Need to Know: November 19, 2018

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


You might have heard: The newspaper industry generates an estimated $18 billion to 20 billion in annual revenue today, down from about $55 billion at its height (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: New business models no longer rely on large profits or staff sizes (International Journalists’ Network)

As local newspapers shrink — or, in some areas, disappear completely — many nonprofit and for-profit journalism outlets have sprung up to fill the gaps in local news coverage. But using the standard industry metrics, their efforts don’t appear sufficient to replace what has been lost. Entire communities are losing news coverage of any kind, a pillar of democratic institutions. “However, some of the old industry metrics for media organizations — total revenues, number of employees — are not relevant for digital media,” argues James Breiner. “The future of journalism lies with the nimble, agile business models that are emerging based on low-cost digital production and distribution technologies, highly focused niche content, and a focus on users rather than advertisers. Among outstanding examples are and ElConfidencial in Spain, Animal Politico in Mexico, and Texas Tribune in the U.S.”

+ Noted: Applications are now available for the 2019 classes of Poynter’s Leadership Academies for Women in Digital Media and ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator (Poynter); Firm that worked for Facebook tried to plant story alleging liberal bias at Apple News (CNN); Facebook gives £4.5m to fund 80 local newspaper jobs in UK (The Guardian)


How volunteer coders helped City Bureau make Chicago’s public meetings more accessible (Lenfest Institute)

City Bureau’s Documenters program, which pays community members to attend and take notes on Chicago city meetings, relies on knowing when and where those meetings are happening — information that couldn’t be found in one central location. So the nonprofit brought in about 40 volunteer developers with varying skill sets to build a new tool that scrapes government websites to compile a comprehensive list of public meetings. The offshooting program and tool, called City Scrapers, enabled City Bureau to create an important product for its newsroom, but it also provided training opportunities for Chicagoans and a non-monetary way for people to contribute to the nonprofit. And it yielded a complete guide for other newsrooms to set up their own scrapers program. “Programs like City Scrapers can empower people to feel connected to their favorite news orgs in ways beyond just financial contributions,” writes Joseph Lichterman.

+ Related: Before communities can invest in news, newsrooms must invest in communities (Membership Puzzle Project)


Google News may shut down over EU plans to charge tax for links (The Guardian)

Google’s top news executive has refused to rule out shutting down Google News in EU countries, as the search engine faces a battle with Brussels over plans to charge a “link tax” for using news stories. Richard Gingras, the search engine’s vice president of news, said while “it’s not desirable to shut down services” the company was deeply concerned about the current proposals, which are designed to compensate struggling news publishers if snippets of their articles appear in search results. He told the Guardian that the future of Google News could depend on whether the EU was willing to alter the phrasing of the legislation. “We can’t make a decision until we see the final language,” he said.


People-powered fundraising (Medium, Burgess Brown)

The New York-based Laundromat Project, which hosts community programs in spaces like laundromats and public libraries, depends on its network of former participants for its yearly fundraising campaign called the People-Powered Challenge. Participants sign up as fundraisers and then reach out to their own networks to meet personal fundraising goals. The Challenge serves to expand the Laundromat community, but more importantly it lays the groundwork for independently sustaining it, says executive director Kemi Ilesanmi. For Ilesanmi, the People-Powered Challenge is an opportunity to rewrite traditional funding and philanthropy narratives. While the Laundromat Project has an extensive list of foundations that support their work, the Challenge serves a key purpose each year. “It’s a small portion of our budget but it’s incredibly important from a symbolic standpoint,” said Ilesanmi. “As an organization we want to be even more people powered. We want to be able to rely on our own community.”


What a fake newsstand tells us about reader responsibility (Columbia Journalism Review)

In an experiment to compel people to take more responsibility for the news they consume, the Columbia Journalism Review set up a newsstand in the middle of New York City, fanned out print publications bearing fake headlines pulled from the internet, and sat back to see what would happen. “It was notable how many people slowed down, read the ridiculous headlines, and kept walking, assuming they were real,” writes Kyle Pope. “That was an unexpected, but telling, commentary on the news environment we live in.” The project was fueled by the CJR staff’s frustration with the sheer volume of fake news and tech companies’ apparent inability (or unwillingness) to check its spread. “…The onus has to be on our audience to take some responsibility for what they watch and read,” writes Pope. “Our readers, watchers, and listeners have to be the first line of misinformation defense.”

+ Related: Education and attitude matter when detecting fake news headlines (News Co/Lab)


Lessons from the Guardian’s membership strategy, three years on (

Since 2016, the Guardian has grown from 15,000 members to over 570,000 regular paying supporters, members and subscribers in June 2018. Readers are able to lend support to a series or reporting endeavour, or even support as part of a patron scheme, and some loyal readers have even left the publisher money in their will as “legacy contributions.” How have they made their membership scheme so successful, and what lessons can they pass on to other publishers contemplating memberships? Start by asking people to support your purpose, said Amanda Michel, the Guardian’s global contributions director. “Learning to ask is about trying to narrate what you’re trying to do and why.” She noted that many publishers think they need to offer potential members something — tote bags, books, or experiences, but “we learned from our readers that those sorts of things didn’t matter.” Making it easy and intuitive to contribute, particularly when readers must decide how much, how often and how to pay, has also been a huge factor in their success — “We have gotten obsessive over the process, to try to make it as intuitive as possible,” said Michel.

+ Related: Six questions you should ask yourself before launching a membership model (Medium, European Journalism Center)

+ BuzzFeed will tell you what millennials want, for a fee (Bloomberg)