Need to Know: May 29, 2019

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


You might have heard: “Is he a local boy?” Is Report for America building trust within the communities it serves? (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: For local news, Americans embrace digital but still want strong community connection (Pew Research Center)

The findings of a Pew Research Center survey suggest the public places strong value on local journalists being a part of their community. Of those polled, 85 percent said it was somewhat or very important that local journalists understand the community’s history, and 81 percent placed similar importance on local reporters being engaged with the community itself. About a third of Americans said local journalists were out of touch with their community, and just 21 percent have spoken with a journalist. The survey also found that those who believe local news is connected to the community are more likely to say local journalists report fairly.

+ Earlier: Our study of what Americans and the news media know about each other explained the gaps — including that many people think reporting looks too much like opinion and commentary, and the public is confused by some basic news concepts

+ Noted: Meredith sells Sports Illustrated to Authentic Brands Group for $110 million (Variety); CNN preparing to make cuts at London-based news operation (The Guardian); Want to feel less anxious about the state of the world? Try diversifying your online news sources (Nieman Lab)


The latest key newsroom job: membership editor (Digiday)

This year, publications like HuffPost, BuzzFeed News, The Intercept and Texas Tribune have been hiring for the position of membership editor, a new type of role broadly dedicated to raising money from members and diversifying revenue. This journalism job isn’t completely new, as media organizations including The Atlantic and The Guardian have had the position for a while, but it’s new enough that publications are still experimenting with what it looks like. Job descriptions for membership editor positions describe a grab bag of responsibilities that can include driving innovation, engagement, marketing, editorial strategies and membership growth. This connection between content and marketing can offer continuity, according to Spirited Media founder Jim Brady, who said that when asking members for money, they asked “the same way we talked to them editorially. You want to make sure there’s a straight line there.”


Times titles halve digital subscriber churn with tailored emails from AI named ‘James’ (Press Gazette)

After News UK’s The Times and Sunday Times launched newsletters powered by artificial intelligence, cancellations at the publications fell by half. James, short for Journey Automated Messaging for Higher Engagement, is software that crafts emails individualized to subscribers’ tastes, predicting the content that will interest them most. The software, which journalists helped develop, had the highest success rate with the subscribers who were the least engaged. In the future, James will become available to other newsrooms, with plans to expand its focus into push notifications and texts.

+ Germany’s biggest publisher sales houses unite to fight Google, Facebook and Amazon (Digiday)


Productivity and the joy of doing things the hard way (Wired)

Our culture is obsessed with productivity and tools to maximize it, but Rob Walker has concerns that being tied to productivity-boosting technology has its own pitfalls. “We can become disengaged, passing through moments instead of inhabiting them,” he writes, “losing the ability to relate our own footsteps through unfamiliar territory to a broader notion of spaces we inhabit.” Walker makes a case for doing things “the hard way” sometimes, whether that’s calling instead of texting, avoiding comfortable habits or swearing off Google Maps for an afternoon. He also recommends spending unstructured time that doesn’t have a real purpose, which offers the opportunity “to be surprised, to encounter the unexpected.”


What’s wrong with philanthro-journalism? (Nieman Reports)

Six of the nine most-read nonprofit news organizations both rely heavily on financial support from private foundations and specialize in humanitarian coverage. Some critics of nonprofit journalism are concerned that foundations could reduce journalists’ autonomy and tie themselves into foundation agendas. Instead, Martin Scott writes that foundation funding affects international nonprofit journalism in other key ways. One big outcome is a dynamic where journalism organizations spend time and resources to increase their visibility with foundation representatives at the cost of investments they’d otherwise be making in journalism. This relationship ecosystem gives an advantage to larger news organizations with more resources.

+ Earlier: API worked with funders and nonprofit news orgs to draft guidelines for an ethical funding relationship


Former reporter creates ‘Rate my Professor’ for newsrooms (Columbia Journalism Review)

After broadcast journalism jobs that combined reporting, shooting and editing her own video, 12-hour days and salaries under $30,000, Valeria Sistrunk launched The site has 40,000 to 60,000 visitors a month and currently houses 500 reviews of news stations across the country. To post a review, site visitors have to fill out a survey about work environment, their salary, the contracts employees are required to sign and other subjects, including harassment and discrimination. Aside from the ratings, Sistrunk blogs about newsroom culture and other topics with three others who write under pseudonyms, and she also designs merchandise with phrases like “#Newsbae.”