Need to Know: Nov. 21, 2019


You might have heard: With the official merger of Gannett and GateHouse, the nation’s largest newspaper company was born on 4:10 p.m. Tuesday (New York Times); Also on Tuesday, Tribune’s largest shareholder Michael Ferro announced that he had sold his 25% stake in the company to the hedge fund Alden Capital (Chicago Tribune)

But did you know: Why this week is a ‘major turning point’ for America’s daily newspapers (CNN)

The events this week usher in a new set of financial players in the news business, writes Brian Stelter. The New Gannett is controlled by PE Fortress Investment Group. McClatchy — which announced last week that its financial obligations in 2020 will far exceed its revenues, potentially forcing a sale or bankruptcy — is controlled by its largest shareholder Chatham Asset Management. And now Tribune is a quarter-owned by Alden Capital, the hedge fund infamous for gutting newsrooms to squeeze profits. “At a time when local news is needed more than ever, it is the bankers who are deciding what will be defined as news, and who will be employed to report it,” says Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor.

+ “Is there a better time than today to familiarize readers with our struggles?” Jon Harris, a business reporter at the Tribune-owned Morning Call, pointed to a Knight Foundation study released earlier this week that showed that, if made aware of local news organizations’ financial distress, Americans would be more willing to support them. (Twitter, @ByJonHarris)

+ Noted: Seven Chicago newsrooms launch examination of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first year (Institute for Nonprofit News); The New York Times is dropping most of its social media trackers — “moving away from tracking analytics on people and towards tracking analytics on stories” (Axios)


How might we reimagine opinion journalism for our digital, polarized age? Reflections from news leaders

Newspaper opinion sections can be polarizing — and in an age of fragile trust in local news, many newsrooms are unwilling to risk driving away readers. In a new essay collection, we look at three innovative ways newsrooms are reimagining opinion journalism, turning it into a platform (in the digital and physical sense) that engages readers in inclusive, civil debate on local issues.


What PolitiFact learned about making money and earning trust (Medium, Trusting News)

Trusting News ran some A/B tests on PolitiFact’s weekly newsletter to find out whether trust-building language would ultimately lead to more donations from readers. The answer was a clear yes. Switching from the original phrasing above the newsletter’s donate button — “These newsletters don’t write themselves” — to language that emphasized the value PolitiFact brings to readers, led to more clicks, more donations and higher donations. The trust-building language included phrases like “Our fact-checks disrupt the agendas of politicians across the ideological spectrum. Support the truth today” — and “We follow the facts and share what we learn so you can make your own decisions. Support our mission today.” Trusting News also found that “behind-the-scenes” language that brought transparency to aspects of PolitiFact’s business and its newsroom processes led to higher Net Promoter Scores from readers.

+ The key to making collaborations work? “You have to want to be there.” (Medium, Trust, Media & Democracy)


How Reuters is building a marketplace for video-hungry publishers (Digiday)

On Tuesday, Reuters announced that it was adding seven major news organizations from around the world to Reuters Connect, a B2B content marketplace for news publishers that features content from partners including the BBC, CNN and The Guardian. Partner revenue from Connect is up 360% year over year, said Sue Brooks, managing director of Reuters’ product and agency, while Reuters’ overall revenue from the platform is up 50%. Reuters is hoping to distinguish Connect from similar platforms by providing services that make it easier for news organizations to make more content, such as a freelancer network that will help producers find talent on the ground in foreign countries.


Sports Illustrated’s new bosses defend why they bought a brand and not a company (Vox)

Speaking in Los Angeles, Maven Media founder and CEO James Heckman said Sports Illustrated has a “1986 business model” — but he’s banking on its venerable brand to help usher it into a new era. Maven purchased Sports Illustrated earlier this year and promptly laid off nearly 40% of its editorial staff. Now, Heckman says, they’re “bringing in specialists — team, fantasy, gambling, backpacking. That’s the model of the future.” Heckman also described the role of content creators who will make up for the pared-down editorial staff. They will operate like franchises, he said, and rather than be paid a salary, earn a portion of Sports Illustrated’s ad revenue based on the traffic they attract.


There are a gazillion new impeachment podcasts. Smart strategy or a blind stab at relevance? (Nieman Lab)

The raft of new impeachment podcasts is a testament to American publishers’ conviction that there is an audience eager for in-depth impeachment news, writes Nicholas Quah. To some extent, that’s backed up by data — a recent ABC/Ipsos poll showed that 58% of Americans said they are following the impeachment story closely, with 21% following “very closely.” But publishers — particularly those who are cultivating a podcast audience for the first time — need to think about how much of that audience would be willing to switch to a new platform to follow that story. “My personal product-oriented take is that there’s probably more to gain in implementing shorter impeachment-centered tracking segments within a core daily news podcast’s episode build than in building out longer standalone experiences,” writes Quah. “If you don’t have a pre-existing daily news podcast or general audio operation…well, I understand the impulse, but I wouldn’t recommend starting with an impeachment podcast.”


Americans favor mobile devices over desktops and laptops for getting news (Pew Research Center)

Americans continue to be more likely to get news through mobile devices than through desktop or laptop computers. Roughly six-in-ten U.S. adults (57%) often get news this way, compared with 30% who often do so on a desktop or laptop computer, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. Most Americans (82%) get news online at least sometimes. The survey also found that it’s not just younger Americans who are driving the use of mobile for news — Americans 65 and older have driven some of the sharpest growth in this area in recent years.