Need to Know: March 19, 2019

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


You might have heardIn 2018 Facebook announced it will launch Today In, a section in News Feed that will highlight local news and information (Facebook)

But did you know: In many cases, Facebook can’t find enough local news for its Today In feature (Nieman Lab)

Facebook’s attempt to draw users to local news content via its Today In module is being thwarted by, well, a lack of local news. “To build Today In, we needed to know, for any given community in the U.S., what local news was available on Facebook at a given time,” wrote Jimmy O’Keefe, product marketing manager for Today In, and Josh Mabry, Local News Partnerships lead, in an article titled “Supporting Research on News Deserts.” “About one in three users in the U.S. live in places where we cannot find enough local news on Facebook to launch Today In. What does that mean exactly? In the last 28 days, there has not been a single day where we’ve been able to find five or more recent news articles directly related to these towns.” O’Keefe and Mabry included a U.S. map showing county-level detail on places where they can — and cannot — find enough local news on Facebook to launch Today In.

+ Related: University of North Carolina professor Penelope Abernathy’s research on news deserts found that more than one in five U.S. papers has closed over the past decade and a half, with about 1,300 communities completely losing news coverage. Abernathy said Facebook’s new data will help her and other news desert researchers gain more insight into what sort of local news is available in communities. (UNC)

+ Noted: Politico publisher Robert Allbritton is launching a global tech news site helmed by former McClatchy VP of news Tim Grieve, which will cover the “global fight for control of power in tech” (Twitter, @DylanByers); Hundreds of journalists risk losing their White House press pass under a newly announced White House policy (Washington Examiner); Pittsburgh news outlet The Incline has been sold as Spirited Media, WhereBy.Us reach agreement (Medium, Spirited Media)


How Wired’s multiplatform strategy is increasing engagement and revenue (Folio)

A year after launching its paywall, Wired isn’t done testing out new ways to capitalize on this and other consumer-based revenue models. Its experimental strategy, which includes the staple subscriber benefit of an ad-free digital experience across platforms, has so far worked: Since introducing the paywall, the number of subscriptions has gone up 272 percent year over year. Site director Scott Rosenfield says his team has been testing different iterations of promotional strategies, pricing, and more in order to ensure continued subscriber growth. “It really runs the gamut as to the tests we might do and the results can be really surprising,” says Rosenfield. “One quick one is how we communicate sale pricing. Having a strikethrough on the number or just having the new, lower cost, we found that some of those approaches works really well for us. Tiny little things like that you may not think matter, but it does.”

+ Related: API’s Reader Revenue Toolkit can coach you through tactics (beyond email campaigns) for driving readers to subscription offers


Africa Check has a new director. Here’s his vision for fact-checking on the continent. (Poynter)

Since launching in 2012, Africa Check has grown to a staff of 29 in four countries and trained thousands of journalists on verification techniques. It gets hundreds of thousands of pageviews per month, and has a seven-figure operating budget — a rarity among the world’s fact-checking projects. Now, director Noko Makgoto is taking over from founder Peter Cunliffe-Jones, a veteran journalist who previously reported from several African countries for the Agence France-Presse. “The idea (Cunliffe-Jones has) always had is to start an organization that would eventually be handed over to an African, that would be run by Africans,” Makgoto told Poynter’s David Funke. He says his aim as director will be to make Africa Check’s coverage more representative of the needs of individual countries on the continent. “The trick for us going forward is to not have one site with one approach, or one single way of doing things. It’s to try and experiment with different things that are influenced by how those countries perceive misinformation or handle misinformation.”


What ethnography can teach us about better reporting (Medium, Mandy Jenkins)

Last year Mandy Jenkins, a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, embarked on a project to answer the question, how might news organizations fight misinformation by learning from the people who believe it and share it? Jenkins began to apply ethnographic methods to her research, and in the process, realized that they should also be applied to the practice of journalism. “One thing ethnography seems to do a lot better [than journalism] is analyzing the role of the practitioner in conducting the study, and how who they are impacts the quality of the work,” she writes. “We each have lived experiences we carry with us every day that affect how we think, who we talk to and what we believe. Ethnographers know this intrinsically and write those assumptions into their work.” Journalists must be more keenly aware not only of how internal biases play out in our work, she says; but also how our presence can change a story, how others’ views of us affect our access to information, and how power dynamics can impact relationships with sources.


Do publishers rely too much on audience metrics? (Nieman Lab)

Journalism professor C.W. Anderson has watched newsrooms’ relationships with metrics change over the years, but he’s not entirely convinced it’s a good thing. “I literally see people with [analytics] spreadsheets in their hands, running across the newsroom, waving them in the air,” he told Brazilian journalism researcher Lívia Vieira. “The question now, I guess, is: Has it gone too far? Are journalists too dependent on clicks, or too dependent on metrics, so that they make too many of their decisions because of them?” Anderson argues that metrics, to some extent, have contributed to the “deprofessionalization” of journalism, in that they’ve caused journalists to lean away from applying their independent expertise and news judgment. “Journalists need to know what their audience thinks, but they shouldn’t become slaves to what their audience thinks,” he said. “And they need to continue thinking for themselves about what their audience needs.”

+ Related: Metrics don’t drive strategy. Strategy drives metrics. Our latest report looks at how to implement savvy thinking on metrics in your newsroom.  


How newspapers are dealing with a shortage of newspaper carriers (Editor & Publisher)

Many publishers are struggling with a shortage in newspaper carriers that ultimately harms their brand. Some have tried solutions ranging from creating longer routes, which could incentivize carriers; to having office staff help with deliveries (and communicating openly with affected customers); to targeting Baby Boomers in carrier recruitment efforts. The “paper route kid” is the stuff of sentimental lore — today, he’s grown up and retired, said Lance “Gayle” Pryor, vice president of audience growth and distribution for BH Media Group. “Most (Baby Boomers) grew up with newspapers, believe in newspapers and many have business backgrounds,” he said. “It’s a no brainer.” Pryor said that BH Media Group is reaching out to retirees and retired veterans. The company’s circulation directors have been dispatched to local retirement and veteran organizations to spread the word: If you need and want part-time work, we’ve got a job for you.

+ A profile of New York Times lawyer David McCraw: “If I start with, ‘How am I going to get this published?’ as opposed to, ‘How am I going to keep us from getting sued?’ I find we end up in a much better place.” (Columbia Journalism Review); Happy birthday, C-SPAN. We need you more than ever. (Washington Post)