Need to Know: September 24, 2020


You might have heard: Product roles, the new must-have for publishers, are also the most difficult to hire for (Digiday)

But did you know: Networking group launches to connect news product people with each other — and newsrooms looking to hire them (Poynter)

The News Product Alliance will serve as a support community for people working (or looking to work) in product roles, which publishers are increasingly recognizing as critical to their digital success. News product managers typically wrangle different departments in a newsroom — editorial, marketing, IT — to create digital products that engage audiences in creative ways. “Product thinkers — those with the abilities to align editorial, audience, technology and business goals — have become the missing link to creating sustainable journalism in the digital age,” wrote Becca Aaronson, interim president of the group’s steering committee, in a Medium post titled “Why I quit my job to launch the News Product Alliance.”

+ Earlier: We wrote about how to hire effective product managers (American Press Institute); This Northwestern University class called Design for Local News brings together journalism and engineering students to design innovative news products (Medill Local News Initiative)

+ Noted: ONA is offering microgrants for journalism educators “hacking the journalism curriculum” through innovation and partnerships with local news organizations (ONA); The Economist is releasing a presidential forecast model that is “two giant leaps ahead” of existing polls (Digiday)


How Scalawag is using events to diversify audience and grow membership (Better News)

Scalawag, a member-driven, nonprofit news outlet covering the American South, found that virtual events hosted in partnership with local grassroots organizations — from discussions on tenant rights during COVID-19 to dance parties and poetry readings — served as a new vehicle for delivering content and helped attract new audiences. 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.

+ Free staffing alert: Election SOS is launching a fellowship program that will place student and early-career journalists in newsrooms that need help with elections coverage (Election SOS) 


How The 63106 Project funds independent journalism in St. Louis (Columbia Journalism Review)

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early spring, a nonprofit journalism collaborative based in St. Louis, Mo., found itself in a unique position — at the intersection of journalists who needed work, publications that needed content, and stories that needed telling. The resulting 63106 Project brings together journalists who have been laid off or furloughed to report on families living within a St. Louis ZIP code that has the worst health indicators in the city. The grant-funded work is “the tiniest stimulus program that you can imagine, but it’s a stimulus nonetheless,” said the project’s founder Dick Weiss.

+ The Denver Post created a running list of COVID-19 cases in the area’s K-12 schools (The Denver Post)


‘First of its kind’ UK charity launches to support public interest journalism (The Guardian)

The Public Interest News Foundation, which claims to be the first organization of its kind to be awarded charitable status, will funnel donations it solicits from tech giants, wealthy philanthropists and individuals to news outlets it deems to be serving the public interest. “While the U.S. has a long culture of philanthropists supporting news organizations…there has been less of a shift to this model in the U.K.,” writes Jim Waterson — The Guardian being one exception. However, the financial crisis in local news has fueled interest in charitable giving as a means of propping up the industry.


Journalists are leaving the noisy internet for your inbox (The New York Times)

This week popular tech writer Casey Newton announced that he’s leaving The Verge, where he’s been since 2013, to start his own newsletter on Substack. He joins the growing ranks of well-established writers who are leaving struggling media companies to try their luck on the subscription platform. Writers could earn $100,000 per year if they bring in 2,000 subscribers who each pay $5 per month, says Hamish McKenzie, one of the platform’s founders. Besides the promise of more money, the idea of writing only for one’s fans appeals to many Substack writers — it’s like the “wonderful old days of the blogosphere,” said one — with the key to success being that writers have fans before they transfer to the platform.


Tribune Publishing apologizes for fake bonus offer in phishing-simulation email (The Washington Post)

The email — which started out with the line “Congradulations Executives!!” — was sent to Tribune employees yesterday afternoon to test their ability to detect scams. The email explained that the company was offering bonuses between $5,000 and $10,000 and asked recipients to “login” to “view your end of year bonuses.” The phishing simulation “felt like a slap in the face and tone-deaf,” said one employee, describing the recent layoffs and salary cuts within Tribune’s newsrooms.


What stands in the way of greater sourcing diversity? (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

A survey of journalists participating in a sourcing diversity project found that nearly one-third said the greatest challenge to sourcing diversity is the lack of a diverse network, which could be traced to the fact that journalists are often more focused on decision makers than people impacted by decisions, writes Melba Newsome. Another 16% cited the “crush of deadlines” as the top obstacle to cultivating more diverse sources. The survey also found that the overwhelming majority of journalists viewed race/ethnicity as the “first determinant” in diversity, far outstripping other factors like gender, socioeconomic status, geography, religion and age.

+ A new documentary looks at how the loss of the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper impacted its town (Medill Local News Initiative)