Need to Know: May 10, 2021

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


You might have heard: In 2017, the Department of Justice announced it had tripled the agency’s leak investigations (The Washington Post)

But did you know: Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Post reporters’ phone records (The Washington Post)

A week ago, the Department of Justice notified two current and one former Washington Post reporters that the agency had received their phone records for three and a half months during 2017. The government pursued the records for information on the journalists’ sources for reporting on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the Post reported, and a Justice Department spokesperson said the records were reviewed in 2020 during the Trump administration. 

+ Earlier: Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice obtained phone records for several Associated Press reporters during a leak investigation (NPR)

+ Noted: Los Angeles Times will offer employee buyouts (Twitter, @farhip); Hearst is offering buyouts to staffers in magazine sales and marketing (New York Post); Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blocked local journalists from the signing of a voting restrictions bill (WPTV)


How newsrooms can do less work — but have more impact

Most news organizations have a fraction of the staff and resources they once had, and burnout remains a major problem across the industry. So newsrooms need to get smarter about prioritizing the work that really matters — and letting go of the rest. Here’s a simple framework for cutting back on stories and other types of work that aren’t serving audiences or driving revenue.


Why Slate’s new advice column is aimed at growing subscriptions and engagement (Digiday)

Slate’s advice columns receive hundreds of thousands of pageviews, lead the site in programmatic ad revenue and turn readers into subscribers. During the past two years, the columns’ unique visitors more than doubled, and newsletter versions have also found an audience, with the long-running Dear Prudence column accruing Slate’s second-largest newsletter subscriber base. Doubling down on the success of Dear Prudence, Slate has launched three new advice columns since 2018, and last year, the site’s parenting and relationship columns both increased the number of issues they publish per week. 


How a national association is building a robust independent media landscape in Canada (Poynter)

Dozens of Canada’s daily newspapers are owned by one of three companies, and a 2019 government bailout for the industry invested most of the program’s $600 million in legacy media, not independent newsrooms. In December, the nonprofit Press Forward was created to advocate for independent media outlets. The organization, which represents 13 Canadian news outlets, is especially interested in policies regarding how social media platforms could pay for the journalism they feature.

+ The Guardian details its worst errors in judgment, from racist coverage to criticism of Abraham Lincoln (The Guardian)


Why managers should create norms for digital communication with their teams (Harvard Business Review)

A study from Erica Dhawan and Quester found that the average worker wastes four hours each week due to poor or confusing communication. Dhawan recommends building guidelines on how to use collaboration tools like instant messaging, text and email, and designating a purpose, desired response time and other parameters for each platform. She encourages managers to use staff discussions to guide policies on things like when it’s appropriate to text and what makes an instant message “too long” for the platform.

+ As consumers compare retail and media subscriptions, publishers are competing with other subscription services (International News Media Association)


Washingtonian staffers protest CEO’s ‘public threat’ to return to in-person work (CNN)

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Thursday, Washingtonian Media CEO Cathy Merrill advocated for reclassifying remote employees to contractor status and taking away their benefits, including health care. The piece argued that remote workers don’t perform a portion of their job duties, like helping colleagues and “celebrating someone’s birthday,” and they should be “paid only for the work they do.” On Friday, Washingtonian workers responded by posting uniform tweets that they wouldn’t publish for the day, and Merrill later apologized to the staff.

+ Related: The Washingtonian staff’s reaction to Merrill’s piece is part of a broader trend of workers “demanding a say” in whether they can work from home or not, Charlie Warzel writes (Galaxy Brain, Substack)

+ Camille Bromley, features editor at The Believer, wrote that coverage of Josh Wolf Shenk’s resignation failed to include staff voices that would have reframed his Zoom exposure as part of a pattern of inappropriate behavior (Defector)


URL Media is a new network for Black and brown media outlets (Editor & Publisher)

S. Mitra Kalita, former head of digital programming for CNN, and Sara Lomax-Reese, president and CEO of WURD Radio, started URL Media in January to support media outlets owned by people of color. Eight newsrooms, including WURD, Scalawag and Documented, are partnering with URL Media and currently experimenting with sharing content. URL Media is developing processes for advertising and sponsorship, with plans to explore revenue sharing, as well.