Need to Know: Sept. 16, 2019

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


You might have heard: Facebook expands its “Today In” tool, which aims to surface local news, to more than 6,000 cities and towns across the U.S. (AP)

But did you know: Researchers find that 59% of the local news stories qualifying for Today In ‘serves a critical information need’ (Nieman Lab)

Examining more than 300,000 stories fitting earlier criteria for Facebook’s Today In, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Duke University found that most local news stories served a critical information need — thanks largely to the prevalence of stories about local emergencies. The researchers also found, somewhat surprisingly, that readers engaged most frequently with stories on emergencies, transportation and health; edging out obituaries and sports stories, which are some of the most common types of local news but do not count as serving critical information needs. The data was provided by Facebook.

+ An earlier informal analysis from Nieman Lab found that crime alerts and court decisions — “often just TEEN MISSING or SEXUAL PREDATOR ON THE LOOSE stuff, barely digested police alerts” — made up more than half of Today In stories. (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: Here are the winners of the 2019 Online Journalism Awards (ONA); Resources from ONA19 will continue to be posted here over the next couple weeks (ONA); Poynter has opened applications for its executive fellowship program, the Media Transformation Challenge (Poynter); Facebook Journalism Project and Lenfest Institute announce second round of Community Network grant recipients, who will embark on projects to build sustainability in local news (Lenfest Institute); ProPublica launches “Collaborate” tool to help newsrooms tackle large data projects together (ProPublica)


How the Financial Times gives readers agency over the news (What’s New in Publishing)

The Financial Times’ strategy for increasing reader engagement is built on making readers feel smarter and more in control of their news consumption. It does this by letting readers follow specific topics and — through a fairly new tool called Knowledge Builder — track how their knowledge of the subject is increasing. “Knowledge Builder visualises and rewards reading progress, helping users save time and take control of their research efforts,” says Group Product Manager James Webb. “It allows readers to build expertise in any subject, and in a way that works with their individual schedules.”

+ “Steal this grant reporting tactic from @TexasTribune: forward all good news & wins to a shared inbox (e.g. kudos@yourteam). They’ll wait patiently for your annual report.” (Twitter, @LizzyHazeltine)


News Corp Australia sets subscription targets for its journalists, and they aren’t happy about it (AdNews)

Backed by their union, journalists at the Queensland branch of News Corp are pushing back against management plans to impose subscription and page view targets on editorial teams, claiming that marketing their journalism isn’t their job. “Management has the ability to market our stories to a greater extent than we do, and we cannot accept responsibility for how others sell our stories to readers,” they wrote in a note to other union members. “As journalists we will not submit to individualised targets or page view guarantees that can be used as a performance management or disciplinary. Our job is about much more than selling subscriptions.”


Making time management the organization’s priority (McKinsey Quarterly)

The perennial time-scarcity problem at many organizations has become more acute in recent years, with leaders finding that their most skilled people are too overloaded to lead crucial new programs. That’s why leaders should stop thinking of time management as an individual problem and start addressing it institutionally, write Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet. Creating “time budgets” or other formal processes for allocating time should be part of strategic planning, and leaders should pause before slashing administrative support — a frequent casualty of cost-cutting efforts — to consider how it frees up time for more strategic work.


TV industry entering ‘second wave of disruption,’ claims BBC chief (The Guardian)

BBC director-general Tony Hall believes that as new players enter the streaming market, audiences will become more discerning about their consumption choices — which can only be good for publishers that are 1) mission-oriented and 2) on multiple platforms that let them compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. “Purpose and values matter today more than ever, as people pick and choose services for ethical reasons as much as economic ones,” Hall writes. “Secondly, no one offers the range of content, in so many genres, on so many platforms, as the BBC … We’re not Netflix, we’re not Spotify. We’re not Apple News. We’re so much more than all of them put together.”


Why media literacy efforts matter — even if they don’t immediately change people’s opinion of news (Society of Professional Journalists)

Reviewing results of a small media trust project, SPJ says it’s “difficult — if not impossible” to budge public distrust and negative views of the media through a small intervention. The project involved 36 participants “from all walks of life” (but all based in Casper, Wyoming) in five discussions that exposed them to inner workings of the press. While the discussions failed to increase participants’ trust in the media, they did reveal more about their discontent — a valuable exercise for any news organization, says project lead Rod Hicks. “For me, one of the big takeaways is that conservatives do not see themselves reflected in mainstream news coverage,” he said. Unlike liberal and moderate participants in the study, conservatives said they felt the press was biased against their values and “uninterested in changing its ways.”   

+ Learn how to build trust over time with this free, road-tested course from Trusting News (Twitter, @TrustingNews)

+ Covering Climate Now, an initiative from the Columbia Journalism Review, is the reason you’re seeing so much news coverage of the climate crisis this month. (CNN)