Need to Know: March 13, 2019

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


You might have heard: How the Minneapolis Star-Tribune used calendar invites and other practical tools to help readers “be better voters” (Better News)

But did you know: Calendars might be the next great online publishing tool (Poynter)

Some news organizations have been experimenting with calendars as a tool for getting content in front of readers in a way that’s more directly useful to them, writes Ren LaForme. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune recently implemented calendar invites to keep readers abreast of important election deadlines and updates, and The New York Times has been refining its surprisingly popular “space calendar,” which updates users’ calendars with space-related dates such as eclipses and rocket launches (including links to any related articles). “You could publish an article or an interactive but if you can’t get them to use it in their daily context, it’s not very useful,” said Michael Roston, senior staff editor in the Times’ science department. The growing use of calendars is an acknowledgment that text on a page, printed or digital, isn’t always the best way to present information, writes LaForme. “It’s further evidence, along with email newsletters and messenger tools (among other formats), that we can meet audiences in places that are most convenient and helpful for them, and not the places that are best for us.”

+ Noted: Seven organizations are getting a combined $750k in funding to work on WhatsApp fact-checking, deep fakes and other issues at the intersection of AI and news (Nieman Lab); Three Indiana newspapers combine to form Heartland News (Editor & Publisher); New York magazine lays off staffers as publication undergoes restructuring (CNN)


How to build a metrics-savvy newsroom

In API’s latest strategy study, Melody Kramer and Betsy O’Donovan examine the best ways for newsrooms to think about and act on metrics. Speaking to two dozen journalists and data analysts across 20 organizations, they uncovered a core approach that is broad enough to apply to most newsrooms, but specific enough to serve as a basic blueprint. The underlying principle? Be able to translate the larger organizational goals to each individual’s work. “Setting conversion goals is tricky, but we can set goals around metrics that correlate [to it],” explained Amanda Wilkins, who managed audience development for the Dallas Morning News. “Our overarching company key performance indicator is [subscription] conversion, but individual KPIs are returning visitors and engaged minutes in a story. That’s a huge takeaway.”

+  Related: API’s Metrics for News analytics dashboard launched a whole new version this week, with features designed by and for journalists. (Plus, say hi to our Metrics for News team on Twitter!)

+ Soon: Kramer and O’Donovan will discuss this study as guests on a near-future episode of the It’s All Journalism podcast. Subscribe to the feed so you don’t miss it. (It’s All Journalism)


Micropayments can help online publishers increase revenue without asking for subscription (

Microtransactions have been a standard monetization technique in the video game industry for some time now as a way to entice consumers to purchase add-on content at low prices. Newsrooms have since pondered whether this would work as a way to increase cash flow, or to gradually attract readers to memberships or subscriptions. Some early adopters have used microtransactions as part of a blended strategy to fight ad-blocking. Dominic Young, founder of microtransaction platform Agate, said that this model can slot into a behavioral gap in today’s news audiences. “You have to reconnect popularity of product to revenue,” he said, pointing out that subscriptions can be a good model, but it ends up making an organization focus on just the sliver of its potential readership that would be willing to pay consistently a relatively large amount, ignoring the majority who may only consider that brand one part of a larger selection of outlets they regularly visit.


How The Guardian is making podcasts pay off (Digiday)

The Guardian is seeing its investment in podcasts pay off, buoyed by a new daily show that it’s using to increase ad revenue, but also drive people to its membership program. Last November, the publisher launched a 25-minute daily news podcast “Today in Focus,” which has become one of its most popular shows, accounting for a quarter of all total listens. High listen and download numbers are useful to show advertisers, but in the last few weeks, the publisher has used the format to drive people to its membership scheme by running ads within the podcasts. “Podcasts are not just a story on memberships; they have been successful on ad slots — they are a mix of revenue streams,” said Christian Bennett, executive editor of visual journalism at the Guardian.


How an app for gamers went mainstream (The Atlantic)

Discord is a real-time chat platform that was founded four years ago as a way to make it easier for gamers to communicate. But over the past year, it has outgrown its origin story and become the default place where influencers, YouTubers, Instagram meme accounts, and anyone with an audience can connect with their community, writes Taylor Lorenz. “Discord is the only place where I can hang out with friends and really feel like I’m hanging out with them,” said Carson King, a YouTuber who first set up his Discord server two years ago. Users also praise Discord for being a place where they don’t need a massive follower count to be heard. “Now with social media, everyone wants numbers, virality, to be popular. Discord takes that and does the opposite,” said Sara Dietschy, a YouTuber with nearly half a million subscribers. “It allows you to just hang out with the people you want to hang out with and interact with them in any way you want, whether it’s voice, text, pictures, or anything.”


Why Trump loves the fake news (Politico)

President Trump’s informal relationships with members of the media go beyond his well-documented phone calls with sympathetic commentators like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, writes John F. Harris. His media roster includes regular, if less-publicized engagement with beat reporters and executives at The New York Times, The Washington Post and, on occasion, Politico. What does Trump hope to gain from these interactions? “Some speculate that the purpose is rooted less in communications strategy than in psychology. In a recent Times interview, Trump complained that as a kid from Queens who became president, ‘I’m sort of entitled to a great story’ from his hometown paper. Above all, the president likes to talk with people who are interested in the same subject he is: Trump.”

+ Earlier: Trump is a mental health story. Reporters need to stop covering him as if he’s strictly a political one. (Medium, Amanda Ripley)


Zuckerberg says he’s going all in on private messaging. Facebook’s declining user numbers tell us why. (Washington Post)

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg went public last week with his plan to reorient the embattled social network toward encryption and privacy — transforming Facebook from a boisterous global town square into an intimate living room, according to a philosophical essay posted to his Facebook wall. The essay was 3,200 words, but Zuckerberg managed to avoid mentioning how far users have already moved away from his town square — a reality that may help explain the boldness and urgency of Zuckerberg’s announcement, writes Elizabeth Dwoskin. A dive into some little-seen data suggests that Facebook may be in a bigger mess than it lets on. It shows a precipitous drop in the amount of time people are spending on the core social network, revealing the extent to which the social network is steadily losing the grip it once had on people’s attention.