Need to Know: November 17, 2020


You might have heard: Pandemic spurs journalists to go it alone via email (Axios) 

But did you know: Did a newsletter company create a more equitable media system — or replicate the flaws of the old one? (Columbia Journalism Review)

Since Substack launched in 2017, it’s become shorthand for paid newsletters written by independent journalists, which many see as a viable way forward for high-quality news. But Clio Chang points out that the most successful newsletter writers on the platform are often those who succeeded in a more traditional media environment. As a result, many are white and male. While Substack doesn’t consider itself a publisher, the company does award money — in the form of grants, loans and fellowships — and actively recruits writers it believes would bring a strong following. Many independent writers are finding it difficult to earn a living with a newsletter if they hadn’t previously built up a reader base in traditional media.

+ Noted: SquareSpace introduces option for exclusive paid newsletters, podcasts, and videos (SquareSpace)


7 ways to get your COVID-19 reporting to those who need it

How can you make sure essential information is getting to those who need it most — particularly those who don’t regularly turn to you for news? Fiona Morgan outlines several creative tactics for reaching vulnerable audiences in a physically-distanced world, including sending your reporting to community stakeholders, joining local groups on Facebook or Nextdoor, and partnering with local radio stations.


USA Today explains how it investigated claims of voter fraud (USA Today)

As the Trump administration continues to contest the presidential election with unsupported claims of voter fraud, USA Today’s editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll explains in detail how the news outlet has investigated these claims. Assuring readers that the paper will “always look into credible accusations of serious wrongdoing,” editors from USA Today walk readers through various lawsuits related to the election results, explaining that judges reviewed and dismissed cases in several states. The piece also addresses various untrue claims about voter fraud and asserts its commitment to rooting out fraud and holding the powerful accountable, “no matter who is in power.”


British community journalism project uses collaborative storytelling to highlight the plight of insecure work (

National British tabloid The Daily Mirror is teaming up with Bureau Local, a collaborative news network in the U.K., to launch “Is Work Working?”, a project focusing on unstable and gig work. The organizations will host a series of online events and workshops to help people with insecure work to tell their own stories. Those that move forward in the editorial process will be paid for their time as freelancers. The best stories will be published in 2021.


‘Federal court records must be free and accessible to all’ (New York Daily News)

While federal executive and legislative documents are available to the public for free, most judicial documents are only available for a cost through PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, the online database for court documents. The New York Daily News’ editorial board argues that the fees — including 10 cents per page for many documents — do a disservice to the public, including researchers and journalists examining the criminal justice system. A federal appeals court in August ruled that the fees were too high, saying that they impeded the public’s ability “to participate in and serve as a check upon the judicial process.”

+ Earlier: Is PACER a “judicially approved scam”? (Politico)


Two paths forward for the American press (PressThink)

In the wake of the presidential election, many people have wondered if the end of the “Trump Bump” will be bad for the media business. But, Jay Rosen writes, the real concern may be whether the return to “regular order” will only mean returning to old cliches and simplistic “both-sidesism.” Even when Dean Baquet, the New York Times’ executive editor, said that he hoped fact-checkers would be “just as aggressive” with President Biden as President Trump, he conceded that it was unlikely that a Democrtic White House would warrant such rigorous fact-checking. Going forward, Rosen says the press should learn from its successes on election night, when it cut away from President Trump’s lies, and “find a way to become pro-truth, pro-voting, and aggressively pro-democracy.”

+ After terrorist attacks, France’s leader accuses the English-language media of “legitimizing this violence” (The New York Times)


‘The format is secondary’: How Reuters Events will drive global and local engagement on- and off-line (Digiday)

When Reuters launched its events division in October 2019, it began planning 70 in-person industry conferences in 2020. After COVID-19 hit, the company pivoted to a virtual format, and has since maintained high engagement for its 62 online events. Focusing heavily on customer satisfaction, the company’s marketing team has spent thousands of hours deducing what topics are most appealing to its audience. Events range from massive, multi-day affairs, like its Reuters Next conference which focuses on business leadership, to hyper-niche industry events, like the U.S Offshore Wind conference. In 2021, Reuters intends to roll out a hybrid model that will include regional networking alongside virtual events.