Need to Know: Sept. 23, 2019

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


You might have heard: Building habit — not pageviews — matters most for keeping subscribers, data analysis finds (Medill Local News Initiative) 

But did you know: How publishers get their reporters to drive subscriptions (Digiday)

For many newsrooms, paying subscribers have replaced pageviews as the key barometer of success, writes Max Willens. Some, like Business Insider, offer bonuses for reporters who hit subscription targets; others, like News Corp. Australia, have tried to implement quotas (which has not gone well). At the Seattle Times, reporters are paired with colleagues in the Times’ audience, product and business intelligence units to figure out what kinds of content people like to read, and how to deliver more of it. While Times reporters have an annual goal of increasing the number of subscriptions they drive by 15%, there’s no penalty for failing to achieve it. And so far, the data around what drives subscriptions has proved affirmational for its journalists: “What we’ve found with stories that prompt people to subscribe is they’re exactly the kinds of stories that, as journalists, we want to be doing anyway,” says Managing Editor Ray Rivera. “They’re important watch-dog stories, in-depth narratives, politics stories; they’re stories that are right within our mission.”

+ API’s Metrics for News can help your newsroom learn what kind of journalism drives subscriptions

+ Noted: The newly-launched Public Media Merger Project will examine mergers between public broadcasters and digital media (Medium, Public Media Merger Project); Newsroom applications to be assigned a Report for America fellow are due Sept. 30 (Twitter, @report4america); University of Idaho fires journalism professor (KXLY); What we’ve learned from our week of climate coverage (Columbia Journalism Review)


Cutting print: Making it work when publishing days must go 

API’s latest strategy study looks at how publishers across the country have scaled back print publishing days or are planning to. It also charts an ideal course for cutting print: making it one step in a long, carefully planned transition to digital, rather than a forced decision made to secure immediate financial survival.


The art of the email newsletter (IJNET)

Familiar, trusted voice + curated, contextualized local news + restaurant recommendations = newsletter success? That formula worked for freelance journalist Adam Shuck, creator of the popular Pittsburgh news roundup “Eat This Read That.” Shuck started ETRT when he moved to Pittsburgh in 2014 and realized how few of his neighbors knew what was going on in their local government. Over the last few years, he’s built the newsletter into a trusted source for civic information as well as local food, arts and culture news; all delivered with a dose of personality. “I’ve always liked the mix of the ‘important’ and the ‘fun,’ if that’s a fair distinction,” he says. “Both vegetables and dessert.”


Why some Indian newsrooms are going back to the once-scorned comments section (Splice)

With ad revenue shrinking, many Indian newsrooms are looking for ways to engage readers on their websites in the hopes that they can turn those interactions into subscription dollars. Some have reopened their comments sections and invested resources in managing them, working to build a sense of community around news content via reader comments. Some, like the News Minute, allow comments only from subscribers to make the task of moderation more manageable and reduce the likelihood of trolls. “If packaged well, publishers can extract good value from comments by bringing out good ones and promoting healthy conversations with limited resources,” said Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO of Indian Express Digital. 

+ Earlier: A few simple tips for keeping comment sections civil, robust, and even helpful and interesting (Trusting News)

+ The use of Europe’s “right to be forgotten” privacy law has broadened, illustrated by two Italian brothers, a stabbing and the journalist who wrote about them. (New York Times)


Why rural libraries are becoming public health hubs (Pew Charitable Trust)

In parts of rural America where access to healthcare is limited, public libraries are partnering with local hospitals and physicians to offer free services, from diabetes prevention courses to fitness classes to addiction support groups. The libraries are banking on their status as trusted, neutral sources of information to encourage patrons to attend health programs — particularly seniors, who often lack access to health information that has moved online. “As the community fiber of rural areas continues to shift, librarians and health officials expect the library will continue to grow as a nexus for reliable and nonjudgmental access to public health programs and information,” writes Sarah Baird. 

+ Earlier: Is your journalism a luxury or a necessity? (City Bureau)


‘This is him here’: Laura Kuenssberg and the ethics of social linking (Online Journalism Blog)

BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg stoked public anger on Twitter this weekend when she “quote-tweeted” a person, a common practice in journalism to show transparency and accountability; but which can also stray into violation of privacy. Kuenssberg’s action showed “the impact of a quote-tweet by a journalist vividly: [the person’s] community of around 1,200 followers rapidly became an audience of over 16,000,” writes Paul Bradshaw. “Put simply: the quote-tweet had a significant impact on his privacy. The ethical question is: was that impact on privacy justified by the story? Was it the right editorial decision to make? Where privacy is concerned, we might ask — as is so often the case with ethical dilemmas — is whether the same ends can be achieved through other, less harmful, means.”

+ Coverage of Trump’s Ukraine scandal suggests that the press is embracing false equivalence — again (The Atlantic)


Wyoming is ground zero for media mistrust. These journalists went there hoping to make it better. (Washington Post)

A recent project seeking to bridge the divide between conservative audiences and the media didn’t seem to move the needle. At times the meetings — which took place in Wyoming, where just 25% of residents have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in news sources — felt like more of a standoff. A participant at one point asked the journalists present whether they accept that there is a liberal media bias that works against President Trump and conservative values. Not one journalist agreed to it. But the fact that the project didn’t change any minds is okay, said Rod Hicks, project lead. The point, he said, was for journalists and their readers to get into the same room with each other, for journalists to explain how they go about their work and answer questions. “I think we made some progress. Just by exposing people to the journalists and their thinking and how they do their jobs — there’s a lot of value in that.”