Need to Know: November 24, 2021

You might have heard: Everything’s becoming a subscription, and the pandemic is partly to blame (The Washington Post) 

But did you know: Media companies — and media reporters — should make clear to readers what a “subscriber” is (Nieman Lab) 

Subscriptions for digital media are everywhere, but the definition of the word subscriber can vary greatly from publisher to publisher. A subscriber can mean both a customer who pays for a product on a recurring basis, or a person who has signed up for a free product such as a newsletter. For a traditional newspaper, the boundaries are generally clear, but for digital publications that offer both free and paid products, the line is murkier. For instance, political newsletter company Punchbowl News boasted of reaching 100,000 subscribers, but only 3,000 were paid subscribers. Joshua Benton argues that the media should reserve the term subscriber for paying customers, and use specific terms like “newsletter subscriber” for non-paying readers. 

+ Noted: New York Times faces extended ban on Project Veritas coverage (Reuters); Female news presenters must now wear headscarves on screen under new Taliban media rules (CNN); TikTok taps BuzzFeed to produce the first sponsored weekly live shows on the platform (Digiday)

API RESOURCES 

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. 

TRY THIS AT HOME

Smaller group meetings with community members can be more successful (Reynolds Journalism Institute) 

Following its last two events as part of the Reynolds Journalism Institute fellowship, Covering Your Community is building a toolkit for newsrooms looking to build relationships and start conversations. For the first meeting, the group sent out personal invitations and handed out flyers with the hopes of connecting with individuals and encouraging them to attend. When they moved towards a broader reach for the second meeting — via social media, and asking community leaders and teachers to spread the word — they found their efforts less successful. Erin Hooley writes that focusing on smaller groups may be the way forward for establishing and building deeper bonds with community members. 

OFFSHORE

Australian tycoon to help small publishers strike deals with Google, Facebook (Reuters) 

Australia’s richest man, mining tycoon Andrew Forrest, said that his philanthropic organization The Minderoo Foundation will help 18 small publishers strike deals with Google and Facebook. The foundation will apply to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on behalf of the publishers so that they can negotiate as one group without violating competition laws. An Australian law that requires Facebook and Google to pay publishers when they use their content went into effect in March, but many small publishers say they have been unable to negotiate with the tech companies. 

OFFBEAT

Twitter introduces aliases for contributors to its Birdwatch moderation program (The Verge)

In January, Twitter introduced Birdwatch, a moderation tool that crowdsources fact checks of tweets. Now, the platform is allowing fact checkers to post under an alias, a feature that was requested by many contributors, particularly women and Black contributors. Research has shown that aliases have reduced bias by having readers focus more on the fact check than on the person posting it, and helped reduce polarization. Contributors using an alias will have a separate Birdwatch profile page featuring all of their fact checks, but it will not be tied to their Twitter handle.

+ European Parliament to require tech platforms’ messaging apps to be interoperable, and to stop targeting some ads to minors (Bloomberg) 

UP FOR DEBATE

The hedge fund takeover of local news is neither inevitable nor unstoppable (Washington Monthly) 

With Alden Global Capital now likely to acquire newspaper chain Lee Enterprises, Steve Waldman of Report for America argues that there is still hope for local newspapers. He writes that the federal government needs to step in and enforce antitrust laws to ensure that the news industry doesn’t become consolidated into a few large, national corporations. The Department of Justice, he says, should factor in the harm done to communities when local news dwindles or disappears when ruling on a proposed merger. Waldman also suggests that the government offer tax credits to nonprofits that purchase local news outlets. 

SHAREABLE

How fake news on Facebook helped fuel a border crisis in Europe (The New York Times) 

Thousands of refugees from Iraq have camped along the border between Belarus and Poland in recent months, and many were drawn to the border by false reports on Facebook that Poland was planning to let them enter the European Union. Some of the fake posts come from scam artists who claim that they have shepherded Iraqis all the way to Germany via Belarus and Poland, while others are created just to go viral. “No amount of fact-checking would prevent people grasping at straws of hope provided by Facebook,” said Musa Hama, a refugee at the border.

WEEKEND READS

+ A reckoning with the press’ history in the Jim Crow South (Nieman Reports) 

+ What we’re thankful for in journalism (Poynter) 

Editor’s Note: Need to Know will go dark for the Thanksgiving holiday. We’ll see you back here on Monday!