Need to Know: November 9, 2021


You might have heard: Google Assistant no longer offers “Your News Update” audio digests (9to5Mac)

But did you know: The dream of customized audio news isn’t working out (at least not yet) (Nieman Lab)

Google’s Your News Update — designed to help Google compete with Amazon’s smart speaker — never gained much of an audience. It was meant to be an algorithmically curated mix of audio news from various publishers — like a personal radio station, but one users could control by skipping stories, going back, or even diving further into individual topics. Google’s failure shows how difficult it is to crack the audio discovery nut, writes Joshua Benton. Most news stories are short, requiring the user to make more decisions more often to get the best out of a feature like Your News Update. If Google “couldn’t figure out a way to assemble the sort of audio news packages that users want” writes Benton, “that’s a decent sign that we have a lot more hard thinking left to do.”

+ Noted: New York Times’ Wirecutter writers plan strike around Black Friday (Bloomberg)


How newsrooms can do less work — but have more impact

Most news organizations have a fraction of the staff and resources they once had, and burnout remains a major problem across the industry. So newsrooms need to get smarter about prioritizing the work that really matters — and letting go of the rest. Here’s a simple framework for cutting back on stories and other types of work that aren’t serving audiences or driving revenue.


A guide to fact-checking investigative stories (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

Journalists working on an investigative story should have three fact-checking “checkpoints,” writes Nils Hanson. The first one should occur very early in the process, after the pre-research on the story idea. Colleagues can play devil’s advocate, challenging the story’s central hypothesis — what needs to be investigated and why. Another checkpoint occurs after the first draft is ready, with the journalists and editors asking themselves a series of questions about the story’s fairness, completeness, and the conclusions it draws. Finally, the third checkpoint is the point at which the line-by-line edit occurs. A collaborative meeting is helpful here. “This process will inevitably reveal mistakes, which could have seriously damaged the credibility of the story and yourself as an investigative reporter,” writes Hanson. “And even more important: It could have led to unjustified damage to the subject of the investigation.”


The BBC’s annual license fee could be frozen for two years (Deadline)

Anticipating a sharp rise in inflation, the U.K. government appears set to place a two-year freeze on the annual license fee its citizens pay to the BBC. The fee makes up the bulk of the BBC’s revenue. The BBC has warned that it will struggle to cover rising programming costs if the license fee doesn’t keep up with inflation. The cost of some of the BBC’s biggest series has doubled and drama costs have increased by around 35%, the broadcaster revealed in July. The anticipated funding blow comes as the BBC is trying to improve diversity in its coverage and make more of its shows out of London, both of which require investment.

+ A new report provides key lessons for the digital native media sector based on interviews with 200 outlets in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia (Twitter, @luminategroup)


In a community of practice, make space for practice (Medium, Gather)

More news organizations these days are engaging their audiences by actively involving them in the practice of journalism. That could be via community editorial boards, where members contribute op-eds and editorial feedback; or via a setup like that of City Bureau, which trains and pays individuals to document local government meetings and other civic events. These “communities of practice” get to the heart of journalism’s mission, writes Max Resnik — “to change neighbors, people living in proximity in a city or region, into a community with a passion for learning … how to engage with more skill in the civic process.”

+ Earlier: How the Long Beach Post’s community editorial board provides more than opinion (American Press Institute)

+ Why Paper magazine’s owner required employees to come back into the office (Digiday)


Should journalists and news organizations disclose their points of view? (PressThink)

A project from New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute has students collecting statements from individual journalists and news organizations that offer “viewpoint transparency.” Making a “here’s where I’m coming from” statement can help build public trust in journalism — it abandons the notion of neutrality but honestly acknowledges all the motivations and influences behind someone’s reporting, writes Jay Rosen. The “Coming From Project” holds up the best examples of this, in an effort to encourage others to write their own statements.


This newspaper is cutting back on print and training readers to use iPads instead. Will it work? (The Washington Post)

Following the example of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which had success with this experiment in 2018, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is attempting to persuade print subscribers to switch to digital by giving them free iPads and training them to access the digital newspaper. The Times Free Press will end print delivery next year, with the exception of the Sunday paper. WEHCO, parent company of the Chattanooga Times Free Press (and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette), will spend about $4.4 million on the iPads and another $1.7 million for training readers and marketing. The goal is to retain loyal subscribers, many of whom tend to be elderly. “Many of these readers have been reading the newspaper for decades,” said Alison Gerber, editor of the Times Free Press, “and the whole idea is to allow them to continue to read the newspaper with the same feel.”