Need to Know: October 23, 2018

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


You might have heard: How memberships and donations are helping save independent media across the world (The Guardian)

But did you know: How you can be part of a $700,000 experiment in building membership models (Nieman Lab)

Studies of the mission-driven news environment show that funding tends to drop off in the crucial mid-stage as growing organizations try to stabilize, writes Christine Schmidt. Not every bright idea has a three-year runway to research best practices for membership in a specific market — but the Membership Puzzle Project is trying to shift that balance a bit. The organization wants to help new organizations experiment with membership themselves — with $700,000 in funding. The Membership in News Fund is built for sites around the world to experiment with membership models and principles, aiming to instill an ethos of transparent membership — and figure out what works.  

+ “If your site has a membership program and you want to take it in a more innovative direction, or maybe launch something new, then we may have money for you. To find out, all you need to do is read the announcement, then send us a paragraph and a link.” (Twitter, @jayrosen_nyu)

+ Noted: Is new media experiencing a hiring slowdown? (Thinknum); Russia-linked Twitter accounts sent more than 12,000 tweets in effort to inflame NFL anthem controversy (The Wall Street Journal); YouTube will launch a new Learning channel, which will showcase educational and how-to videos (BBC)


Welcome API’s new director of accountability journalism, Susan Benkelman

API is excited to announce that Susan Benkelman will join our team as director of our Accountability Journalism Project on Friday. Susan joins API from The Wall Street Journal, where she served as news editor. Previously, Susan was senior vice president and editorial director at CQ Roll Call in Washington, D.C., where she ran a news operation of 160 journalists who reported on Congress and emerging legislation. In her new role, Susan will continue building partnerships with news organizations to improve their fact-checking and accountability journalism practices. She’ll also play a leading role in developing new research and tools to help publishers in this effort.


Here’s how local news outlets can access quality national content at no cost (Medium, Center for Cooperative Media)

One way local news publishers can lower the cost of newsgathering is to republish content that is made available for that very purpose. Many nonprofit news organizations allow some, or all, of their content to be republished. The trick is determining whether an organization’s content is credible and not simply a way to promote a certain agenda, writes Carla Baranauckus. The first place to look is the mission statement or “about us” page of a nonprofit’s website. Key terms to look for are “independent” and “nonpartisan.” You should also review the biographies of the people on the staff, and of course, the guidelines for republishing the material. Baranauckus includes a list of organizations verified by the Center for Cooperative Media that offer news content for republishing.

+ The Ithaca Times printed a useable voter registration form as its cover, and it’s now considering doing a map of the local polling stations. “Our business is communicating,” says art director Marshall Hopkins. “There’s a ton of room for helping out and lending a hand with our communication skills to civic institutions.” (OpenNews)


The former head of news at the BBC left to start a ‘slow news’ media company. How’s it going? (The Guardian)

“In his choice of new venture, [James] Harding … perhaps gives away the extent to which the BBC experience was overwhelming for him,” writes Emily Bell. “He has chosen to move from breaking hundreds of stories a day across dozens of outlets, Twitter feeds and apps to opening a membership boutique for slow journalism.” The venture, called Tortoise, has three years of funding in place (mostly provided by a handful of wealthy backers), and has attracted high-profile journalists committed to writing thoughtful, longform takes on the day’s news. The membership model takes a redistributive approach, using the more expensive membership tiers and other funding to broaden access. But while Tortoise seems to have constructed a sustainable business model for itself and will likely yield quality journalism, “it feels like an escape from the structural problems of journalism rather than a solution,” writes Bell.


Wired’s anniversary cover is a peek into the past, present and future of magazine design (Eye on Design)

Wired’s 25th anniversary cover balances the tension between past and present with a grid made from the magazine’s spines — stripes of checkered colors that flicker downwards like a screen coming into focus, writes Madeleine Morley. It’s an instantly recognizable pattern, and one that’s been part of Wired’s design DNA since its 1993 launch. “We’ve always seen Wired as a bridge between the ‘People of the Book’ and the ‘People of the Screen,’” said Barbara Kuhr, one of Wired’s original designers. “The original logo conveys more of that dynamic — the tension between the print and electronic media worlds.” At a time when media companies are struggling to find cohesion between their print and digital products, Wired has found refuge in the power of a single, strong idea, conveyed on each cover instead of a “laundry list of features.”


Inside one newspaper’s decision to end editorial endorsements (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Does the traditional approach of newspapers endorsing political candidates truly help voters make their decision? Many newspapers are wrestling with this question as they try to retain a politically divided readership. “In a 50-50 world, endorsing a candidate leads to too many unintended consequences,” writes Tom Silvestri, publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is ending its editorial endorsements next year. “Chief among them is that endorsements create a perception that complicates the job of our objective journalists and makes their jobs unnecessarily more difficult. No matter how many times we explain that Editorial and News are separate, the side that didn’t win the endorsement often takes out its frustration on our reporters.” Going forward, the RTD will exchange endorsements for informed commentary, solutions advocated by the RTD, opinion pieces from newsmakers and columnists, and letters from readers. “Our role in Editorial should be to unite a community with proposed solutions and constructive criticism to correct wrongs, call attention to problems, and zero in on injustice. We don’t expect consensus every time with every reader — just civil, civic discourse.”

+ Earlier: API’s research shows many Americans don’t understand the difference between an editorial and a news story, among several other journalism terms and concepts


The clause freelance writers should fight to remove from their contracts (Columbia Journalism Review)

Most publishers’ freelance contracts include a “rights grab,” which requires freelancers to sign away full moral and intellectual rights to their work. “In recent decades, as news has pivoted from print to digital, there has been a shift in the copyright terms freelance journalists are expected to work under,” writes Jack Davies. “…Rights grabs have become more aggressive, preventing freelancers from licensing their work to multiple publications, profiting from translations, or even from book or screen adaptations of their work, leaving them with fewer ways of supplementing their increasingly squeezed incomes.” There has been some pushback to these policies: A 2013 survey by Loughborough University, in England, found that 20 percent of newspaper freelancers and 37 percent of magazine freelancers based in the UK had refused to sign contracts asking them to transfer their copyright to the publisher; and in April, the Authors Guild won a $9 million settlement on behalf of 2,500 American writers whose work was licensed to digital databases without their consent.

+ Most bad freelance pitches are bad for the same few reasons. But they’re often salvageable with a little tweaking. (Nieman Lab)