Need to Know: November 21, 2018

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


You might have heard: CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination (The Washington Post)

But did you know: President Trump says U.S. stands by Saudi Arabia despite Khashoggi murder (Axios)

President Trump said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. will stand by Saudi Arabia regardless of whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia and MBS will face no repercussions after an assassination some believed would fundamentally change the countries’ relationship. Democrats in Congress have been calling for a re-evaluation of the relationship, but Trump’s position is that security and economic benefits make the relationship too important. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

+ “Trump is doing his best to help the Saudi regime get away with the murder of a U.S. resident and one of the Arab world’s most prominent writers. If the administration continues down this path, it will further destroy whatever is left of America’s moral credibility on global human rights and freedom of expression.” (The Washington Post)

+ Noted: Glamour Magazine to cease regular print publication (The New York  Times); Amazon bids for Disney’s 22 regional sports networks, including YES Network, sources say (CNBC); The Weather Channel plans to forecast football weather in mixed reality (Fortune)


‘Onboarding’ digital subscribers through micropayments (Medium, Global Editors Network)

Micropayments have helped “gently onboard” readers into becoming paying customers, with “pay what you can” memberships or “pay later” functionality that lowers consumer commitment (which can be attractive in a world where readers are bombarded with subscription offers). “Users are willing to pay only for what they consume and they expect a very seamless process with a variety of choices,” says Cosmin Ene, founder and CEO of LaterPay. Frictionless sign-up and payment forms are critical to attracting potential subscribers or single-item purchasers, as well as the option to access quality content first and pay later. “A combination of choice and trust-based models will help publishers succeed in monetizing more users going forward,” says Ene.

+ Quartz’s AI Studio will help journalists use machine learning to report their stories (Quartz)


International coalition to protect press freedoms could have unintended consequences (Poynter)

With the deaths of Jamal Khashoggi and so many other journalists, media unions and publishers are reviving efforts to create a new international legal structure to protect reporters. It’s a laudable cause, writes Tom Kent. But such efforts can have complications that aren’t immediately apparent. One is the cloudiness around the term “journalist” — and the potential to leave unprotected those who don’t fit the sanctioned definition. The other is the potential for making it easier for governments to deny press cards to journalists they deem unfavorable, and for abusing loopholes around reasonable restrictions on media access. “Should the campaign begin to attract significant interest at the U.N., press advocates will need to make certain it doesn’t do more harm than good,” writes Kent.


Fact check: Turkey pardon not a life-saver (Politico)

While presidentially-pardoned turkeys will not end up on a Thanksgiving dinner table, they probably won’t live to see another Thanksgiving, reports Sarah Zimmerman.“Like all other turkeys that are raised for human consumption, they’ve been bred to be plump and tasty, but they grow so big that they are likely to suffer from a variety of health problems that put their lifespan at less than a year,” she writes. Wild turkeys, by comparison, generally live three to five years. “I think we all want to believe that the pardoning ceremony is something of a humane act in that it saves the birds from death and they live out their lives on a beautiful country estate,” Zimmerman said later. “So when I found out that the turkeys actually suffer from a variety of health problems because of the way they’re raised, I knew I had to delve into it more and ruin the holiday festivities.”

+ But there’s a glimmer of hope for the turkeys, as environmentally-conscious Millennials “disrupt” Thanksgiving with their tiny free-range birds (Bloomberg)


Meditations on Axios’s smart brevity longform (Columbia Journalism Review)

Axios’s venture into smart brevity longform launched earlier this year with a morning newsletter called the “Axios AM Deep Dive,” which reads like several Axios articles organized by theme and stacked on top of one another. They offer a “bar stool to bar stool” analysis of a given topic — written in bulleted lists with lots of embedded links to even more Axios articles (also written in bullets) if readers want to “go deeper.” The goal of this streamlined approach is to “make people smarter faster.” But the effect, writes Lyn Lenz, is a “steamrolling of nuance in favor of sounding smart at a cocktail party.”  


Wikipedia’s co-founder wanted to let readers edit the news. What went wrong? (Columbia Journalism Review)

Earlier this month, WikiTribune hit a roadblock. In October, it laid off its entire team of about a dozen professional journalists, part of what the site described as a pivot back towards a community-driven approach. This sparked some concern among WikiTribune fans: had Jimmy Wales given up on his vision of a crowdsourced news site run in partnership with journalists? Wales tells CJR he hasn’t given up, and that the layoffs were part of a strategy to make the site more user driven. In his view, the original design of the site worked against it. Its structure, including restrictions on who could publish news, seemed to give would-be contributors the impression they were second-class citizens of the service — that their job was to submit content that would then be fixed up by professional journalists. That wasn’t the intention at all, he says. “That’s not the wiki way.”

+ The “best local political reporter of his generation”: A eulogy for one of New Orleans’ journalistic legends (Poynter)