Need to Know: March 20, 2019

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


You might have heardFacebook is committing $300 million to support news, with an emphasis on local (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: How Facebook is spending more to ensure wary publishers rely on it less (Digiday)

After years of courting publishers to try new Facebook products and features, Facebook has begun telling publishers — with increasing directness — that they should not rely too much on its News Feed or other features for their businesses. Facebook’s investments in local news, which the company has treated like a mix of business investment and charitable donations, have largely reflected that message, writes Max Willens. The frankness contrasts with Facebook’s earlier style of interacting with publishers, when it would regularly try to steer them toward a new product it was working on, with the promise of an increased audience. Today, many publishers regard Facebook the way that a marketer might: as an effective, if increasingly expensive, way to target consumers. “If you’re looking to Facebook to build an audience from scratch, that’s not going to work anymore,” said Melissa Chowning, the founder of audience development consultancy Twenty-First Digital. “But their ad manager can’t be beat.”

+ Noted: This journalist fears death if he’s deported — but that’s what an immigration court has ordered (Poynter); Power Shift Project releases report on #MeToo’s impact on media (Freedom Forum Institute); 33 newsrooms across California collaborate to analyze police records (LAist); Apple invests in the News Literacy Project (News Literacy Project); L.A. Times owner sets ambitious goal: five million digital subscribers, up from 150,000 (Wall Street Journal)


Trust tip: Moderate comments on the conversations you host (Trusting News)

Neglecting your comment section is like throwing a house party and then leaving — and hoping the house will be in good shape when you get back, writes Trusting News director Joy Mayer. “Ridiculous, right? We count on an event’s host to connect people, to gently redirect someone who gets a bit unruly, and to call that person a cab if necessary. Everyone appreciates a host that values guest experiences.” The same is true for comment sections. This edition of the Trust Tips newsletter carries a few simple tips for keeping comment sections civil, robust, and even helpful and interesting. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.

+ “The reason that comments sections go bad isn’t the trolls — it’s you.” Check out our full collection on reclaiming your comment section and making it do everything from generating new sources to driving subscriptions. (Better News)


Can local news websites shift from annoying their readers to serving them? (Local News Initiative)

Too many local news websites look like scrambled piles of puzzle pieces: slow-loading ads, thumbnail links to articles irrelevant to the paper’s readership and pop-ups asking readers to subscribe. “It’s a mess,” said Rich Gordon, digital innovation director at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. “There are some rules for good user experience that are pretty well established: fast-loading pages, a clear navigation, mobile-friendly design. These are basics.” A couple things stand in the way of a good user experience (which, incidentally, can prevent readers from devaluing your journalism and ultimately clicking away, never to return): One, most legacy news organizations are still trying (and failing) to serve two masters on one page — the advertiser and the reader. Two, nationally owned local news sites are beholden to a uniform, one-size-fits-all content management system that is not designed to accommodate local differences.

+ Related: “My day is very busy, and I have very little patience for news that is flawed with inaccurate info. Also, I do not have patience for websites so cluttered with ads that it interrupts my reading”: Our 2016 survey on trust found that the presentation of digital news impacts how readers perceive its credibility.


A Danish socialist outlet charges membership fees based on personal income (Nieman Lab)

Just-launched Danish news site Solidaritet is implementing a pay-what-you-can scheme, providing a handy chart to potential members that suggests what they should pay based on their level of income. “In Solidarity we mean that the widest shoulders carry the heaviest load. Therefore, our membership income is graduated,” the company states on its membership page. Pay-what-you-can is not unfamiliar for other membership-oriented sites, like Dutch-born The/De Correspondent, which tells readers, “We trust you to choose a fair price that’s appropriate to your financial situation.” Factoring readers’ incomes into subscription rates is also something that’s done at for-profit organizations, though often with less transparency than Solidaritet.

+ BBC plans charity to fund local news reporting in Britain (The Guardian)


‘Subscription fatigue’: Nearly half of U.S. consumers frustrated by streaming explosion, study finds (Variety)

In a survey of digital media habits, nearly half (47 percent) of U.S. consumers said they’re frustrated by the growing number of subscriptions and services required to watch what they want. “Consumers want choice — but only up to a point,” said Kevin Westcott, who oversaw the study from Deloitte. “We may be entering a time of ‘subscription fatigue.’” An even bigger pet peeve for consumers: 57 percent said they’re frustrated when content vanishes after rights to their favorite TV shows or movies expire.

+ Related: So some people will pay for a subscription to a news site. How about two? Three? (Nieman Lab)


How machine learning can (and can’t) help journalists (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

While machine learning holds great promise for journalism projects that involve lifting patterns from large quantities of data, some data journalists warn that their colleagues are “getting too excited” about the technology, writes Floris Wu. “There are probably relatively few circumstances under which reporters are going to need … to acquire machine learning — it’s really where you’ve got a classification task,” said Peter Aldhous, a science reporter at BuzzFeed News whose series “Hidden Spy Planes” relied on machine learning for data sifting. In some cases, he said, simple things like a keyword alert or standard statistical sampling techniques might just do as good of a job of parsing information, in an even shorter amount of time. “We need to use the right tool for the right job. [For much of what we do], we don’t need machine learning; we need good data reporting.”


Using location to build better news products (Medium, Lenfest Local Lab)

“If we had access to your location  —  with your consent and solely to create a better experience for you  —  how could we help you as you went about your day, knowing the path you take and how you’re getting there?” “Do people want location-targeted information when they are near something relevant, or later when they aren’t driving or walking somewhere?” The Lenfest Local Lab is tackling those questions as it sets out to build HERE, a location-based news app. Such a product could have long-term benefits for local reporting, writes Burt Herman, highlighting how certain neighborhoods may be covered less, or covered differently, and pointing toward ways to make coverage more relevant to people in particular areas.