Need to Know: October 17, 2018

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


You might have heard: Plan to fix journalism with cryptocurrency draws skepticism, as startup Civil Media falls short of its funding goal in token sale (The Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: What’s next after Civil’s token sale failure (Nieman Lab)

“It was clear — definitely by midnight last night, but also in the days and weeks leading up to yesterday — that journalism blockchain platform Civil’s initial coin offering, in which it aimed to raise $8 million, was not going to work,” writes Laura Hazard Owen. “Civil ended up raising about $1.4 million, and around three-quarters of that was acquired by ConsenSys, Civil’s seed investor.” The main issue seems to have been the difficult process of actually buying the tokens, and CEO Matthew Iles has promised that a “new, much simpler token sale is in the works” for the organization’s next attempt. Individual buyers can opt into this new sale or request a refund. The 14 newsrooms that received seed funding from Civil will keep running for now, reports Owen.  

+ “It’s not enough to tell people that you’re going to save journalism. Especially if you are trying to sell the idea that the key to salvation is a complicated thing like blockchain.” (Twitter, @GeorgDahm); “…Keep in mind that this the first consumer-facing thing being built on blockchain — damned hard to be first, and damned hard to experiment in the open.” (Twitter, @SashaK)

+ Noted: Veteran newspaper editor Nancy Barnes named NPR’s top news executive (NPR); Facebook to ban misinformation on voting in upcoming U.S. elections (Reuters); Advertisers allege Facebook failed to disclose key metric error for more than a year (The Wall Street Journal); PEN America files lawsuit against President Trump, alleging stifling of free speech (PEN America)


How to get the email addresses you need to drive subscriptions

The latest addition to API’s Reader Revenue Toolkit looks at proven tactics and best practices for persuading readers to provide their email addresses and ultimately pay for content. Having email addresses allows for more personal, direct interactions between readers and publishers; and it’s also an easy method to tailor, test and track. Some of the approaches discussed here include asking readers to sign up for newsletters and news alerts, encouraging readers to join private publisher Facebook Groups, and using events as a way of gathering attendees’ contact information.

+ Earlier: What it takes to shift a news organization to reader revenue


How to do ‘man-on-the-street’ interviews in a foreign country (GroundTruth)

Successfully navigating different cultures and interview customs comes with a learning curve, as reporter Kelly Kasulis learned in South Korea when she asked sources to write down their names with a red pen — and everyone balked, since names written in the color of blood is considered a bad omen. To get acquainted with a country’s street-interview customs, find local reporters and ask for their advice, Kasulis suggests. International journalism groups or foreign correspondents’ clubs could help you make contacts before you arrive. Be aware that having an interpreter at your side could lend you credibility — or, in some places, have the opposite effect. (Again, asking local journalists could help you get a feel for potential reactions.) Kasulis has also made efforts to appear trustworthy. “I’ve tried … carrying translated business cards, using my phone to show my staff page on a news website, letting them know the interview will be translated, giving a spiel on who I am and why I report in South Korea.”


What Norwegian publisher Aller Media has learned from its personalized paywall (Digiday)

Digital ad revenue still pays the bills for Nordic publishing group Aller Media, writes Lucinda Southern. But like other publishers, it’s under pressure to drive more subscription revenue to offset print declines. Aller Media’s news title Dagbladet, with 70,000 subscribers, built its own algorithm that shows subscribers personalized content. The algorithm is based on four factors: how recently the content was posted; what similar audience profiles are reading; impressions; how many times an article was served but not clicked on; and how many times an article converted readers to subscribers. Tests found that subscribers are more likely to keep reading more premium content, making them less likely to churn, said product developer Christoph Schmitz. Schmitz also counted building the algorithm in-house as an advantage: For a year, the newsroom used a third-party vendor to help personalize its content to subscribers, with disappointing results. “It was a black box, we didn’t know the algorithms, we couldn’t trust it,” said Schmitz.

+ A year after her murder, where is the justice for Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia? (The Guardian); A genocide incited on Facebook, with posts from Myanmar’s military (The New York Times)


Mental health is a growing issue for online content moderators (BBC)

As user-generated content becomes a crucial part of the internet, the hiring wave of online content moderators continues to build. Facebook now has 7,500 content moderators working around the globe 24 hours a day, and they regularly view images and videos showing depraved content, from child sexual abuse, to bestiality, beheadings, torture, rape and murder. Sarah Roberts, a professor who has studied content moderation for the last eight years, believes social networks could be sleepwalking into a mental health crisis. “There are no public studies that look at the long-term ramifications of this work,” she said. Although the field is still “uncharted territory,” some things could help stave off mental health issues for content moderators: short shifts, a relaxed environment, flexible time off, 24/7 manager support and access to mental health resources.


This is why so many journalists are at risk today (The Washington Post)

Recent journalist killings are connected by one of the defining issues of our time, writes Anne Applebaum: “The murders are the consequence of the clash between a 21st century technological revolution, which has made it possible to obtain and spread information in new ways, and a 21st century offshore banking revolution, which has made it possible to steal money in new ways, to hide it in new ways and to use it to maintain power … Often, it is journalists, especially investigative journalists, who are caught in the fault lines between them.” Elected politicians and unelected autocrats have a greater interest, in 2018, in hiding evidence of their corruption: Exposure not only reveals their hypocrisy and in some cases, their crimes, it can cost them their jobs or start a revolution. “Precisely because we now live in a global information network, the death of a single journalist could usefully frighten the rest — not only in one country but around the world,” writes Applebaum.

+ Earlier: More than 9 out of 10 journalists slain since 2012 were killed in countries deemed highly corrupt (Transparency International)


The real cost of the digital divide (Columbia Journalism Review)

For those of us in America who are extremely online, it’s easy to think of the internet as the source of our problems — misinformation, Twitter bots, Russian hacking, social media stress, writes Lyz Lenz. The real source, however, is the huge gap in information services. Despite bipartisan support on the issue, the crisis of America’s digital divide has failed to become a headline grabber or garner any real action from politicians as midterms approach. This information disparity undermines our democracy, hampers how we do journalism, and shapes how Americans interact with the news. “Previously, the vitality of America was based on infrastructure — roads and highways,” says Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation. “Now it’s broadband infrastructure. If people can’t access reliable internet in an affordable way, they will be relegated to industries that are stagnating. Or they will move.”