Need to Know: March 5, 2021


You might have heard: In a 2020 survey, 73% of female media workers said they had experienced online abuse, harassment or threats (ICFJ) 

But did you know: News organizations that want journalists to engage with their audience may be setting them up for abuse (Nieman Lab)

Audience engagement is becoming more popular in newsrooms, and news organizations are encouraging journalists to increase connections with audience members. But, writes Jacob Nelson, this can have unexpected — and bad — outcomes. In interviews with journalists at the Chicago Tribune, he found that many found their interactions with readers via email and social media to be “belligerent, angry, and even threatening.” This type of audience feedback is known as “dark participation” by journalism studies scholar Thorsten Quandt, who calls it “the evil flipside of citizen engagement.” Many journalists say they don’t get clear guidance on how to engage with readers on social media, nor how to handle abuse they may receive. These problems are especially true at large organizations with mass audiences, while smaller outlets are better able to focus on more engaging and meaningful engagement such as face-to-face meetings.

+ Noted: Sinclair to lay off hundreds of employees, citing “profound impact” pandemic has had on its business (CNN); The News Leaders Association’s Transformative Transparency Project will provide data to assist the media in undertaking reforms that address the lack of newsroom diversity (News Leaders Association); As Patrick Soon-Shiong comes under increased financial pressure, deals to sell the Los Angeles Times and his Tribune Publishing stake look more likely (Poynter)


Cutting Print: Making it work when publishing days must go

Cutting print publishing days should be part of a carefully planned transition to digital — not a means of cutting costs to ensure immediate financial survival. Our strategy study explores how newspapers can chart a sustainable path forward by reducing expenses related to print publishing and delivery and building a digital presence better suited for modern reader habits.


How Michigan Radio launched 42 podcasts at once (and why it’s just the beginning) (Current)

In an effort to keep local residents up to speed with their local city council meetings, Michigan Radio launched podcast feeds for 42 city council meetings across the state. The project, called Minutes, automatically grabs videos from city council meetings that are posted online, turns them into audio podcasts and posts them to the feeds. Minutes also runs the meetings through a speech-to-text program to create rough transcripts of the meetings, which are then used by reporters to look for keywords across several meetings. (The transcripts are not posted publicly, since the transcriptions are not always accurate.) The goal is “to make public information more public.”

+ The Marshall Project is experimenting with snail mail to reach incarcerated people (Nieman Lab)


Editors reflect on how the pandemic made British magazines essential again (Press Gazette)

The editor of the U.K.’s Radio Times, an entertainment and listings magazine for radio and television, grew its subscriptions by 12% since last March. Editor Tom Loxley says that as more Britons turned to television during the pandemic, they found new value in the Radio Times to help “make the most of the blizzard of entertainment that’s available out there.” Similarly, BBC Gardeners’ World magazine has grown 31% in the last year, and picked up new readers by pivoting sales from book stores to grocery stores. The magazine benefited from an increased interest in gardening and food growing, particularly among younger parents.


Official information about COVID-19 is reaching fewer Black people on Facebook (The Markup)

Medical information related to COVID-19 and vaccines reaches fewer Black people on Facebook than other demographic groups. According to data from The Markup’s Citizen Browser project, which looks at feeds from 2,500 Facebook users, found that only 3% of Black users were shown information from public health agencies about COVID-19. By comparison, 7% of white and Latino panelists saw this information, and 10% of Asian users did. Officials have said that public health campaigns are an important source of information to combat vaccine hesitancy.


Pooled journalism funds could help save local newspapers (The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

With more newspapers being acquired by distant owners, like hedge fund Alden, or wealthy philanthropists, Julie Sandorf at the Chronicle of Philanthropy writes that pooled funds or giving circles are an underexplored option for newspaper financing. She writes that “local philanthropic, civic, and business leaders” could dedicate a small percentage of their annual charitable investments to a “fund for local journalism” in their communities. Such funds already support the Fresno Bee in California and The City in New York. Sandorf argues that these pools would allow newsrooms to operate independently, free of perceptions of bias from wealthy owners. If every foundation in the country dedicated 2% of its grant making to local news, that would amount to $1.5 billion annually.


Duke and UNC student media raised $76,000 for news by tapping into their schools’ basketball rivalry (Poynter)

Student newspapers at Duke and the University of North Carolina have used their schools’ long basketball rivalry as a springboard for fundraising. Each year, the Rivalry Challenge encourages fans of the schools to donate to their school papers — The Daily Tar Heel at UNC and The Chronicle at Duke — “to see which nonprofit newsroom has the best fans.” This year, the papers raised a record $76,445 as The Chronicle edged out its first victory against The Daily Tar Heel. The papers also release a joint special edition each year in print and online. The fundraising campaign is a mix of email and social media outreach, videos from people involved in the basketball programs and events like trivia night.

+ Earlier: More about the student newspapers’ joint fundraising campaign and how they divvied up the work (Better News)


+ Democracy, an unassuming policy journal with an office near the White House, is a little magazine that incubated Team Biden (The New York Times)

+ How a one-man sports department produced a 7-part series about an NFL star’s questionable death (Poynter)

+ The story behind her: Journalist Polly Irungu on taking up space as a Black woman (Ms. Magazine)

+ One year into the pandemic, how are health reporters doing? (Nieman Reports)