Need to Know: March 2, 2021

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: The Arizona Republic considers killing “zombies” a staple of its digital subscription strategy (Better News) 

But did you know: Nearly half of digital subscribers are ‘zombies,’ Medill analysis finds (Medill Local News Initiative)

Almost half — 49% — of digital subscribers to local news outlets are “zombies,” or readers who visit the website less than once per month, according to a new analysis from Northwestern University’s Medill Spiegel Research Center. Mark Jacob of the Local News Initiative writes that even though these “zombies” are paying for subscriptions, these readers may be “a weak foundation to build a future on.” The analysis also found that subscribers who visited a news site less than once a month were far more likely to drop their subscription than more regular readers. Spiegel’s Research Director Ed Malthouse says that zombies can be reengaged through products that help them find the news they’re interested in, like newsletters and emails that update readers on stories they’ve followed in the past. 

+ Noted: Medium’s union effort stalls, falling one vote short of majority (The Verge); Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan urges President Biden to hold Mohammed bin Salman responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s death (The Washington Post); Ebony, the voice of Black America for 75+ years, is set for its digital relaunch (Chicago Tribune); Democracy Fund vows to hold itself accountable to equity in democracy and in journalism (Democracy Fund)  

API UPDATE 

Five publishers of color selected for 2021 Listening & Sustainability Lab from API and REJ

The American Press Institute has selected the inaugural cohort of publishers of color for its Listening & Sustainability Lab, in partnership with the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy. Publishers and journalists from the Chicago Crusader, Cicero Independiente, The Atlanta Voice, The Haitian Times and El Tecolote will work with the lab to explore how listening and in-depth engagement with specific audience segments can lead to stronger journalism and new revenue streams. The Revenue Lab at The Texas Tribune will partner with the Listening & Sustainability Lab to offer additional advising on revenue.

TRY THIS AT HOME

Minnesota’s Sahan Journal launches COVID-19 vaccine video series in four languages (Sahan Journal) 

The vaccine rollout in Minnesota has been confusing and complex, so the Sahan Journal has launched a video series in four languages to help explain key issues surrounding the vaccine. Available in Spanish, Somali, Hmong and English, the videos answer “basic but burning questions,” such as who is eligible to get the vaccine and how can someone obtain one? Sahan Journal has teamed up with local broadcasters who have established audiences in Spanish, Somali and Hmong to present the videos in those languages. 

+ Earlier: Creative ways to get your COVID-19 reporting to those who need it (API)

OFFSHORE

Canada’s Torstar to launch online casino to help fund its journalism (CBC) 

Torstar, owner of The Toronto Sun and other Canadian newspapers, will launch an online betting casino in Ontario. Torstar was recently purchased by an investment company after decades in a family-owned trust. “Doing this as part of Torstar will help support the growth and expansion of quality community-based journalism,” said Torstar co-owner Paul Rivett. Ontario has recently begun allowing private companies to operate online gambling products, so it is unclear how much new revenue this casino can be expected to bring in. In November, Torstar launched a parcel delivery service, and in January the news publisher partnered with a golf retailer to purchase a golf-focused magazine.  

OFFBEAT

Google says publishers don’t want collective bargaining, but others disagree (Digiday) 

Ever since Google announced partnerships with several publishers in Australia, American news outlets have been wondering what it might mean for future negotiations here. Some legislators have argued that publications should be able to partake in collective bargaining with tech companies, but Google’s vice president of news says that he has found news organizations are not interested in this type of arrangement, and that they prefer to negotiate directly with the tech company. But USA Today’s publisher said the newspaper chain is supportive of collective bargaining, while others argue that working together will be especially beneficial for smaller publications. 

UP FOR DEBATE

The Post and Courier’s food critic explains why the paper still isn’t running restaurant reviews (The Post and Courier) 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Hanna Raskin, the food critic at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, has been covering the city’s restaurant scene but not writing reviews of individual establishments. She explains that since many restaurants have scaled back to get through these leaner times, a full-throated review may be an unfair representation of the business, while an undeservedly positive review is “useless.” Raskin also explains that financial tightening at the newspaper has reduced her ability to write ethical reviews, which are based on multiple visits to a restaurant to sample its full menu. And, she writes, she doesn’t feel that it’s safe to direct readers towards indoor dining, even though it is available in South Carolina. 

SHAREABLE

These alt-weeklies faced ‘total annihilation.’ Here’s how they survived. (The Daily Beast) 

COVID-19 seemed like a death knell for alt-weeklies, which often rely on advertising from restaurants, bars and concert venues — and were already struggling before the pandemic. But many have survived nonetheless. The Cleveland Scene was able to rebound in the summer of 2020 thanks to a PPP loan and the launch of a “press club,” where readers could make donations in exchange for branded merch. Seven Days, a community weekly in Vermont, was able to seek out new advertisers like the Department of Health, and produced a travel guide focused on pandemic-safe activities. The Stranger in Seattle switched exclusively to online publication, while The Austin Chronicle turned to reader donations and also earned revenue from a city coloring book.