Need to Know: March 13, 2020


You might have heard: “If we’re going to have news that is paid for by audiences, we have to talk about the news that should never be behind paywalls.” (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Despite taking down their paywalls for coronavirus coverage, many news orgs are still seeing an increase in subscriptions (AdWeek)

Publishers from The Atlantic and The Philadelphia Inquirer to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News have each made coronavirus coverage available to non-subscribers, a move which very well may be good for business. “Offering free information on the coronavirus offers an opportunity to reach new customers [and] readers, who may stick with the publication afterward and perhaps be willing to pay later if they are impressed by the content,” said Tom Meyvis, professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. The Tampa Bay Times and the Seattle Times, for example, removed paywalls from their coverage, but they’re still seeing an upswing in subscriptions — at the Tampa Bay Times, digital subscriptions were up by about 100, with coronavirus coverage making up about half of the stories that led people to subscriptions.

+ Noted: First Draft News launches a resource hub for reporting on coronavirus (First Draft); Pro-bono representation for reporters whose FOIA requests related to coronavirus are being denied (Twitter, @MarkSZaidEsq); These are the countries with the worst digital press freedom predators in 2020 (Reporters Without Borders)


Election 2020: The role of local news in honest elections

API is building a real-time network of newsroom leaders, civic and academic institutions and outside experts who will communicate throughout the 2020 election cycle to combat misinformation and other threats to election integrity. We will share lessons from the network for local newsrooms on covering election-related misinformation, recognizing the most likely kinds of manipulation attempts, and covering the security and accessibility of the November balloting. If you’d like to join the network or follow its work, please complete this short form or send us a note at

+ In this week’s edition of Factually, a weekly newsletter produced by API and the Poynter Institute, the latest on fact-checking the coronavirus


Invite coronavirus questions from your audience (Twitter, @TrustingNews)

A powerful way to earn trust, especially during major breaking news events, is to pause and ask your audience what they need to know. Make sure the way to provide feedback is simple and clear (via Facebook, for example, or by replying to a newsletter or directly emailing a reporter). Acknowledge to your audience that this is a difficult time to keep up with the news, and that your mission is to provide trusted, useful information that is based on input from people in your community.

+ For journalism educators, here are some great suggestions for assignments that can be done remotely (Twitter, @Trusting News); Today at 12 p.m. ET, Poynter is hosting a webinar on “How to Effectively Teach Online” (Poynter)

+ Interactive graphics on the 2020 census that can be embedded into your census reporting (Journalist’s Resource)


How The Local Sweden created a micro-community around books about Swedish culture (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)

The Local Sweden, part of a network of independent, country-specific media outlets across Europe, started a book club in March 2019 to bring together its readers, mostly expatriates, who wanted to learn more about Swedish culture and history. The book club connects via sponsored in-person events (sometimes hosted for free at a local bookstore), a dedicated Facebook group and a bi-weekly newsletter. Not only have the sponsored events helped bring in revenue, the book club as a whole has helped The Local Sweden gain new members and retain existing ones. The staff is now planning to build micro-communities around other topics its readers are interested in, like how to buy or renovate property in Sweden.

+ Related: The Local’s guide to creating micro-communities (Google Docs)


Thanks to mass events postponements, media events stack up in the fall (Digiday)

Working on the assumption that the coronavirus situation will be somewhat under control after the summer, a swathe of events due to take place in the first half of the year are now packed into a small window alongside existing events. However, the revenue hits that media companies are projected to take as a result may mean that few will have room in the budget to attend.


Journalism’s ‘coverage combover’ isn’t fooling anyone (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Readers are fully aware that their local newspaper’s coverage isn’t as comprehensive as it once was. Rather than trying to keep up the illusion of comprehensiveness, writes Jim Brady, newsrooms should focus on a few areas where they can still be indispensable to readers. A good example of this is The Miami Herald, writes Brady, “where editor Mindy Marques has her newsroom attacking the opposite ends of the journalistic timeline: quick-twitch breaking news and deep investigative work.” The Herald may not be able to cover every school board meeting or high school football game, but its dedication to local breaking news and investigative work still render it invaluable to its community.


Local sports publisher DNVR opens up a sports pub (Digiday)

In a time of hand-wringing over the future of sports media, there’s an unlikely success story out of Denver. DNVR, a member-supported sports site based in Denver, Colorado, was approached by a sports bar company that wanted to use DNVR’s branding on one of its locations. The company is paying DNVR for its name and to redo everything from the bar’s aesthetics to its menus and the beers it has on tap. DNVR will keep all of the profits made from its merchandise and membership sales, and use the space above the bar as headquarters for its 20-person staff, rent-free. “Culture and community are the biggest staples of what we do, so this is the center of our universe,” said CEO Brandon Spano. Spano predicts that about 5% to 10% of DNVR’s revenue will come from the bar, and he’s also optimistic that it will help drive membership.

+ ‘This time is different’: In Seattle, social distancing forces an alt-weekly to make a coronavirus plea (Nieman Lab)


+ What “Death of the Newspaper” stories leave out (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ How right-wing pundits are spreading doubt and denial about the coronavirus (New York Times)

+ Top editors leave HuffPost and BuzzFeed News amid growing doubts about the future of digital news (Washington Post)