Need to Know: Sept. 11, 2019

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


You might have heard: For some publishers, Apple News is delivering a flood of traffic (Slate)

But did you know: Apple News is excluding local newsrooms from its coveted traffic bump(Columbia Journalism Review)

An audit of content in Apple News’ Top Stories section, which is curated by a team of editors, and its Trending Stories section, which is curated by an algorithm, shows that both sections draw articles from a small handful of publishers. In the human-edited Top Stories section, 10 news outlets (The Washington Post and CNN foremost among them) accounted for 56% of all articles, and in the algorithmic Trending section 10 outlets (led by CNN, Fox News and People) accounted for 75% of articles. Top Stories editors overwhelmingly included stories from national outlets; local and regional publications accounted for 20 of the 87 total sources but only 8% of the featured articles (and half of those were from the LA Times). Meanwhile, in the Trending Stories section, not a single local or regional source was cited.

+ Apple News may drive traffic, but not money: “There’s no ability for local outlets to drive subs, and limited/no ability to drive ad revenue,” writes Daniel Petty, audience development director for MNG. “In other words, we might have more local news on Apple News if it made actual business sense. Right now, the value isn’t there.” (Twitter, @DanielPetty)

+ Related: According to a scoop from The Information, an internal Facebook memo tells its News Tab editors to prioritize media outlets that report a particular news story first, and it’ll also give the highest priority to local outlets for local news (Engadget)

+ Noted: For the second time, newspaper execs head to Capitol Hill to officially lobby Congress for more negotiating power with Google and Facebook (Axios); New academic journal will produce “practical scholarship” that aims to help journalists and citizens gain access to public records (University of Florida); UNC’s School of Journalism and Media gets largest gift ever and a new name (The News & Observer); IWMF awarded $350k from Luminate to expand digital safety work (IWMF) 


Trust Tip: Transparency sidebars can be quick and easy (Trusting News)

Transparency sidebars — formatted as a pullout or a shaded box alongside an article — can be used to proactively address reader questions or concerns about your reporting. In this week’s Trust Tip, Trusting News Assistant Director Lynn Walsh shows two examples of newsrooms using transparency sidebars to briefly explain why and how they reported a story. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


How to use Facebook Groups to reach your community in times of disaster (Twitter, @PennyRiordan1)

When the Daytona Beach News-Journal set up a public Facebook Group to share information about Hurricane Dorian, more than 4,000 people joined within two days. Penny Riordan, director of digital audience engagement at GateHouse, explains (with helpful screenshots) how they organized information so it would be easy to navigate, kept it updated with key FAQs, and asked for reader input. Such groups could be adapted for future use (such as during each storm season), or it could be used for other natural disasters threatening communities, like snow storms or flooding.


How The Times and The Sunday Times are personalizing news triggers (Twipe)

With support from the Google News Innovation Fund, The Times and The Sunday Times worked with Twipe, a Belgian SaaS provider, to deliver personalized newsletters to more than 100,000 subscribers. The AI technology they developed, christened “JAMES, the Digital Butler,” drew content from The Times daily edition and used optimization algorithms to tinker with delivery time, content selection and format. The best-performing combination, they found, is a morning email with a mix of popular and recommended content. Overall, JAMES resulted in a 49% drop in subscriber churn over the course of a year. 

+ Troll factories? So 2016. How the Russian government diversified its online election interference strategies this summer. (Meduza)


How Twitter solved one of its oldest problems (OneZero)

Back when our Twitter timelines fed us tweets in reverse chronological order, the users we chose to follow were part of a privileged group. Follow too many, and we wouldn’t see the most relevant content. “Over-following” was a persistent problem. But now it’s been three years since Twitter introduced its “Show me the best tweets first” algorithm — and users who take advantage of it are following up to 15% more accounts compared with those who stick with the chronological display. “If anything, following more people should now increase the signal-to-noise ratio in your timeline, because it gives Twitter’s ranking algorithm more tweets to choose from,” writes Will Oremus. The result, he says, is that “Twitter feels fresher, because I’m following new people and encountering different worldviews.”


There’s a reader revenue revolution happening. Will legacy news miss it — again? (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

It’s missed the boat on digital innovation in the past. But now legacy media has a new opportunity staring it in the face: reader revenue. And fortunately, it doesn’t require a lot of investment in tech to make good on. Changing to a reader-revenue business model means making human-centered changes — changes that show readers how their local news is working for them, writes Jim Brady. “We cannot change who we get our money from without significantly changing the product we offer them. Otherwise, the reader revenue revolution will become yet another missed opportunity killed by half-measures.”

+ A proposed California law threatens companies whose businesses revolve around independent contractors, and could force newspapers to shed their delivery staff and regular freelancers (LA Times)


Manipulated images and video prey on confirmation bias (Nieman Lab)

Christye Sisson is part of a U.S. government project that is developing ways to detect images and video that have been manipulated. But despite the strides that it’s made in creating advanced detection technology, the team must face the discouraging realization that many people are easily persuaded by images and video that have clearly been altered. In the end, writes Sisson, “We’ve found that a key element of the battle between truth and propaganda has nothing to do with technology. It has to do with how people are much more likely to accept something if it confirms their beliefs.”