Need to Know: October 16, 2018

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


You might have heard: New data tracks how fast news deserts are spreading (Poynter)

But did you know: About 1,300 U.S. communities have totally lost news coverage (Poynter)

A comprehensive new study released yesterday by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism shows that far more U.S. communities have totally lost news coverage — more than 1,300 — than previously known, writes Tom Stites. About 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States — about 1,800 — have gone out of business or merged since 2004, when about 9,000 were being published. Hundreds more have scaled back coverage so much that they’ve become what the researchers call “ghost newspapers.” Almost all other newspapers still publishing have also scaled back, just less drastically. Meanwhile, online news sites and TV newsrooms are working hard to keep local coverage alive, but aren’t keeping up with the pace at which newspapers are shrinking.

+ Noted: Applications due Oct. 31 for newsrooms to host Report for America corps members, for which RFA pays half their entry-level salaries (Report for America); Stanford scholars launch a data-driven initiative to help journalists find stories at a lower cost (Stanford University); Saudis may admit journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in interrogation by mistake (The New York Times); In wake of Khashoggi disappearance, The New York Times shuts down its Saudi Arabia tours (CNN); Publishers see subscription growth in tests with Amazon Pay (Digiday); LION Executive Director Matt DeRienzo named Vice President of News & Digital Content at Hearst Connecticut Media Group (Hearst)


Can your whole newsroom work together on headlines? (Better News)

Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: The Dallas Morning News dramatically improved headlines — and their performance — by holding “headline rodeos,” daily Slack meetings where editors and journalists workshop headlines that will attract the most readers possible. The #headline-rodeo collaborations drive A/B or multivariate headline tests so the newsroom can see which headlines have the highest click-through rates. In more than 700 headline tests run using Chartbeat, the Morning News has seen an average CTR increase of 45 percent. This post is part of a series on Better News to showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


How newsrooms across the U.S. are public-powering their 2018 elections coverage (Medium, Hearken)

It can be hard for journalists who are deep in the weeds covering government and elections to know what kinds of information and stories voters want and need. Here are four different audience engagement techniques used by newsrooms across the U.S. to improve how they cover elections and serve their audiences: Invite and answer questions from readers (WNYC, for example, invited questions on how readers could be more civically involved); Reshape your voter guide (you don’t have to use the same template every time; The New Tropic and LAist have creative examples); Host events that address voters’ concerns (Austin’s KUT holds candidate forums for local races); and draw in voter voices in creative new ways (Mother Jones, for example, is searching out stories from people who are voting for the first time in the midterm elections).  

+ How ProPublica used a game to tell stories of five immigrants seeking asylum (Global Investigative Journalism Network)


Facebook drove Egypt’s revolution. Now it’s being used as a weapon to oppress women (Wired)

It’s not uncommon for women to turn to Twitter and Facebook to speak out against harassment, particularly in the #MeToo era, writes Rossalyn Warren. But in Egypt, where new legislation targets people guilty of spreading “false news” about the country, reporting or discussing harassment on social media can lead to imprisonment. “Human rights organisations have criticised the Egyptian government’s crackdown on freedom of expression, in what they say has been a shift from arresting opponents and critics in the street, to silencing people on social media,” writes Warren. “Often, Egyptian authorities organise ‘troll armies’ deploying abusive language, threats, and harassment online to bully critics, especially women.”


Help your team understand what data is and isn’t good for (Harvard Business Review)

Data can tell you what is happening, but it can’t tell you why, writes Joel Shapiro. To bring together the what and the why, leaders need to combine data analytics with qualitative approaches, like focus groups and in-depth observation. You also need to consider temporal and other factors that could help explain the “why,” particularly factors that may influence audience behavior. And you need rigorous testing to find the right solution: “The best way to know the effectiveness of a solution is to conduct randomized testing using two similar groups: one that is offered the solution and one that is not,” writes Shapiro. “Data analysis from this experimentation will reveal whether the solution actually solves the problem.”


The first question for journalism: ‘Can you be good?’ (Medium, Heather Bryant)

As an industry, journalism is forever asking for an extension on borrowed trust, writes Heather Bryant. “We lurch from one potential savior of journalism to another. It’s stats and data. Pivot to video. Social media. Events. Podcasts. Newsletters. AI. Blockchain. …None of these things are going to save us.” The thing that will save journalism is people, and the future of journalism depends on how journalists treat them, include them, serve them and invest in them. “Millions of people are watching us, what we say and what we do. Where those two things align and where they diverge. Because what we do, when we do it well, can help them survive. And when we fail, we make survival harder for them and for our industry. So my first question for journalism, before how we scale or innovate or devise a successful business model is … the question that should be required of those with power. Can you be good?”


Chasing leads and herding cats: shaping a new role in the newsroom (ProPublica)

“In this ever-changing industry, new roles are emerging that redefine how we do journalism,” writes Rachel Glickhouse. “At ProPublica, I’ve been part of developing a new role for our newsroom. My title is partner manager, and I lead a large-scale collaboration: Documenting Hate, an investigative project to track and report on hate crimes and bias incidents.” Glickhouse explains how her role forges reporting partnerships, which are a key part of ProPublica’s journalism model. “…We came to think that the collaboration itself was something that needed editing, including recruiting partners, making sure they saw the reporting tips they needed to see, and tracking what partners were publishing.” Glickhouse also drives a more strategic approach to tip-sharing, so that other newsrooms are prepared to take on stories that ProPublica’s journalists can’t. And ProPublica isn’t alone in dedicating resources to partnership roles, writes Glickhouse —  at least 10 other investigative outlets have staffed up to support their collaborations.

+ Earlier: Our strategy study showing how news partnerships work

+ To teach people about climate change, feed them journalism (Columbia Journalism Review); What we know (and don’t) about the impact of solutions journalism (Medium, Lindsay Green-Barber)