Need to Know: Sept. 15, 2021


You might have heard: A “local and national funding consortium” acquired 24 community newspapers in Colorado in May (Globe Newswire)

But did you know: The National Trust for Local News is trying to build a $300 million fund to help save local news (Poynter)

The National Trust for Local News is distinct in that it dispenses venture capital, not grants. It announced its first project in May; a partnership with The Colorado Sun to buy several struggling weekly papers in the Denver area. More ventures will follow in 2022, says founder Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro. Her goal is to eventually build a rotating $300 million venture philanthropy fund. Hansen Shapiro hopes to attract investors who can help develop models for serving small-town news deserts that are losing all local coverage. “It is exciting that the National Trust is tackling the capital and ownership pieces,” said Jennifer Preston, former vice president of journalism philanthropy at the Knight Foundation, which donated to the project. “Those are two pieces that were missing from the landscape.”

+ Noted: RJI fellow Emma Carew Grovum is exploring ways for local newsrooms to support journalists of color with leadership potential — here’s how BIPOC journalists can help her (Reynolds Journalism Institute); Bill Gates backs a news outlet that will tackle climate change (Axios)


Webinar: Learn how Newsday and Spokesman-Review keep more subscribers

API’s Director of Reader Revenue Gwen Vargo will lead a free webinar on Sept. 28 about developing strategies for retaining news subscribers. Erik Zenhausern, director of acquisition and retention at Newsday and Pat Leader, the director of audience and consumer revenue at the Spokesman-Review, will share ways they have revamped their retention strategies to reduce churn of digital subscribers. Learn more and register for the conversation here.

+ Earlier: API surveyed news publishers across the U.S. to find out what they’re doing to retain subscribers — and how well they’re doing it. Here’s what we found (and here’s the TLDR version).


The myth of cannibalization in the media still persists: Text, video and audio can all work (The Fix)

Some publishers still fear that releasing news in one format before another (digital before print, for example, or video before podcast) will cause audiences to abandon the slower, possibly more expensive format. But making audiences wait for a product they prefer is never a good strategy, writes David Tvrdon. The Danish magazine Zetland and the British “slow news” outlet Tortoise Media both found, for example, that they could reach a larger audience with audio versions of their text stories. Instead of trying to push readers to text, they doubled down on audio. “We live in an age where there is an abundance of information,” writes Tvrdon. “The audience can open the internet anytime and get the information. The classical role of gatekeepers no longer applies (and hasn’t for decades now).”


How Venezuelan media outlets are using WhatsApp forums to reach new audiences (LatAm Journalism Review)

Organized group chats called “forochats” have gained popularity on messaging apps in recent years. They’re normally hosted by companies or government institutions — particularly in Venezuela, where poor internet service and the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult to get information out via other platforms. Venezuelan news outlets El Pitazo, Crónica.Uno and El Bus TV are using forochats as part of their outreach strategies — playing the role of host and inviting experts to speak on topics like pandemic safety, education for children with disabilities, and other “service journalism” subjects. El Pitazo now hosts two to three forochats each week, and coordinator Rena Camacho says they’ve reached more than 18,000 people. “Public service is part of the job of journalists,” says Camacho. “We want to help and not just stay in the news events.”


Why publishers say opening up remote hiring has grown and greatly improved the applicant pool (Digiday)

Publishers like Quartz, Fortune and Axios have expanded their workforce to include employees who are not based at the companies’ traditional hubs in New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. All three companies had a somewhat distributed workforce pre-pandemic, but it has increased this past year, reports Sara Guaglione. For many publishers, opening up their applicant pools has helped them tap into talent — including more people of color — who may have been passed over pre-pandemic because of where they lived. “The quality and diversity of applicant pools [for] most positions increased dramatically,” said Quartz CEO Zach Seward. People of color now make up 42% of Quartz employees overall, up from 31% last year, and 50% of its editorial employees.


Could making people ‘opt in to op-eds’ help them distinguish news from opinion? (Poynter)

Many Americans cannot tell the difference between news and opinion, particularly in online environments. (A Media Insight Project survey found that just 43% of Americans are able to easily sort news from opinion in online-only news or social media.) One way to draw a clearer line in the sand is to create separate newsletter products that feature only opinion writing and require readers to opt in to them, argues Michael Bugeja.

+ Related: Here’s one example of how news orgs — in this case BuzzFeed News — allow the lines to be blurred between news and opinion (Twitter, @HBCompass)


People in rural areas tend to have less trust in news (Twitter, @risj_oxford)

One of the findings from the latest Reuters Institute’s Trust in News report was that, in four of the five countries it studied, people living in rural areas have significantly less trust in news than people living in urban areas. This tweet breaks it down — in the U.S., 40% of people in small towns were “generally untrusting toward news” versus just 16% of people in big cities. The data highlights the need for news outlets to pay attention to where their audiences (and newsroom staff) live, and try to fill any gaps in rural coverage areas.