Need to Know: November 19, 2020


You might have heard: A crop of startups are trying to make for-profit local news work (Digiday)

But did you know: How national digital networks are transforming local news (Medill Local News Initiative)

News outlets including Axios, ProPublica, The Athletic and Chalkbeat are expanding — or planning to expand — into local media markets. While Axios and The Athletic may end up cutting into local publishers’ audience base, ProPublica and Chalkbeat say they are looking to work with and bolster the existing local journalism, writes Mark Jacob. Some experts say the competition — or collaboration — should push publishers to consider narrowing their focus, giving up on certain subjects like sports. “You might run into a case where five years from now the local paper’s path to survival is to say, ‘No, can’t do sports anymore,’” says Jim Brady, CEO of Spirited Media. Five years from now, he added, legacy media organizations in markets where these topical entrants have become entrenched may have to “stack their chips” on enterprise, investigative and accountability reporting: “Stack on those because that’s probably the thing you’re going to win at.”

+ Noted: Apple is reducing the cut it takes from most news publishers’ subscriptions from 30% to 15% (Nieman Lab)


How the Daily Memphian grew newsletter subscribers to more than 40,000 in fewer than two years (Better News)

To become self-sustaining by the end of 2023, the Daily Memphian needed to maintain 25,000 digital subscribers paying an average of $10/month. They exceeded that goal without flash sales or gimmicky offers, instead focusing on simple ways to get their newsletter offerings in front of readers, and streamlining how readers opt in and manage their email preferences. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from Table Stakes, the newsroom training program; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


Increasing accessibility for digital community conversations (Medium, Cortico)

Earlier this summer, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the nonprofits Public Narrative and Local Voices Network teamed up to host a digital conversation focusing on the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. With some preparation, “Digital events have turned out to be a key to broadening access and possibility,” writes Max Resnik — a silver lining for news organizations that are increasingly experimenting with online events. Zoom offers closed captioning and a “Spotlight Function” that keeps an ASL interpreter’s video enlarged alongside the speaker’s or host’s. ASL interpreters can be found through your local reference librarian. For multilingual gatherings, Zoom also has an interpretation function that allows the conversation to be interpreted or transcribed in real-time.


Australia’s newspaper ownership is among the most concentrated in the world (The Guardian)

An Australian politician’s challenge to the Murdoch news empire prompted a Senate inquiry into the country’s media diversity — and the most recent available data, from a global study in 2011, showed that Australia had the most concentrated newspaper industry out of any country studied, with the exception of China and Egypt. Since then, although there’s been no official update on that research, the country’s media ownership has become more concentrated, particularly with News Corp’s takeover of APN News & Media in 2016. News Corp — Rupert Murdoch’s company — now has more than half of the market at 52%.


Why journalists should resist the urge to persuade or tell a simple story (Nature)

In the midst of an infodemic, many scientists — and journalists — feel they are in an arms race of communications techniques. But research has shown that attempts to persuade audiences can backfire, because they lead people to doubt the communicator’s motivations. In an article for Nature, a group of authors advise fellow scientists, “Scientists whose objectives are perceived as prioritizing persuasion risk losing trust … The media might urge us to aim for memorable sound bites or go beyond the strength of the data: be honest and aware of such traps.” The advice shows how much work the media has to do to change entrenched storytelling habits for calm, clear reporting that conveys complexity, uncertainty and contradictions where they exist.


Why GOP partisans are never coming back to mainstream news (Medium, Nikki Usher)

Misinformation about COVID-19 conspiracies, voter fraud or QAnon — although it may seem ludicrous to those who get their information from mainstream news sites — attracts a surprisingly large audience because it is designed to appear rational and logical, writes Nikki Usher. Often, it comes with all the markings of professional news judgment — appeals to expertise, statistics, either/or framing, and slick and professional news production. And much of it appeals to the now deeply-held conviction of many in the GOP that the Republican Party alone has the best interests of America at heart. Usher argues that attempts at neutrality or giving play to respected GOP commentators won’t win back the most engaged GOP partisans.


News distrust among Black Americans is a fixable problem (Center for Media Engagement)

A new study found that many Black Americans feel news coverage of their communities lacks context, and is one-sided and incomplete. Especially since the protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder last summer, coverage has focused overwhelmingly on police brutality and civil unrest. Journalists need to look for other stories about Black communities, the report’s authors recommend — and when doing stories on crime or unrest, stop overly relying on official government sources.