Need to Know: March 11, 2020


You might have heard: As coronavirus spreads, news organizations brace for event cancellations and drops in ad revenue (Poynter)

But did you know: How much danger does coronavirus pose to the battered U.S. news industry? (Nieman Lab)

Event cancellations and declines in ad revenue will no doubt deal a blow to news organizations, as well as potential disruptions in home delivery of print newspapers. But the biggest risk to the news industry is the threat of a virus-inspired recession, writes Joshua Benton. The largest remaining American newspaper companies are “now either owned, run, deeply in debt to, or being puppet-mastered by one or more hedge funds or private equity firms,” which are “not known for their humane treatment of companies that have outlived their perceived usefulness.” If a recession threatens newspapers’ usually predictable cash flow, we should, at minimum, expect another and bigger wave of layoffs, says Benton. In the worst case, we could see a wave of daily newspaper closures people have been anticipating — but not seeing — for the past decade.

+ Noted: Vox Media and Google launch “Concert Local” ad network, which will bring together ad inventory from many local news publishers, making it easier for big, national advertisers to target local news audiences (Axios); The Washington Post tells its employees to work from home (Washingtonian)


Trust Tip: With coronavirus coverage, make your purpose clear (Trusting News)

In the midst of the coronavirus coverage, with updates flying at us every few minutes, news orgs need to step back and think about what they’re offering audiences, writes Joy Mayer. “Does your audience know about your goals for coverage of this huge, global story?” (Do you?) In this week’s edition of Trust Tips, how to explain your newsroom’s approach to covering coronavirus, and where to insert that messaging. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


Helping readers tell the difference between news and editorial in print (Twitter, @errrica)

The Philadelphia Inquirer redesigned its print pages to more clearly distinguish between news and opinion content — something its readers were clearly having trouble with, writes Erica Palan, deputy opinion editor. The redesigned opinion section (cleaner, with more visual breathing room) has a standing side bar that explains the difference between editorials, op-eds and columns. Every story carries a clear label. The opinion team, led by Managing Editor for Opinion Sandra Shea, also decided not to run editorials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but make its Sunday editorial “bigger and deeper — with the goal of having a stronger impact on the region.” In place of the Tuesday and Thursday editorials, the section will feature more letters to the editor and more diverse community voices.

+ Earlier: How McClatchy, The Tennessean, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are reimagining opinion journalism


In Spain, publishers warily pivot to subscriptions (Digiday)

Spanish news publishers El País and El Mundo, among others, have recently launched paywalls. Although they’re still relying largely on an advertising-driven model, willingness to pay for news content seems to be growing in Spain — albeit slowly. As of last year, only 7% of the Spaniards made an ongoing payment to a news publisher (in the U.S., it was 13%). Publishers like El País are hoping that a metered paywall will help them ease gradually from advertising to subscription revenue.


Don’t let productivity get in the way of creativity (Harvard Business Review)

“Our relentless quest to be productive is undermining one of the most important abilities in today’s workplace: creativity,” writes Bruce Daisley. Instead of barreling through to-do lists and working as productivity hacks as possible into our day, we should set aside time to “unfocus,” says Daisley. Creative ideas often strike when the mind is relaxed and unstimulated, or engaged in a rote activity, like showering or cooking. “Have a moment every day where you’re trying to achieve nothing. Giving your brain a moment to relax might lead to your best idea yet.”


The media is blowing its chance to head off an Election Day debacle (Washington Post)

If Election Day 2020 has any of the problems that have shadowed the Iowa caucuses and Super Tuesday, the news media will bear its share of the blame, writes Margaret Sullivan. “There’s no shortage of potential targets for journalists: malfunctioning equipment, insufficient or poorly run polling places, unfair or discriminatory voter registration, and flawed methods of doing recounts” — but journalists aren’t paying attention to these issues, choosing instead to focus on horse-race coverage. Proactively covering potential problems on Election Day could help prevent a situation where the loser doesn’t accept the results, Sullivan says.


Navigating the fine print of a layoff (Poynter)

Stay in journalism long enough, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get laid off at some point — maybe more than once. But even in a situation where you’re staring a severance agreement in the face, you have more power than you may think, writes Meena Thiruvengadam. Know that you’re entitled to several days — more if you’re over 40 — to consider the agreement. You should also ask to see any pre-existing policies on severance, to make sure what you’re being shown matches up, and know whether the severance agreement purchases your right to file a civil suit against the company. Other considerations include how your severance affects any noncompete agreements, and whether you will be permitted to use your work in your own portfolio.