Need to Know: November 27, 2018

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


You might have heardIn many smaller markets, it’s local TV stations’ websites — not newspapers’ sites — that are the dominant digital local news source (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: To improve local TV news, ABC’s stations are betting on a Localish brand and community-level hires (Nieman Lab)

Despite enjoying higher levels of audience trust and profitability than newspapers and digital news outlets, local TV stations have lagged when it comes to digital innovation. “Many are still happy to publish segment scripts as web stories, post video straight from their newscasts, and otherwise do little to note that digital as a medium has different demands than Eyewitness News Live at 11,” writes Christine Schmidt. But now, ABC — which owns its local affiliates in 6 of the 8 largest media markets — is making moves to prepare for a world less reliant on broadcast towers and cable bundles. The company is betting on both people and platforms for its local coverage. It’s kicking off a digital-first brand focused on sourcing local content for national audiences called Localish, with a spread of shows — with funding via the embattled Facebook Watch — focusing on “the good in America’s cities.” On top of that, it will onboard and embed dozens of new local journalists in communities instead of markets, with reporters moving up markets every few years.

+ Noted: Facebook’s YouTube competitor Watch is pivoting to older audiences as teens tune out and publishers balk (CNBC); 42 — and counting — journalism awards to apply for (Poynter); The Washington Post has launched a new, 20-minute daily news podcast (Digiday); The group behind the Panama Papers has a new investigation: unregulated medical devices (Poynter)


How recasting the ‘online producer’ job helped the Miami Herald focus on audience and mission (Better News)

The Miami Herald rewrote job descriptions for online producers — turning their role into “growth editors” — and empowered them to work with editors and reporters to focus on audience in assigning, reporting and producing stories. “In reviewing the readership of our stories, we realized we were writing many from muscle memory — go to a meeting, write a story — with little thought to how it served an audience, what that audience was or could be, or whether there was an audience at all,” wrote Mindy Marquez and Rick Hirsch. Armed with a formal checklist to evaluate stories on audience and mission, growth editors were put in charge of daily story meetings, which are focused on what’s publishing to the digital platforms, which audience they target, when they should publish and which elements are (or should be) part of the storytelling experience. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


How partnerships bolster accountability journalism (CT Post)

More scrutiny equals better government: According to a study published earlier this year, when towns lose local reporting, government officials are more likely to enter into expensive or inefficient financial contracts — the cost of which is eventually passed on to taxpayers. To improve accountability journalism and boost statehouse coverage in Connecticut, Hearst’s Connecticut newspapers are partnering with and The partnership will cover the day-to-day news out of the General Assembly and state government, which “will free our team to look in places where no one else is looking and go deeper into the most vital issues facing our state,” writes Matt DiRienzo, vice president of news and digital content for Hearst Connecticut Media.

+ Related: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and The Caucus join forces to cover Harrisburg state capitol (; How The Texas Tribune made statehouse coverage sustainable (Medium, Global Editors Network)

+ Earlier: Our comprehensive strategy study about how news partnerships work


The media industry and the ‘Make-Google-pay’ fantasy (Medium, Monday Note)

Lobbying the EU on the “link tax” — proposed legislation that would give publishers a cut of the money Google makes from displaying links and snippets to publisher websites on its search pages — could backfire, writes Frederic Filloux. By pushing for the tax, publishers are shooting themselves in the foot three times over: One, there is a tangible risk that Google will opt to shut down Google News in the EU and de-index news content altogether (which it has already done in Spain, and where, predictably, traffic to news sites has plummeted). “Two, the optics will look terrible: By persisting to collect a small revenue from snippets, publishers will seem to wage a rearguard battle. Three, the news publishing world has more appealing options when it comes to working with Google at improving the economics of their ecosystem. The search giant is already investing hundreds of millions of dollars for technologies that could directly, or indirectly, benefit the news media. So far, publishers haven’t used the full extent of it.”  

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


Backlinks: the good, the bad, and the best (Alexa Blog)

Acquiring backlinks is an essential part of an effective SEO plan. Links tell search engines that a site is recognized, trusted, and, therefore, worthy of a top spot on search engine results pages (SERPs). But it’s not just the number of backlinks that appeals to search engines; it’s also the types of backlinks. Depending on the link type, backlinks have varying levels of influence on search engine rankings and on the results you can see from acquiring them. Three main factors that impact link value include the authority of the linking site; “do follow” HTML code, which tells search engines to give SEO value to the link; and link location, with the main body content of a site being the best location.


Should the First Amendment apply to Facebook? It’s complicated. (Recode)

Facebook is not a part of the government. That means, unlike an American government body that has to abide by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it can kick off users who violate its rules. However, says First Amendment scholar Jameel Jaffer, we should have a discussion about that power and whether Facebook should be able to decide who gets to speak. “The First Amendment is concerned principally with government power, but we resisted the centralization of control over the public square in the government because we didn’t like the idea of centralization of that kind of power,” Jaffer said on a recent Recode podcast episode. “Maybe we should resist the idea of centralizing power in the social media companies for the same reason.”


Digging deep into local news, a small newspaper in rural Oregon is thriving (NPR)

The Malheur Enterprise was founded in 1909, and, like many other newspapers, was languishing. But in the past few years, its circulation has surged and it has won several national awards. Perhaps surprisingly, the weekly paper’s turnaround and increased popularity happened in a part of the state that strongly supports President Trump, who continues to lash out at the media. One reason is Les Zaitz, the paper’s editor and publisher, as well as award-winning investigative journalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. When Zaitz purchased the Enterprise, the paper was almost out of business, and filled with gossip and press releases. “It wasn’t delivering much in the way of real local news,” Zaitz says. Under his leadership, the paper has won a prestigious investigative journalism award, expanded its editorial staff with aid from ProPublica, and worked to regain the trust of a local audience that has largely absorbed the president’s dislike of mainstream media. “Rather than worrying about what’s going on in journalism at the national level,” Zaitz says, “let’s turn the periscope around and let’s rebuild from the small guy up. And I think that’s going to have more influence in the long run.”

+ When you donate to the causes you care about on #GivingTuesday, remember the journalists who cover them (Medium, Josh Stearns)