Need to Know: March 6, 2019

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


You might have heardJournalism blockchain platform Civil failed in its initial coin offering, which aimed to raise $8 million in cryptocurrency to invest in news organizations. It ended up raising only $1.4 million. (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Civil tries a relaunch but blockchain and a complex ‘constitution’ remain (Poynter)

Civil, an ambitious and idealistic venture to nurture journalism startups, will “relaunch” Wednesday, reports Rick Edmonds. The confusing and hard-to-execute sale of blockchain tokens that crashed the first try at a takeoff last fall has been much simplified. Blockchain remains part of the new plan. Journalism organizations, big donors or interested supporters from the public can buy in to the token sale. How many tokens you have determines your ”share of voice” as Civil matures and votes on its direction begin to be taken. But “Civil still looks to me burdened by an opaque structure when compared to other launches in this space, like Report for America and The American Journalism Project,” writes Edmonds. “…I am left wondering just why blockchain needs to be in the picture at all. How about something a little more straightforward — like money?”

+ Noted: The New York Times is staffing up and expanding its audio ambitions well beyond The Daily (Nieman Lab); Sacramento Bee reporter detained, two more journalists covering protest march among 84 arrested (Sacramento Bee); FCC ends Sinclair probe but says it may revisit conduct later (Bloomberg)


Trust Tip: Show the breadth of your journalism (Trusting News)

Sometimes audiences have a very narrow view of what journalists do, putting the onus on newsrooms to emphasize the breadth and depth of our coverage, writes Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News. “In the ‘fake news’ culture, it’s important for the word news to represent things like traffic coverage. Education. Weather. Business. Health. Sports. The economy.” Newsrooms should regularly give audiences a big-picture view of all that their journalists do, and this edition of the Trust Tips newsletter covers how to shape that important message. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.  

+ API’s Metrics for News analytics software named a finalist for the 2019 INMA Global Media Awards, in the categories “Best Use of New Technology to Generate Revenue and Engage” and “Best Use of Data Analytics” (INMA). Find out more at


Want to start evaluating your engaged reporting? Here’s what I did (Medium, Jesikah Maria Ross)

Weaving evaluation into your engagement projects can be a game-changer. It gives you data to help you understand the impact you’re making and helps you communicate value to funders. Jesikah Maria Ross, community engagement strategist at Capital Public Radio, explains how she built evaluation into a recent cross-platform documentary project, starting with involving key internal decision makers in the initial brainstorming. Doing so “built alignment from the get-go and ensured that that no one felt blindsided as I moved the evaluation process forward.” Ross then worked with stakeholders to map out evaluation goals, desired impacts, existing data sources, and internal capacity. Helping shape this important planning was a local research firm that had agreed to do the evaluation work pro bono. “When imagining how to evaluate the efforts of your own organization, perspectives from other disciplines are critical,” writes Ross.


Google to ban political ads ahead of Canadian election, citing new transparency rules (The Globe and Mail)

Google is banning political advertising on its platforms ahead of the Canadian federal election because it says new ad transparency rules would be too challenging to comply with, reports Tom Cardoso. The decision is a response to federal legislation, passed in December, that requires online platforms to keep a registry of all political and partisan ads they directly or indirectly publish. The penalties for not doing so include fines and possible jail time. Meanwhile, Canadian publishers are also grappling with the implications of the new rules. John Hinds, chief executive officer at industry group News Media Canada, said many publishers may have a hard time complying. “Our understanding is that each publisher will have to keep a directory of all ads that appear on their site,” he said. “It’s putting a huge liability on publishers.” He said publishers may have to make the same decision Google has, and decline to run election ads during the federal election. “I think that has implications for the role of newspapers and for communities to engage in the electoral process,” he said.


The daily quiz that teaches journalists how to geolocate images (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

In 2017 German journalist Julia Bayer posted a photo on her Twitter account showing a rainy intersection in Cologne and asked: “Where am I?” The question was meant for Bayer’s journalism class, but several of her followers, many of them journalists, began eagerly chiming in with their guesses. Bayer realized the challenge could grow into a useful tool for journalists looking to hone their geolocation and verification skills (as well as people who just enjoy solving puzzles). Now she runs the @Quiztime Twitter account, which posts similar questions daily, and is used by journalists around the world for learning and teaching others. For Polish journalist Peata Biel, Quiztime is about training her brain in a useful way: “I could be playing Sudoku, but that wouldn’t bring me additional skills I can use in my journalistic work … It’s possible to discover a lot just through various clues visible in a video, using even the simplest free digital tools. The quizzes strengthened my belief that you can do a lot of good with these kinds of skills.”


‘Spotify for news’ is ‘not the answer’ (Recode)

There’s a problem inherent to thinking the news business should model the tech industry, says News Media Alliance CEO David Chavern. “When it comes to content, they always say ‘Spotify for,’ right? ‘Spotify for news,’” he told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “A couple things to keep in mind when news is compared to music, though. First of all, our back catalog is not super valuable. We’re one-time-only consumption. You usually don’t read news articles over and over again.” He also emphasized that trust is an important part of the transaction between news publishers and consumers, something that could get lost in a distribution model that decouples content from publishers. “You have to know where it’s coming from and have some trust in who developed it … You can’t just say Spotify for news unless it really invests in this trust component and builds that attachment to the brand. All these ideas that disintermediate people from the brand are disasters.”


Finding journalism’s Dunbar number: Audience scales, community does not (Local News Lab)

To succeed, local media have to abandon scale and refocus on community, writes Damon Kiesow. “Advertising remains part of the equation, but reader revenue, donations, foundation funding  —  yard sales if necessary  —  are all in the mix.” Kiesow likens refocusing on community to finding “journalism’s Dunbar number” — a number that evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar said represented the limit of stable and close social relationships a human being could maintain. He informally defined it as the number of people you know well enough to join “uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” “Media have a similar limit  —  it is the number of readers who feel you are part of their community and are willing to invest their time or money with you.”

+ Earlier: Kiesow’s report for API about what it takes to shift a news organization to reader revenue