Need to Know: September 29, 2021


You might have heard: Jury finds Capital Gazette gunman criminally responsible in Annapolis newsroom shooting (Capital Gazette)

But did you know: Capital Gazette gunman sentenced to five life terms without parole for killing five in newsroom shooting (Capital Gazette)

A Maryland judge on Tuesday sentenced gunman Jarrod Ramos to the maximum penalty allowable under law for his 2018 attack that left five Capital Gazette employees dead: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. The Capital ran the next day’s paper, tweeting in hours after the attack, “We’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” Ramos’ attack was motivated by a nearly decades-old column in The Capital that covered a harassment conviction against him; he reportedly told a psychiatrist after the newsroom attack that he wanted to go to prison. Survivors and relatives of the victims, delivering their victim impact statements, described in wrenching terms their experiences with ongoing trauma and grief. “The impact of this case is simply immense,” Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs said. “To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply an understatement.”

+ Noted: Group Nine Media — publisher of digital news sites including Thrillist and NowThis — expects to be profitable this year, for the first time in the company’s five-year history (Axios)


Journalists, whose feedback are you getting? And are you listening? (Trusting News)

Journalists may feel like they’re bombarded with “feedback” all day — feedback on social media, or in the comment section, which often takes the shape of snarky complaints or downright hostile invectives. But what about thoughtful, constructive, civil criticism? Journalists should make time for one-to-one conversations with people in their communities who can engage in good-faith discussions, writes Joy Mayer. One simple way to start doing this is to ask a former source if they have 20–30 minutes for a conversation not related to a specific story, then ask a casual acquaintance from your personal life, and then a frequent commenter or emailer.

+ Earlier: How public radio station WFAE invested in community listening (Trusting News)


How Generocity engaged local funders to support its reporting on the response to the pandemic (Solution Set)

Generocity, a news site covering the nonprofit sector in Philadelphia, wanted to track the impact of COVID-19 on the city and how social impact organizations were responding. It started holding monthly meetings with a group of local foundations that didn’t normally fund media organizations. The foundations gave the journalists insight into what was happening in the communities they worked with — and provided a $96,000 grant that allowed Generocity to publish 50 stories over the course of a year. “We hatched this idea to pilot a project that would attract some funders who are new or relatively new to media funding,” said Molly de Aguiar, president of The Independence Public Media Foundation, which also funded the project. ​​“Funders are much more aware than they used to be about the role of independent journalism in a functioning society and democracy.”

+ Earlier: A guide to winning grants to fund your journalism (Better News)


CNN restricts access to Facebook pages in Australia (Wall Street Journal)

The decision follows a court ruling in Australia that would hold news organizations liable for the user comments on their Facebook pages. According to the court, media companies are responsible for any defamatory content that appears on them because they are considered publishers of the comments. Facebook users in Australia will no longer have access to the major pages run by CNN, including its main page, its CNN International page, and the pages for each of its shows. CNN is the first major U.S. news organization to cut off access to its Facebook pages in the wake of the court ruling. A CNN spokesperson said Facebook had declined CNN’s request to disable user comments on its pages.


Why civics and news literacy should be taught in schools (The Cap Times)

In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for American high school students to take up to three separate courses about the U.S. government and civics. Today, those courses have been replaced by literacy, math and science instruction. Charles Salter argues that grade-school curricula must balance those courses with the social sciences. “We live in the most complex information landscape in human history, with disinformation being created more easily and spreading faster online than ever before,” Salter writes. “We cannot hope for our democracy to continue unless citizens have the skills they need to sort fact from fiction — a prerequisite to being fully informed, equal participants in all aspects of the democratic process.”


Labor-management hostility erupts in Gannett newsrooms (Axios)

The NewsGuild of New York has filed unfair labor practice charges against Gannett, the largest local news company in the U.S., Sara Fischer reports. The charges allege that Gannett interfered with the federally-protected right of workers to organize and form a union. Several Gannett journalists have complained of “attempts by Gannett management to undermine union efforts via alleged threats to pay increases, 401(k) matches and diversity initiatives,” Fischer writes. The pandemic —and possibly the 2019 merger with GateHouse Media — led to a rash of unionization efforts among Gannett newsrooms; currently there are more than 40 Gannett newsrooms unionized with the NewsGuild, with around a dozen more in the process of unionizing.


Rising postal rates (again) prompt publisher concerns (Quill)

The United Postal Service, struggling with its own financial problems, has raised postal rates for newspapers up to 9%. Lobbying organizations are fighting the rate increase in court. They also fear the possibility of semiannual rate increases, which could push many community newspapers over the brink. Patrick Woods, publisher of the Wisconsin newspaper chain Multi Media Channels, saw a 4.4% increase in rates in August, which will cost his company about $100,000 a year. So far, he hasn’t cut back on coverage or staff. “We are looking at cutting circulation but so far we haven’t. We have chosen to give up some profit in order to not cut news or jobs,” he says. “If there is another price increase, we are going to get hurt pretty hard.”

+ A local nonprofit news fact sheet with at-a-glance information on growth, mission, revenue and audience (Institute for Nonprofit News)