more open-minded thinking. For example, German news magazine Krautreporter posts story ideas to its Facebook group to get audience feedback before pursuing them. Recently, a reporter asked members of the group what questions they had about Germany’s yellow vest movement, ahead of a protest the journalist was going to attend. There were only a handful of replies, and Krautreporter’s interpretation was that the community either “didn’t know much about the topic or doesn’t care about it yet,” so the reporter’s job was to find out whether it was one or the other to frame the story accordingly and provide the necessary information.

+ Related: “Help us cover the news” — The New York Times asks readers to sign up to participate in our future reporting projects (The New York Times); The Membership Puzzle Project’s Join the Beat newsroom cohort experiments with approaches to involving readers in beat research and reporting (Membership Puzzle Project)


How China exploits social media to sway American opinion (Recorded Future)

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, researchers, reporters and academics have devoted significant resources to understanding the role that Russian disinformation played in the outcome of the election. But new research from Recorded Future, a cyber threat intelligence group, shows how Chinese state-run social media influence operations have also sought to exploit the openness of American democratic society. According to Recorded Future, Chinese influence operations have tried to portray a utopian view of the Chinese government, using paid advertisements to target American users with political or nationally important messages and distorted general news about China.

+ Related: Facing legal scrutiny, China’s state TV recalls its U.S. head (New York Times)


Push journalism vs. pull journalism (Medium, Phillip Smith)

What Phillip Smith calls “push journalism” is the usual order of business at most newsrooms: A journalist has a hunch about a newsworthy story that isn’t being told yet, they run the idea past their editor and a couple sources, and the story is a-go. After it’s published, “everyone in the organization pushes like hell to get the story in front of as many people as possible,” writes Smith. He suggests another approach — “pull journalism” — which comes from the Lean Startup method. In this approach, a journalist has an idea about a problem people might be experiencing, or a question that’s gone unanswered. They interview several of those people to figure out if their hunch is correct (while listening keenly for signals that it’s incorrect, or that there is a different problem). Then they use what they learned from those conversations to “prototype” a solution. It could be a written story, or some other journalistic undertaking. “The exciting thing about a process like this is that it might provide an opportunity to create products so good  —  so well-tailored to a community’s needs  —  that people might just pull the products into their lives,” writes Smith.


The fall, rise, and fall of media trust (Columbia Journalism Review)

Is too much made of the mistrust of journalists? While polls have allowed us to track the ebb and flow of public trust in journalism over the last several decades, many journalists and industry observers have pointed out that people have milder and more nuanced views of the press than the polls seem to indicate, writes Michael Schudson. Research shows that many people appear to distinguish between “the media” (bad) and “my media” (good). (Likewise, research has shown that people say they have little faith in Congress but think their own local representatives are okay.) Schudson makes another point: In our hyperpolarized environment, people are more likely to confront negative news reports about their preferred politicians with skepticism and disdain — so it’s not surprising that the renewed focus on watchdog journalism has damaged trust. But breaking that commitment to holding power to account is out of the question, writes Schudson — ”Some things are more important than how people respond to pollsters asking about trust.”


‘Your life IS in danger’: Calm-yet-serious forecasters credited with saving lives during deadly Alabama tornado (Washington Post)

As catastrophic weather descended on Lee County, Ala., last Sunday, meteorologists at the local NBC affiliate WSFA-TV provided coverage that struck the right balance between urgency and reassurance. “They did an incredible job of creating no doubt that this was a serious and strong tornado,” said Gary Lezak, a longtime chief meteorologist at KSHB in Kansas City. “The tone was strong and authoritative. You believed the entire team.” Other veteran broadcast meteorologists chimed in with praise for the station’s use of graphics and the relay of critical information, as well as the genuine emotion WSFA meteorologists portrayed as they reacted to live developments. “Everyone who has done this kind of coverage in a situation like that has a lead weight in their stomach,” said Dan Satterfield, chief meteorologist at WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Md. “You know that people are about to die. You search for words to convince them to do something and hope you find the right ones.”