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Need to Know: February 12, 2019

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Patch rebounds after split from AOL (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know:All-digital local news company Patch is quietly re-emerging as local newspapers decline (Recode)

Patch, the hyperlocal news company once owned by AOL, could — for better or worse — represent the future of local news, writes Peter Kafka. The network of 1,200 news sites is turning a profit, generated by more than $20 million in annual ad revenue, without a paywall, says owner Charles Hale. While Patch reporters aren’t churning out deep investigative reporting — with a total staff of 150, Patch usually assigns one reporter to cover multiple towns — the sites feature rapidly-generated local news stories like traffic incidents, real estate posts and weather reports. “We’re not as deep as we aspire to be,” says CEO Warren St. John. “We’re acutely aware of what we’re capable of and what we’re not capable of.” Like other news outlets, Patch is beginning to use software to write some commodity stories, which is supposed to give human reporters time to work on more in-depth stories. It also encourages readers to create their own posts and updates, and is planning syndication deals with other publishers that want to distribute their content on Patch sites. One big difference between the two Patch eras, say employees, is that the new Patch is more thoughtful about where it deploys resources.

+ Related: Patch is launching paid, “ad-lite” memberships (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: More than 240,000 people donated to nonprofit newsrooms via NewsMatch in 2018 (50,000 for the first time), bringing in a grand total of $7.6 million (Nieman Lab); 2018 Philip Meyer Award winners announced (IRE); Trump supporter attacks BBC cameraman at El Paso rally (BBC); National Enquirer publisher asked Justice Department for advice on Saudi connection (Wall Street Journal); Native American Journalists Association launches Indigenous Investigative Collective (NAJA)

TRY THIS AT HOME

‘A business of marginal gains’: How The Telegraph pairs user registration and paid subscriptions (Digiday)

At the end of 2018, U.K. news publisher The Telegraph hit 3.5 million registered users, indicating it’s on its way to reaching its 10 million milestone in a few years’ time. The publisher hasn’t shared how many subscribers it has since it switched from a metered paywall to a variable paywall three years ago, where 20 percent of its content is gated. Since introducing the premium tier, where users register an email address to view one premium article a week, the daily subscriber acquisition number tripled compared to the previous model, according to the publisher, and conversion has been growing as it becomes more sophisticated in understanding readers’ reasons for registering. “The one thing we have learned — and it’s no secret — but the pursuit of digital subscriptions is a business of marginal gains,” said Chris Taylor, The Telegraph’s chief technology officer. “You increase a few percents here and there, and if you manage it well, you can accumulate strong subscriber benefits.

OFFSHORE

Can micropayments and ad-blocking entice news readers to take up memberships? (Journalism.co.uk)

South Africa-based news site Daily Maverick has grown its new membership model by offering readers a pay-as-you-go ad-free alternative to paywalls. Readers who are not interested in the membership have two alternatives: whitelist the site, which allows ads to be visible; or take up one of three micro-subscriptions, using pay-as-you-go platform Jamatto. The publisher offers ad-free passes at rates of 3 Rand a day (around 22 cents), 50 Rand a month (around $3.60) or 250 Rand for six months (around $18). Since rolling out the changes, the number of people visiting the site with ad-blockers has dropped from 15 percent down to two percent. Better still, the Daily Maverick has achieved roughly a one-in-four conversion rate from pay-as-you-go customers to online subscribers. “Instead of a paywall, we went with a voluntary membership plan,” said CEO Styli Charalambous. “We designed it around the reader choosing the amount they wanted to pay without blocking access to content. But that necessitated offering benefits to those members to entice them in. People are willing to pay for good journalism if you ask in the right way. We do our advertisement in a different way that doesn’t irritate readers as much as other places.”

OFFBEAT

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing — no, seriously, it is, according to this new research (Nieman Lab)

Some of us have a high “need for affect” — meaning we’re driven to seek out strong emotions, whether positive or negative. Others of us try to avoid feeling strong emotions. And most of us fall somewhere in between. But according to new research, where you are on the “need for affect” scale also influences how right you think you are about news on Facebook. “Audiences who only read article previews are overly confident in their knowledge, especially individuals who are motivated to experience strong emotions and, thus, tend to form strong opinions,” wrote researchers in a paper published this week in Research and Politics.

UP FOR DEBATE

We are not being honest with ourselves about the failures of the models we depend on (Medium, Jeff Jarvis)

Until we come to terms with our broken business models, we can’t start working toward a “Renaissance” for journalism, writes Jeff Jarvis. That involves a common acknowledgment of what is doomed: “Advertising in its current forms is burning out  —  perhaps even for the lucky ones who still have it. Paywalls will not work for more than a few  —  and their builders often do not account for the real motives of people who pay and who don’t. There is not enough philanthropy from the rich  —  or charity from the rest of us  —  to pay for what is needed. Government support  —  whether financial or regulatory  —  is a dangerous folly.” And, Jarvis adds, we’re ignoring a simple fallacy in our operating assumptions: Information and content are commodities. And in an age of abundance, commodities are losing businesses.

+ Leave Facebook and fake news wins? It’s the new cool kid thing to do: Declare that the time has come to leave Facebook, complete with a long post about how it’s not working anymore, it’s too corrupted, it’s no longer fun. Mandy Jenkins thinks people, especially reporters, should reconsider. In fact, she says leaving Facebook or social media in general is the last thing journalists should do. “Why are you leaving and letting the disinformation providers take it over?” she asked. “The more we leave, the more they’re going to have the market share of attention.” (It’s All Journalism)

SHAREABLE

A new journalism podcast looks to history to counter ‘objectivity’ (Columbia Journalism Review)

The role of objectivity in reporting has long-inspired heated debate among journalists. A new podcast, The View From Somewhere, aims to push this conversation again to the forefront, this time with a deep look into journalism history. The podcast will feature a range of episodes about how seminal eras of American history, such as lynching and the spread of AIDS, were reported. It will also tackle contemporary issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, coverage of transgender people, the #MeToo movement, and coverage of both overt and “status quo” white supremacy. “Undoing the myth of journalistic objectivity, that’s one goal,” says host Lewis Raven Wallace. “The other goal is helping to create a new canon of diverse journalists who did or are doing work that changed the world, and making space for those voices to be seen as a part of the story of journalism.”

+ Related: “We take journalistic objectivity to be as natural and immutable as the stars, but it’s a relatively short-lived artifact of 20th-century America.” (Wired); From our journalism essentials: “When the concept of objectivity originally evolved, it did not imply that journalists were free of bias. It called, rather, for a consistent method of testing information — a transparent approach to evidence — precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of the work. The method is objective, not the journalist.”

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