Need to Know: Nov. 25, 2019

You might have heard: Apple News, Facebook, Google, SmartNews: More tech platforms are starting to pay publishers for their content (Digiday)

But did you know: ‘Any hope that scale-based platform products might deliver meaningful or consistent revenue for publishers has disappeared’ (Columbia Journalism Review)

A new report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism on the evolving relationship between tech platforms and publishers has marked 2018 as “the end of an era.” Moving into 2019, publishers are no longer willing to overhaul parts of their business to fall in line with platform maneuvers, write the authors. “Last year, we observed strong signals that publishers were looking to bring audiences back to their own properties over ‘social-first’ publishing. In 2019, the trend gained momentum. Many publishers interviewed openly regretted focusing on brand-diluting social content during the scale era, at the expense of undervaluing their core audiences, and have subsequently recommitted to serving their most loyal readers.”

+ Related: “The days when publishers would whip up new content for an unproven platform product are over. Just ask Google.” (Digiday)

+ Noted: Bloomberg editor-in-chief explains how the outlet will cover 2020 race with Michael Bloomberg as candidate (CNN)


Strategy study: How to build a metrics-savvy newsroom

Journalists who are afraid that metrics will be used against them in staffing decisions are probably not going to make great use of that data. In this strategy study, Betsy O’Donovan and Melody Kramer look at ways newsrooms are changing their culture to make audience analytics feel like less of a report card on individual journalists’ performance, and more of an opportunity to experiment and learn.


How WhereBy.Us enables staff across the company to do their own user research (Medium, WhereBy.Us)

WhereBy.Us has five geographically-dispersed newsrooms, supported by central product, sales and growth teams. Looking to get better audience data for each of its locations, the product team created documentation that empowers staff members “on the ground” to design and conduct their own user research projects. “User research doesn’t have to be something only handled within a single team — we think it’s better for this work and the insights from it to be shared across the company,” writes Carolyn Gearig. Gearig is offering up their five-step workflow document so other news orgs can adapt it to their needs.


South Korea’s investigative newsroom Newstapa pioneers a new model in East Asia (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

Newstapa was founded in 2012 by a group of veteran journalists looking for greater editorial independence than mainstream Korean news outlets typically enjoy. As a startup, the nonprofit tapped into many Koreans’ concern over press freedom in the country, which had plunged during the conservative administrations of former presidents Park Chung-hee and Lee Myung-bak. Its donations-based model helped it establish a paying audience; today, the member-supported nonprofit offers a blend of broadcasting and documentary-making that is unique in Korea’s largely conservative media landscape.


Journalists-turned-entrepreneurs on how they built their businesses (Nieman Reports)

The bleak job market and unsustainable business models of legacy news orgs has many journalists looking to branch out on their own. Between 2008 and 2017, American and Canadian entrepreneurs launched on average two media startups a month, according to researcher Michele McLellan, who tracks independent online local news outlets with support from the Reynolds Journalism Institute. But few of those young companies end up surviving. “The misconception [among some business creators] is that they need to start really big and aim for some giant community or audience or big group,” says Jeremy Caplan, who worked with startup founders for years at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York. “What we really need to do is be much more lean-startup oriented, much more nimble and small, and run little experiments.”


‘Scale is the enemy of all our perceived fixes to what ails the news’ (Twitter, @jeremylittau)

“When we talk about saving local news, the real problem is that we are trying to save it at scale,” writes Jeremy Littau. In today’s media environment, newspapers simply cannot recoup the audiences they used to have — and the attempt to do so is hurting them even more, he argues. “One of the problems with the big chains like McClatchy is they’re desperately trying to find a business model that works but also maintains the scale needed to support a large news org and the debt/pension obligations they have. In a world of abundance, unless you’re a big national brand like WaPo or the NYT, niche is your competitive edge. There is revenue there, but the minute you start trying to scale you’re adding topics or coverage areas that drain resources from the core. It’s mission creep.”

PQ: “Small newsrooms, hyperfocused on meeting a specific community need are the future. Trying to be general interest in a world of abundance is a fool’s errand.” JL

+ Earlier: How to figure out your news org’s “Dunbar number,” or the number of readers who feel you are part of their community and are willing to invest their time or money with you (Local News Lab); What “1,000 true fans” means for today’s journalism startups (Phillip Smith)


How to ensure corrections reach a broad readership in the digital age (Toronto Star)

Corrections are integral to earning reader trust. They serve the public record and are part of news organizations’ “most basic contract with readers,” writes Kathy English, The Star’s public editor. But in a digital age, when news and information spread so rapidly on social media channels, how can news outlets ensure that corrections reach the same people who saw the original story? At Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism, a small team is working to develop digital tools and protocols that will help journalists reach the widest possible audiences with their corrections when inaccurate information is published. The project is built around reader participation in the corrections process — essentially by asking those who shared an article containing inaccurate information to also share the subsequent correction.

+ Earlier: Most Americans want journalists to use social media to do fact-checking — and not express their opinions (Gallup)