Need to Know: September 1, 2021

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Everybody was reading the news more because of coronavirus (Vox) 

But did you know: Publishers rethink their value to stave off subscription fatigue among new paying readers (Digiday) 

In 2020, media subscriptions rose, and now more than one-fifth of Americans say they pay for at least one online news source. So far, retention rates have been high, but publishers are increasingly focused on how to keep bringing in more readers while adding to the value of a subscription. The Washington Post and Dow Jones have both added their first chief subscriptions officers, while The Los Angeles Times has added to its creative services and growth marketing teams with a focus on subscriber retention. Some publishers have pivoted based on user feedback, such as Quartz’s decision to refocus its subscription program around newsletters. Others have focused on content, like The Atlantic’s investment in investigative reporting on the pandemic, politics and “examinations of culture and society.” 

+ Noted: Tampa Bay Times sells printing plant to real estate arm of hedge fund Alden Global Capital for $21 million (Tampa Bay Times); New York Times’ Wirecutter product-review site moves behind paywall (The Wall Street Journal) 

API UPDATE

Polarizing, oversimplified reporting causes mistrust. Let’s work on that. (Medium, Trusting News) 

As part of its new Road to Pluralism initiative, Trusting News is exploring how generalizations and oversimplifications in news coverage can leave people feeling pigeonholed and unseen. News organizations, including local outlets, are more likely to feature political figures with extreme views, writes Lynn Walsh, leading to an increase in polarization. For many conservatives, this has led to the feeling that right-leaning people are portrayed using stereotypes that are “narrow or extreme.” Other groups are often similarly lumped together by demographic information, leading to unfair generalizations. Trusting News provides a list of questions that newsrooms can ask themselves — such as “Do we go to the extremes because it is easier?” — to help ensure that their coverage is complex and nuanced. 

+ API has hired the search firm Korn Ferry to begin the search for a new executive director 

TRY THIS AT HOME

How news organizations can improve accessibility right now (Poynter) 

At least 2.2 billion people worldwide suffer from vision loss, and over 5% of the world’s population suffers from hearing loss, but many media organizations have not put the work into ensuring that those people have access to the news. Katya Bandouil writes that newsrooms should consider how these audiences connect with the digital world and make accommodations for them. For instance, alternative text allows screen readers to explain photographs, but only if the alt text is grammatically correct, concise and specific. Newsrooms should ensure that this quality alt text is available everywhere a photo is posted, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Newsrooms should also explore captioning for audio or audiovisual content. Above all, Bandouil writes, media organizations need to talk to those affected about what practices would be most useful. 

+ NOLA.com creates temporary, text-only version of website with updates on Hurricane Ida for people with  limited internet access or cell service (Twitter, @Kyle_Whitfield) 

OFFSHORE

How a German newspaper jumped into action to help flood victims (International News Media Association) 

Less than 24 hours after floods devastated parts of western Germany, newspaper Funke Mediengruppe launched a fundraising initiative to help those who had been hardest hit. In partnership with global Catholic charity Caritas, the campaign combined the structural resources of Caritas with the wide-ranging reach of the newspaper. More than 25,000 donations came from individuals, alongside money from corporations and foundations, contributing more than €7 million ($8.3 million) in total. It wasn’t the first time the newspaper has used its standing in the community to help; when the first COVID-19 cases emerged in the spring of 2020, Funke launched a campaign to help those suffering as a result. 

OFFBEAT

Facebook’s new moves to lower News Feed’s political volume (Axios) 

Facebook says it will de-emphasize news and politics on users’ feeds and limit how much political content people see in their news feeds, writes Sara Fischer. The site says that it will place less emphasis on some engagement metrics, like comments and shares, and more emphasis on other user feedback, like answers to surveys. Earlier in the year, Facebook began limiting the political content in news feeds in several countries, including the U.S. — a move that has proved popular with users. Now the platform is doing the same in other countries, including Costa Rica, Sweden, Spain and Ireland. The changes to political and current events content are expected to roll out slowly, so that news publishers are not caught off guard, Fischer writes. 

UP FOR DEBATE

With climate disasters in the news, activists and others wonder why The New York Times is still advertising fossil fuels (Substack, Heated)

In the wake of several natural disasters with links to climate change, Emily Atkin writes that readers who turn to The New York Times for coverage may be confused or dismayed to see ads for the fossil fuel industry. The ads are an attempt by the industry to position itself as helping to save the planet, Atkin writes, but they are merely “political propaganda, attempts by the industry to placate public outrage about climate change.” Now a new campaign, Ads Not Fit to Print, is arguing that the paper should cease taking money from fossil fuel companies for the same reasons that they stopped accepting money from cigarette makers — because they pose a risk to readers’ health. Internally, some newsroom employees have also expressed concern with the practice, saying it undermines reporting and helps the fossil fuel industry promote misleading ideas. 

SHAREABLE

The Membership Puzzle Project shares its notes on sunsetting a public research project that began as an intervention (Twitter, @membershippzzle) 

On Tuesday, the Membership Puzzle Project, a research project that studied emerging membership models in journalism, came to its planned end after four years. In a Twitter thread, the team behind it explains that the goal was to explore how to make memberships viable for newsrooms around the world. In sunsetting the project, it wanted to make sure newsrooms had everything they needed. So its final steps included creating an archive of research for newsrooms pursuing memberships and a network of people who would continue the work. “Our body of work is a synthesis of what newsrooms around the world are learning about membership,” the team wrote. “We are looking forward to seeing how you continue the work without MPP.”