Need to Know: May 27, 2020


You might have heard: The coronavirus traffic bump to news sites was already over in mid-April (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: So far, publishers are keeping subscribers gained during the coronavirus crisis (Digiday)

With advertising revenue down for most publications, news outlets have been turning to subscriptions to remain financially viable. And early indications show that subscribers who came on board during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic are sticking around. It’s too soon to say whether these outlets have gained paying readers for life, but an increased focus on retention — like offering subscribers the option to suspend their subscription rather than cancel — could go a long way to keeping new readers.

+ Noted: Outside Magazine has furloughed reporters, let go of fellows and instituted pay cuts (Twitter, @abbeygingras); The company that publishes the Toronto Star will be sold, taken private in $52-million deal (Toronto Star)


Trust tip: Do not neglect basic but vital pandemic information

With almost all news now focused on the coronavirus, it may be tempting for local news outlets to always be focusing on the latest tidbit or personal stories. But readers still have basic questions — is the virus spreading in my region, what activities can I safely participate in, how can I get a COVID-19 test — and local news organizations should be making it easy for readers to find these answers. That means highlighting this information on the homepage, including it in newsletters and linking to it from social accounts.


This black-owned Oklahoma newspaper is fighting to keep alive the memory of the Tulsa Race Massacre (The Los Angeles Times)

The Oklahoma Eagle was founded in 1921 after the Tulsa Race Massacre, in which white residents — spurred on by a false rumor that black man had sexually assaulted a white woman — burned down the successful black neighborhood of Greenwood. The story was ignored for much of Oklahoman history, glossed over in schools and ignored for decades by white-owned media. But the Eagle, a family-run publication published by Jim Goodwin, has made a point of keeping this terrible piece of Tulsan history alive.

+ Localize your state’s Title I federal grant funding for local schools to show what’s at stake in the census (Journalist’s Resource)


South African health site is adapting its COVID coverage to the unique problems of the Global South (Reuters Institute)

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of South Africa’s Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, a donor-funded start-up that has reached a new audience with its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview, she says one big focus for the organization has been on the country’s inequality, as hygiene basics like handwashing are difficult for communities without running water. Bhekisisa has also doubled down on data journalism, partnering with another start-up to develop maps of the spread of the virus that have been used by the South African government. Malan says that the virus has demonstrated the need for high-quality health and science journalism, which has made the start-up more visible and popular around the country.

+ Chinese state TV broke Ofcom rules in the UK with biased Hong Kong coverage (The Guardian)


Facebook executives shut down efforts to make the site less divisive (Wall Street Journal)

In 2018, internal research commissioned by Facebook found that the site was encouraging division, rather than unity. The research showed the site’s algorithms exploited “the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness” and that a user’s feed would likely become filled with divisive content in an effort to capture more and more of their attention. But Facebook executives declined to meaningfully apply this knowledge to the site, with executives arguing that it would make them seem “paternalistic” and could potentially anger conservative publishers.

+ Twitter labels Trump’s tweets with a fact-check for the first time (The Washington Post)


11 local TV stations pushed the same Amazon-scripted segment (Courier Newsroom)

Amazon has come under heavy criticism for not instituting adequate health and safety measures for its workers during the pandemic. To combat this negative narrative, the company sent out a video package to local news outlets ahead of its annual shareholder meeting, offering “a glimpse inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers.” The package was produced by Amazon spokesperson Todd Walker. Eleven stations around the country ran at least part of the package, with only one acknowledging that it had been produced by Amazon.


A reminder to editors: Be kind to your writers (CJR)

Freelance writers have been a huge part of the modern journalism ecosystem for years, and with layoffs and furloughs on the rise, even more experienced journalists are looking to make it as freelancers. And while some prefer the flexibility of the freelance life, self-employed writers and editors face not just the lack of a stable paychecks and benefits of a salaried position, but often basic respect for their time and ability. That often means delays in responding to pitches or giving edits, and that leads to belated paychecks. Options like over-time fees for expanded projects or paying larger fees in installments can help fairly compensate freelancers.