Need to Know: November 11, 2020


You might have heard: Nonprofit ownership may be an answer to the crisis facing local newspapers (GHB)

But did you know: How a crop of startups are trying to make for-profit local news work (Digiday)

A new crop of media executives sees for-profit local news as a space with potential, and audiences “begging for news.” Jim VandeHei of Axios, which is launching four local newsletters next year, says the key is “to go in relatively small with clear-eyed expectations.” He told Digiday that they expect to be able to assess the success of the newsletters quickly, and that success in one city will probably indicate success elsewhere. Meanwhile David Plotz, formerly of Atlas Obscura, is launching a network of local news podcasts that will be hosted by local journalists. His plan is to pool ads between the podcasts to sell a larger audience to national advertisers.

+ Noted: Military Veterans in Journalism announces a $250,000 investment from the Knight Foundation (Poynter); Deadline to start a new ONA Local group is Friday, Nov. 20 (Twitter, @ONA); Local Legal Initiative in Oklahoma expands legal support for local investigative and enterprise journalism (RCFP); Reuters launches new business line aimed at professionals (Axios); L.A. Times and Tribune agree to settle pay-disparity lawsuit for $3 million (Los Angeles Times)


Why the Philadelphia Inquirer is investing in service journalism

We spoke with Megan Griffith-Greene, service features editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, about why the Inquirer is expanding its service desk and how it has shaped reporting from across the newsroom. The two main goals for the desk, Griffith-Greene says, are creating stories that are both actionable and accessible. Actionable stories enable readers to take specific actions based on the information they’re given; accessibility refers to making stories easy to read, understand and remember.


ProPublica experiments with ultra-accessible plain language in stories about people with disabilities (Nieman Lab)

For ProPublica’s recent piece about the Arizona’s Division of Developmental Disabilities, it decided to publish four versions of the story — English, Spanish, audio and plain language. The plain language was written in short sentences, using common words and a clear structure, to allow people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to read the piece. The plain language version was written by Becca Monteleone, a professor of disability studies at the University of Toledo, and is believed to be the first of its type in a mainstream publication. The reporters emphasized that the version was written with the help of experts who know how to carefully and inclusively write in plain language, rather than simply “dumbing it down.”


‘In digital, the right-wing material is 24/7’: How Sky News quietly became Australia’s biggest news channel on social media (Business Insider)

While conservative, Fox News-style television channel Sky News Australia isn’t catching on in Australia, the brand’s online operation has made it one of the most popular digital outlets in the country. Its viewership on YouTube trumps other news organizations in the country, and its Facebook posts have been shared more than the top five traditional news outlets combined — all in its first year of existence. The channel’s success online came after it began focusing on longer, opinion-oriented pieces, which were often cross-posted across other News Corporation websites. Part of the brand’s success has come from targeting a global audience, with many of its most popular videos focusing on U.S. politics.

+ Why Canada’s media industry is in more danger than you think — and what we can do to save it (The Star)


In a relentless news cycle, social media managers are feeling the weight (Medium, OneZero)

As social media has become more toxic or overwhelming for many users, social media managers have struggled. Managing social media accounts, whether for a brand or a newsroom, means trying to push a cohesive narrative while staying up to date on all relevant news, all while being exposed to harassment and abuse. Managing social media often means crafting and maintaining the public image and voice of a company, but corporations often view social media management as low-level and simple (and pay accordingly). And with the never-ending news cycles of politics and COVID-19, social media managers are burning out.


Journalists can benefit by thinking for themselves in an age of polling (ProPublica)

In the wake of the presidential election, the inaccuracy of polls is once again a hot topic. But ProPublica editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg argues that the real lesson of 2020, and 2016, is not an overreliance on polls specifically, but too much confidence in predicting the future, by any means. He admits that his own publication failed to investigate stories surrounding President Trump in the summer of 2016, confident that he would lose the election. He also cites the example of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, in which many media outlets immediately assumed the culprits were Islamic terrorists and made reporting decisions accordingly, while one small newsroom, Inter Press, avoided the groupthink and correctly reported on suspicions that the attack was perpetrated by far-right domestic terrorists.

+ Related: One pollster’s explanation for why the polls got it wrong: “The kind of people who answer polls are really weird, and it’s ruining polling” (Vox)


Turns out there are a few things about obituaries that need rethinking (Poynter)

Obituaries are a staple of local newspapers, and have become one of the few reliable sources of income as ad revenues have shrunk. But, Kristen Hare writes, by charging for obits, papers are leaving people out; she found that most lengthy obituaries are written about white men. One option is for news outlets to view obits as a public service, and perhaps ask for donations rather than charge an up-front fee. Or, newspapers could hire freelance journalists and charge an additional fee for a professional obit. “That doesn’t help with my first question about equity and inclusion, I know,” writes Hare. “But it might help put some people back to work.”