Need to Know: May 22, 2019

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


You might have heard: A study published last week found that HBO faced a particular threat from customers’ attachment to the service being built around just a single show, not the whole package (Mintel)

But did you know: How to change your editorial strategies to hang on to subscribers, even when the thing they originally signed up for goes away (Nieman Lab)

Revenue in a subscription business is binary, writes Joshua Benton — it’s either a 1 (“I’m a subscriber!”) or a 0 (“Sorry, gotta pay rent”). And that means different editorial strategies. “Give people good reasons to stick around, all year round,” writes Benton. “You can’t publish all your big investigations in December because that’s when Pulitzer entry rules encourage you to. People are making yea-or-nay decisions about you every month, and you need to get enough hits out there to keep the loosely attached end of your subscriber base interested.” More than every month, Benton adds, readers are making those decisions every day. Saving the best content for the Sunday paper doesn’t work in a digital subscription-driven world, when building daily consumption habits (through email newsletters or podcasts, for example) is the most important factor in retaining subscribers. News publishers have to figure out the information problem they can solve for readers every morning or every night. “If you can figure out a way to integrate that well into readers’ daily lives, you’ll be able to survive the retirement of your star metro columnist or whatever your ‘Game of Thrones’ is.”

+ Our Metrics for News analytics platform can help you see which stories are resonating most with subscribers and building daily consumption habits

+ Noted: ONA expands the Online Journalism Awards with new category and cash prizes for engaged journalism projects (Online Journalism Awards); A quiz app that checks readers’ knowledge of news content could serve as a meaningful engagement metric (DigInThere); Al Jazeera is launching a business site that will focus on personal finance, economic inequality, and impact investing (Axios)


How The Philadelphia Inquirer launched a newsroom team to grow its audience (Better News)

As part of a newsroom reorganization, The Philadelphia Inquirer built an audience development team to support its transition to a digital subscription business. The new team made the newsroom’s approach to social media more efficient, overhauled its newsletters and drastically improved SEO. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

+ Related: A closer look at how the Inquirer stopped spending so much time on Twitter, but maintained their referral traffic — and how they used the same approach to grow audiences on other social platforms (Poynter)


What’s your why? Share it with your audience to sustain your future. (Medium, Trusting News)

In an increasingly subscription-dependent world, news publishers can no longer expect readers to support faceless journalists behind computer screens. Journalists need to do a better job of showing readers who they are and why they do this work. At the Coloradoan, content strategist Jennifer Hefty asked each reporter for a two-sentence answer to the question, “What’s your why?” Along with new headshots, Hefty used the answers to create personalized subscription asks from each reporter that now accompany every story published on the Coloradoan’s site. Customized URLs allow the newsroom to track the subscriptions generated by the personalized asks, and help the reporters see the direct monetary impact of their work. Hefty says that in three months, they’ve directly driven about 2,000 visits to order pages and roughly 50 new subscriptions. “I know as journalists, the thought of marketing and sales can sometimes make us uneasy,” she writes. “But we must embrace it. If we don’t advocate for our work and shout from the rooftops that it’s worth paying for, who will?”

+ Earlier: How the Coloradoan explained the need for its paywall to readers (Medium, Trusting News)


Alarming lessons from Facebook’s push to stop fake news in India (Bloomberg)

As India wraps up its election this week, in which 900 million voters headed to polls, Facebook is reeling from a fact-checking effort that was ultimately no match for the virulent spread of election-related disinformation on its platform. Fact-checkers partnering with Facebook say low media-literacy makes India an especially challenging landscape for battling disinformation. Thanks to cheap smartphones and rock-bottom wireless prices, hundreds of millions of Indians are flooding the internet — so many that by 2021, Hindi internet users will outnumber English internet users. These newcomers tend to be more trusting of the information they see online, sharing stories indiscriminately and with stupefying speed, said Pallavi Mishra, manager of the fact-checking outlet Vishvas News. “Being the ‘first’ to share things in their circles gave them a rush.”

+ Earlier: Tired of being targeted by Russian propaganda, Finland implemented a media literacy initiative aimed at teaching residents, students, journalists and politicians how to recognize fake news (CNN)


Gaining a picture of rural America (Journalist’s Resource)

A survey by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 40% of rural Americans struggle to afford healthcare, housing and food. Access to high-speed internet also remains a challenge for 21% of rural Americans, and 18% say they frequently or constantly experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. However, the majority (73%) felt their overall quality of life was excellent or good. The survey is the second in a series that aims to capture the experience of life in rural America, focusing on economic challenges as well as other aspects of rural life such as health and social issues.

+ People lie about going to church and aren’t sure what “rural” means: Highlights from the latest in public opinion research (Nieman Lab)


When are student newspaper budget cuts unconstitutional? (Student Press Law Center)

At many colleges and universities, student newspapers run on a portion of tuition income that is distributed among campus organizations by the student government. But things can get complicated when a student newspaper does accountability reporting on student government. Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center, says he deals with about a half-dozen serious, substantive cases a year where funding for student media organizations is threatened for content-based reasons. “The minute the public university passes on the duty [to allocate public monies], student government officially become government actors,” said Hiestand. “You can’t use that power [of] the purse in any way to attempt to censor, to punish, retaliate for, anything that’s an attempt to control the editorial content … that’s where the line is crossed.”


Focusing on policy, not personality, is one way to cover the massive 2020 field (Politico)

Eager not to repeat the mistakes of 2016, when they missed the rise of Donald Trump, news outlets are hiring bigger teams, sending reporters to more places and thinking of new ways to cover the 2020 presidential elections. But because most can’t afford — or don’t want — to assign a reporter to each of the 40+ candidates, some are taking a different approach to campaign reporting, turning the lens on voters and policy issues rather than individual candidates. Wall Street Journal political editor Ben Pershing says he isn’t planning to assign candidates to beat reporters any time soon, but is instead focusing on “broad and thematic” stories that cut across the field. New York Times political editor Patrick Healy said writing daily about every Democratic candidate “just risks being a blur” for readers, and said the Times’ focus will be on stories that “help readers think about the policy issues and political dynamics at stake.”  

+ “Not launching membership sooner was a mistake” and other lessons Jim Brady learned from his time with Spirited Media (Local Media Association)