Need to Know: September 11, 2020


You might have heard: How VTDigger boosted its revenue by creating self-service portals for obituaries, birth and marriage announcements, press releases and real estate listings (Lenfest Institute) 

But did you know: ‘Column’ launches to modernize public notices (Axios)

As local advertising dries up, newspapers are increasingly relying on public notices, long a staple source of revenue for the print industry. Column, a startup registered as a public benefit corporation, offers a custom tech platform that simplifies the public notice placement process for local newspapers and their clients. Government officials and lawyers can draft, schedule, and proof their public notices in an online portal, while newspaper publishers and their staff can receive orders, manage payment, and generate digital affidavits via the same portal. Column is already working with hundreds of local newspapers and thousands of government and legal clients, and recently signed on The Washington Post.

+ Noted: Twitter, following a similar move by Facebook, will label or remove posts that prematurely declare victory in the presidential election (Politico); Google says it’s eliminating Autocomplete suggestions that target candidates or voting (TechCrunch); Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS plan to merge (VPR); Meet the 24 news projects getting intensive coaching from LION’s inaugural Google News Initiative Startups Lab Boot Camp (Medium, LION Publishers)


How The Sacramento Bee built strong community partnerships to serve audiences it had long neglected (Better News)

Through partnerships with groups outside of mainstream media, The Sacramento Bee attracted new readers, gained access to a diverse talent pool of journalists and elevated the voice of under-resourced communities in the area. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from Table Stakes, the newsroom training program; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

+ We’re hiring! API is looking for an experienced freelance UX/UI designer or design firm to help with a new product feature in Metrics for News, our analytics platform.


A pop-up newsroom goes digging on Facebook to share its COVID-19 news (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Without an established audience, a student-run “pop-up” newsroom from the Missouri School of Journalism searched for relevant public Facebook groups to share its reporting with. Much of its COVID-19 reporting was adapted into short visual explainers, which tend to perform better on social media. The team was also careful to respond to comments on its posts. It ran into obstacles — like Facebook’s spam flagger,  which can be activated when the same message is posted across several groups — but overall found that there are users ready to engage with journalists if they are polite and transparent about who they are.

+ BuzzFeed is giving its employees who volunteer at polling stations an extra day of PTO, as well as making it easier for them to vote on or before Election Day. (Twitter, @BenMullin)


Can a Polish nonprofit news outlet hang on to the conservative readers it gained during COVID-19? (Medium, European Journalism Centre)

Like news organizations around the world, the Polish investigative outlet saw a sudden jump in traffic during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a 75% increase in reader donations. The nonprofit, which relies entirely on donations and grant funding, focused much of its reporting on daily COVID-19 updates, complementing those with in-depth Q+As with scientific experts and guides explaining Poland’s lockdown rules. The reporting has attracted an interesting new audience of pro-government supporters, different from’ typically anti-government, liberal-leaning readers. doesn’t plan to abandon its progressive values, but hopes its matter-of-fact analyses and fact checks can attract more readers from across the political spectrum.


A contest to attract a niche podcast audience (The Center for Public Integrity)

To promote its new podcast The Heist, the Center for Public Integrity is holding an unusual contest: Those who enter (by subscribing to the podcast) can have their names attached to a FOIA request filed jointly by CPI and MuckRock, which seeks information on how the 2017 tax breaks — amounting to trillions of dollars — enriched corporations and wealthy Americans. The top winner will receive assistance filing his or her own FOIA request, and other winners get framed FOIA responses on topics related to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. It’s “decidedly nerdy,” admitted Executive Producer Mei Fong — but an interesting tactic to raise public interest in a new investigation.


Is Russian meddling as dangerous as we think? (New Yorker)

The Russian government’s strategy to sow political discord among American voters, primarily via social media, has doubtless been somewhat effective — although exactly how many votes the Russians have influenced is hard to measure. But what should worry Americans more, writes Joshua Yaffa, is how vulnerable we are to the attack. With American politicians and the media stoking polarization, and homegrown misinformation also spreading on social media, the American public is increasingly exhausted, fearful and distrusting — making it easier for “some trolls — whether in St. Petersburg or in the White House — to stir up those emotions into something even more poisonous,” writes Yaffa.

+ Earlier: Five ways to bridge polarizing conversations (Medium, Solutions Journalism Network)


Why Medium is succeeding where other ‘platishers’ failed (Simon Owen’s Tech & Media Newsletter)

A “platisher” theoretically promises the best of both worlds — the credibility and prestige of a traditional publisher, but with the scale and reach of an online platform. But the user-generated content model of the latter has sometimes choked its potential (as examples from HuffPost and Forbes’ contributor programs show). Medium, however, maintains journalistic standards by creating incentives for high-quality content, mostly by switching to a subscription-based model that rewards writers for converting subscribers. 


+ Introducing “The Pivot,” in which journalists find their way through industry chaos (Nieman Storyboard)

+ Understanding “pink slime journalism” and what it reveals about conservatives and liberals (Deseret News)