Need to Know: May 28, 2021

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: People turned to their local news sites in record numbers during pandemic (The Conversation) 

But did you know: The coronavirus has closed more than 70 local newsrooms across America (Poynter)

The newsrooms most likely to have closed during the pandemic are weeklies based in small communities. Some of the publications were more than 100 years old; the Journal-Express in Knoxville, Iowa, was founded by a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s. Others, like the Waterbury Record in Vermont, were fewer than 15 years old, and founded specifically to try to fill a news void. Many of these outlets have “merged” with larger papers, which often leads to a loss of community coverage, as well as jobs. Of the dozens that closed, eight local publications have since reopened. 

+ Noted: Registration for the Institute for Nonprofit News’ annual conference, to be held virtually June 9-10, is now free (Institute for Nonprofit News)

API RESOURCES

Journalists can change the way they build stories to create organic news fluency 

Journalists should consider it their job to build stories in a way that shows people the difference between good reporting, bad reporting and outright fakery. Here are templates for nine story types, to help journalists construct stories in a way that proactively resolves doubts and questions audiences may have.

TRY THIS AT HOME

Setting prices for sponsorship packages, and other questions from LION’s new advice column (Medium, LION Publishers) 

LION Publishers has launched a new advice column by News Revenue Coach Penda Howell, featuring questions from LION members. In the first edition of “Dear Penda,” Howell advises a young nonprofit to seek a flat rate from sponsors, rather than charging per reader for a still-small audience. For another publisher looking to land bigger advertising clients, he suggests working with those companies’ communications departments to publish their press releases for free, in order to establish a working relationship that can lead to paid advertising. He also shared advice on working with programmatic ads and converting potential sponsors into committed sponsors. 

OFFSHORE

An ongoing infodemic: How people in 8 countries access news and information about the coronavirus a year into the pandemic (Reuters Institute) 

A new survey of news consumers from eight countries — Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. — finds that the majority gets most of its news about COVID-19 from news organizations. Even though the reach of news outlets is less than it was in the early days of the pandemic, the reach of other sources like government institutions or public health organizations has declined even more. When it comes to vaccines, those who used news organizations as a source were much less likely to believe vaccine misinformation than those who got information from messaging applications, social media and video sites. More than half of the respondents said the news media has helped them understand the pandemic better. 

OFFBEAT

Facebook and Instagram will now allow users to hide ‘Like’ counts on posts (TechCrunch) 

Facebook and Instagram have announced that they will give users the option to hide how many likes a post received, in an effort to reduce pressure on content creators. The platforms started testing the idea in 2019, which was aimed at helping young people feel less pressure to post “popular” things on their social media feeds. On Instagram, the pressure to earn likes was often tied to the desire for viral celebrity; on Facebook, a desire for more engagement often led to more polarized content. Tests showed that users did not want “likes” to be removed entirely, but to be given choices about whether they or their followers can see their engagement numbers. 

UP FOR DEBATE

How Twitter cultivated the media’s lab-leak fiasco (New York Magazine) 

In recent weeks, the idea that COVID-19 may have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, China, has assumed more credence, with the Biden administration launching an official investigation into the matter. The theory had been dismissed early on in the pandemic by many left-leaning mainstream news outlets like The Guardian and Slate, and even derided as a racist conspiracy. Jonathan Chait argues that because the theory was supported by figures like Republican Senator Tom Cotton, liberals in the media conflated it with other conspiracy theories, such as the idea that China deliberately created the virus as a bioweapon. In particular, Chait accuses “elite reporters” of coalescing around opinions on Twitter that have more to do with aligning themselves with — or against — certain political viewpoints, rather than with following the facts. 

+ Related: Facebook will no longer take down posts claiming that COVID-19 was man-made or manufactured (Politico) 

SHAREABLE

Why Congress should consider local news as infrastructure (Poynter) 

As Congress considers a new infrastructure bill, the Rebuild Local News Coalition has called for local news to be considered part of the country’s “civic infrastructure.” Sen. Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has called for $2.4 billion to go to local news in the bill. Steve Waldman, president of Report for America, writes that while it may feel strange to consider news as part of infrastructure, local news plays a key part in the functioning of the country. If the infrastructure bill invests a trillion dollars in public works, Waldman argues, local news can help ensure that the money is being used as intended, because studies have shown that corruption rises when there are fewer reporters. 

FOR THE WEEKEND

+ Meet Heath Freeman of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund boss who just bought Tribune’s newspapers (Wall Street Journal) 

+ Can cable news win over young viewers? At MSNBC, Rashida Jones is going to try (The Washington Post) 

+ How local media fueled the Tulsa Massacre — and covered it up (Free Press) 

+ When misinformation comes for the family WhatsApp: “As my grandfather’s health deteriorated in India, my family turned to fake news” (Rest of World)