Need to Know: May 13, 2019

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


You might have heard: Google Search will offer “better news coverage,” and soon, support for podcast search (TechCrunch)

But did you know: Audit suggests Google favors a small number of major outlets (Columbia Journalism Review)  

Google accounts for nearly half of all external referral traffic to news sites. Coupled with the fact that Facebook referral traffic is still on the wane, this means that Google’s search algorithm is now perhaps the most powerful mediator of online attention to news, writes Nicholas Diakopoulos. Researchers at the Computational Journalism Lab at Northwestern University recently audited the “Top Stories” box on Google Search to see if there are any patterns in the news stories showing up there. According to their findings, just 20 news sources account for more than half of article impressions. They also found that Google refers 23% of all news traffic to CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. 83.5% goes to articles that are less than 24 hours old, meaning organizations that generate fresh copy are favored by the curation algorithm.  

+ Noted: It’s more common for white, older, more-educated Americans to have spoken with local journalists (Pew Research Center); The Trump admin is on pace to shatter the record for the most prosecutions of journalistic sources (Freedom of the Press Foundation)


Lessons from a failed newsletter in how to engage with your audience (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

After his newsletter covering local prep sports for the Greeley Tribune was canceled for failing to hit its subscription goal, RJI Fellow Quinn Ritzdorf sat down to wring the lessons from the five-month-long experiment. First, each edition’s long, in-depth features on two of the 11 area schools, weren’t engaging readers. Ritzdorf says the format represented a common trap many journalists fall into: creating the kinds of content they want instead of thinking about what their audiences want. The newsletter team swapped the two feature slots for shorter sections that featured a variety of schools, including an item that highlighted players of the day and one that offered fun facts about the schools in the league. “We tried to never leave a school out,” Ritzdorf says. The team also began building in plenty of opportunities for audience interaction, including an “athlete of the week” Twitter poll and asking readers for photo and video submissions. “I was forced to get creative, to do whatever I had to lure and keep the audience engaged and coming back for more. In some ways, we did just that, even though we ran out of time.”


Brazil to allow crime reporters to carry guns for protection (Press Gazette)

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has signed a decree allowing crime reporters to carry guns for protection, one of several groups that now has the right to carry firearms under Brazil’s relaxed gun ownership laws. The move has been criticized by some press freedom groups. “This decision sets a dangerous precedent and does nothing to resolve the security problems that many Brazilian journalists face,” said Emmanuel Colombié, Latin America bureau chief for Reporters Without Borders. “It is with the tools they use to communicate, not with firearms, that journalists fulfil their heavy responsibility to report the news.”

+ Ad-blocking growth is “contained” but UK publishers lose nearly £1 million a year (Digiday)


Lessons in productivity from Danielle Steel (Glamour)

The prolific romance novelist works 20-hour shifts and calls getting four hours of sleep “a good night,” but that’s probably not a helpful takeaway for anyone else. Instead of trying to copy Steel’s schedule, writers should try to copy her attitude, writes Samantha Leach. Steel never lets writer’s block keep her away from her typewriter (yes, her 1946 Olympia standard typewriter). “I keep working. The more you shy away from the material, the worse it gets. You’re better off pushing through and ending up with 30 dead pages you can correct later than just sitting there with nothing,” she advises.


So what is ‘digital journalism studies,’ anyway? Is it its own thing? (Nieman Lab)

Should digital journalism studies exist as its own field, and not a subfield of journalism studies? In a new special issue of the journal Digital Journalism (yes), a group of researchers examine how the interplay of digitization and journalism warrants a branch of studies distinct from traditional journalism. “It’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine what education in digital journalism would look like today if universities considered it distinctive enough to not fall under the journalism rubric,” writes Joshua Benton. “You’d probably see more campuses where a student-run news site is as honored a place to learn as the student newspaper. You might not have seen as many journalism graduates who are disproportionately trained for jobs that are going out of existence. And you might have seen a better (and earlier) integration of disparate backgrounds and perspectives — from computer science, from business, from design, from the industry — into what’s taught and what’s learned.”


Is your organization thinking about membership? Take some ideas (and maybe some money) from the Membership Puzzle Project (Nieman Lab)

The Membership Puzzle Project, which bills itself as a public research project, has served as an evangelist of sorts for better newsroom membership models. Drawing inspiration from other member-based movements like faith-based communities and gaming groups, MPP has advocated for membership as something news consumers do because they believe in the cause of their news organization, even if it that cause is as simple as providing accurate and useful information. In an environment where many newsrooms often take a rote approach to membership programs (using them only in campaign season, confusing them with subscriptions, tacking on an assortment of underwhelming perks), MPP has helped newsrooms think (and act) more productively around memberships, tackling challenges like how to measure participation’s worth, figuring out ways besides money that members can support the reporting process, and including potential members regardless of socioeconomic standing.