Need to Know: March 15, 2019

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


You might have heardThe Knight Foundation puts $300 million toward rebuilding local news ecosystems (Knight Foundation)

But did you know:As major newspapers continue shrinking, more cities are starting to build ecosystems that focus on better coverage instead of competition (Poynter)

On Thursday, Solutions Journalism Network announced a partnership that brings together six local newsrooms and institutions in Charlotte, N.C.. SJN is using $150,000 to form the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, part a $5 million grant it received from the Knight Foundation to put toward local news. The partnership “is by far one of the most solid ways to start developing a culture of collaboration in a city or a region,” said Stefanie Murray, director of the Center for Cooperative Media. It also reflects a growing tendency among local media outlets to collaborate, writes Kristen Hare. Newsrooms around the country are starting to work together to cover statehouses, including in Illinois, Oregon, Florida and Pennsylvania. Newsrooms in Philadelphia are working together through Broke in Philly to cover economic justice. Newsrooms in New York and New Jersey worked together to cover an election and do general coverage. Small local newsrooms in New York are working together to cover the opioid crisis. And local TV newsrooms are starting to collaborate.

+ Related: Collaborative journalism plays a critical role in local news — here are 10 ways to get started (Center for Cooperative Media)

+ Noted: Committee to Protect Journalists project “The Last Column” memorializes journalists killed in the line of duty (Time); Minute Media buys The Big Lead, says it’s eyeing more acquisitions (Morning Consult)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually: Fact-checking health claims isn’t dead yet; misinformation tactics are being normalized as campaign strategies; and Facebook’s grand plan to encrypt everyone’s messages could severely hobble fact-checkers.

Decoding metrics means embracing journalism that matters (It’s All Journalism)

The types of metrics being weighed in newsrooms as a measure of success are changing; going back to items that veteran journalists have always held in higher esteem, say Betsy O’Donovan and Melody Kramer, authors of the new API report “How to build a metrics-savvy newsroom.” O’Donovan and Kramer spoke with Michael O’Connell in a recent episode of the “It’s All Journalism” podcast. In the early days of digital journalism, clicks were the all-important indication of success. That’s not the case any longer, O’Donovan said. “We’re finding things like engagement are significantly more important than just encounters. Page views matter less than returning visits, for example.”


The Wall Street Journal promotes digital thinking beyond numbers. Your newsroom can, too. (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

The Wall Street Journal made a concerted effort over the past year to train its staff in digital analytics so that everyone knows more about its audience, according to Vivyan Tran, deputy editor for audience and analytics. Reporters and editors now ask questions about why readers might care about a story to clarify the reporting and also narrow an audience. They have regular opportunities to do so in morning news meetings, where, for example, an analytics editor might break stories down by what’s a top read for subscribers versus what’s most read by engaged time. Regularly reviewing the numbers this way helps reporters set strategies for improving the reach of their work, Tran said.

+ Related: API’s Metrics for News helps newsrooms focus on engagement metrics that directly impact revenue goals


‘WhatsApp has come in to fill the void’: In Zimbabwe, the future of news is messaging (Nieman Lab)

In Zimbabwe, multiple internet blackouts enforced by the government amid January protests brought the news cycle to a grinding to a halt. Chatter on WhatsApp groups fell eerily still, underscoring the tight grip the platform has on the country’s information landscape. Half of all internet usage in Zimbabwe occurs on WhatsApp, and independent and alternative media outlets have been turning to the platform as a primary distributor of news. “WhatsApp has come in to fill the void that traditional/mainstream media was not able to fill, in terms of distributing alternative views on issues and policies,” said Sibongile Mpofu, a lecturer at Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology. Although WhatsApp has been used to spread misinformation and even incite violence in some countries, it can also serve as a platform for democratized distribution of news, particularly in countries with a storied history of oppressing government critics.

+ With four new licensing agreements under its belt, The Washington Post says its publishing platform Arc is the dominant news publishing platform in Latin America (Washington Post)


It pays to have a digitally-savvy board (MIT Sloan Management Review)

Boards of directors have many issues competing for their attention, but being digitally conversant in an era of digital transformation is quickly rising to the top of the list, according to a group of researchers who conducted a machine learning analysis of the digital know-how of all the boards of U.S.-listed businesses. The research shows that companies whose boards of directors have digital savvy significantly outperform companies whose boards lack it. They defined digital savvy as an understanding, developed through experience and education, of the impact that emerging technologies will have on businesses’ success over the next decade.


The pros and cons of getting to know your readers better (Columbia Journalism Review)

With membership and subscription programs playing an increasingly important role in media business models, many publishers seem to be trying to get to know their readers better. Readers are often asked to fill out online forms or submit feedback or expertise for stories. But it remains to be seen whether they will see these requests as friendly or overly intrusive, writes Mathew Ingram. “While the media likes to write about how aggressive Facebook and other web companies are about harvesting personal information, almost all digital publishers employ their own data-mining techniques, and in some cases use dozens of third-party tracking cookies, pixels, and other tools to harvest data about reader behavior, location, and browsing habits.” Publishers, of course, know that this kind of data gathering is done for advertising purposes, while seeking qualitative information from readers is intended for journalism. But readers could fail to make that distinction, says Ingram.   


Who’s the boss? (Columbia Journalism Review)

The editors of 135 of the biggest English-language newspapers in the U.S. are a well-educated bunch: Almost a third have an advanced degree, and they attended private high schools at nearly twice the national rate. But the idea that they’re all coastal parachuters is a myth, according to research compiled by CJR. One in three still work in the same area where they grew up or graduated. Here are some of the other stats they pulled: 73 percent of editors are male, and 9 in 10 are white. Sixty percent have a journalism degree, and 109 different colleges and universities are represented among those with a college degree (which was very nearly all). However, only 7 percent went to Ivy League schools.


+ “Reporting [via Facebook] in profanity-laced Spanglish and calling herself La Gordiloca, which roughly translates as the Crazy Fat Lady, Ms. Villarreal’s swift rise to prominence reflects how many people on the border now prefer to get their news — and just maybe, provides a glimpse at the future of journalism.” (New York Times)

+ Netflix recently secured the film rights to JD Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” for $45 million, renewing energetic debate over the story’s portrayal of Appalachia. Can that $45 million draw critical attention to the region, or will it deflect aid and endorse a narrative of exceptionalism? (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ Who would steal a St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper box that a local restaurant owner had — for many years — proudly displayed in front of his establishment for nostalgic purposes? “I doubt this was just some scrapper,” said owner Steven Smith. “To steal that thing you’d have to plan that. A premeditated petty theft.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)