Need to Know: November 19, 2021


The Federal Trade Commission may be cracking down on publishers that allow online sign-ups but require phone calls to cancel subscriptions. In a recent statement, the FTC vowed to enforce existing laws on companies that “trick or trap consumers into subscriptions,” requiring them to provide an option that makes it as easy to cancel a subscription as it is to sign up for one. News outlets are likely to be targets in this crackdown; an API survey found that most news publishers make it difficult for people to cancel subscriptions online. (Nieman Lab) 

This week, newsletter company Substack hit 1 million paying subscribers. The four-year-old company had only 250,000 last December. Several high-profile writers have moved to the platform in the last year, lured by cash advances, higher earnings and editorial freedom. Many of those writers, like former New York Times reporter and conspiracy theorist Alex Berenson, have been deplatformed elsewhere, but make lucrative salaries from their Substack newsletters. (The Financial Times, Wired) 


These are the stories that captured the most interest from Need to Know subscribers this week. 

The Google News Initiative releases its 2021 Impact Report. The report looks at the initiative’s progress in “advancing the practice of quality journalism” in areas like combating misinformation and experimenting with new technology for reporting and storytelling. Other areas in the report include developing and strengthening business models for publishers and expanding DEI efforts around the world. (Google News Initiative) 

Hybrid working and improving diversity remain twin challenges for publishers. The vast majority of newsrooms are implementing or developing plans for hybrid working. However, some worry that this may harm morale or creativity, while others fear that employees who choose to work from the office may receive beneficial treatment over those who work remotely. (Reuters Institute) 

The Seattle Times launches a new ‘Save the Free Press’ website. The website is intended to “inform people about the journalism crisis” and showcase efforts to maintain and rebuild America’s independent media. The site will include resources for educators, as well as ways for interested citizens to help the local journalism crisis. (The Seattle Times) 


These news orgs are building beats from reader donations

 Local news organizations are getting increasingly comfortable with — and adept at — asking their audiences to make a donation to support their journalism. Some have had success asking audiences to support a specific beat or coverage area, including opinion, investigative journalism, religion reporting and solutions journalism. We’ve rounded up several examples here, so that others may copy their efforts. 


+ Inside Felicia Sonmez’s lawsuit against The Washington Post: Why was she punished for speaking up about sexual assault? (New York Magazine) 

+ ​​Focus on audience needs and maximize social for holiday-related content (International News Media Association) 

+ Ethnic media outlets sprout up in news deserts across the country (Axios) 

+ Why do we still care about magazine covers? (Columbia Journalism Review)