Need to Know: May 4, 2017

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


You might have heard: Philadelphia’s Lenfest Institute has received $21 million in donations, and a matching campaign by founder Gerry Lenfest could put the donations over $100 million (

But did you know: ‘National media … have a visible path to digital transition, but The Philadelphia Inquirers, The Miami Heralds, and Detroit Free Presses of the world have a long way to go,’ Jim Friedlich says (Nieman Lab)
“There’s a growing sense that the battleground has turned to local media,” Lenfest Institute CEO Jim Friedlich says. “National media — like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal — have a visible path to digital transition, but The Philadelphia Inquirers, The Miami Heralds, and Detroit Free Presses of the world have a long way to go.” Later this month, the Lenfest Institute will announce a series of new programs, funded in part by these new donations. Those programs will include a series of grants to support local journalism, a fellowship program based in Philadelphia, and a number of research initiatives on topics ranging from understanding media consumption habits in Philadelphia to “looking into the propensity of readers to subscribe to a digital newspaper.”

+ Noted: The New York Times added more subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017 than any other point in its history (New York Times), but print advertising revenue decreased by 17.9 percent, while digital advertising revenue increased by 18.9 percent (The Wrap); The Economist has seen 19 percent digital subscriber growth in North America since the 2016 election (Folio); Journalism school accrediting organization ACEJMC fires back at claims made by Medill dean Brad Hamm earlier this week after Northwestern announced it would not be renewing its accreditation (Poynter); Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook will hire 3,000 more people to review posts that may contain violent crimes (New York Daily News); In a Senate Judiciary Committee, James Comey says that Wikileaks isn’t a “legitimate” news organization in the same way that traditional news outlets are (Huffington Post), and says “legitimate news reporting is not going to be investigated or prosecuted as a criminal act” (@mcalderone, Twitter); GateHouse and Digital First union employees are participating in a “day of action” in honor of World Press Freedom Day, saying “workers at GateHouse and Digital First Media have endured some of the most vicious staff reductions in the news business” (Media Nation)


Quartz is holding workshops for business and editorial staff to promote a culture of innovation (
Quartz recently appointed Sam Williams as director of the workshop, making a move from a senior software engineer to promoting a culture of innovation within the newsroom. Williams is leading a series of workshops designed to promote innovation and help Quartz employees on both the editorial and business sides build out projects they’re passionate about. “This new role is intended to maintain that spirit of experimentation, which has come to define Quartz and helped make us successful. At our larger size, it’s necessary to make official parts of the company that developed organically, like this one,” Quartz executive editor Zach Seward said in a memo on Williams’ new role.


Journalists at 2 of Australia’s biggest newspapers are on strike over job cuts (New York Times)
After Fairfax Media announced it would cut 125 jobs at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne, journalists at the two papers went on strike Wednesday. Fairfax Media said it was trying to cut one-quarter of its editorial budget — about $22.5 million USD. “The fact that our newsroom is being cut by a quarter at least, some figures suggest more like a third, and they want us out the door in two weeks, is an enormous blow to journalism. It really shows the deep and sudden nature of these cuts,” said The Age’s investigations editor Michael Bachelard.

+ China issued stricter rules for online news portals and network providers, requiring such organizations to have editorial staff “who are approved by the national or local government internet and information offices, while their workers must get training and reporting credentials from the central government” (Reuters)


A free Google Chrome add-on is showing how Facebook targets election posts to voters (Guardian)
A new Google Chrome extension called “Who Targets Me?” is helping voters track how Facebook targets political and election information to its users. The add-on shows who campaigns are targeting, how much they’re spending, and whether the ads are crossing the line into “fake news.” The ad was created by digital advertising experts who say they wanted to shine a light into “a dark, unregulated corner of our political campaigns” in Europe.


Emily Bell: Wikitribune will not address the underlying issues in journalism, and will adopt practices already used elsewhere in journalism (Guardian)
“What Wikitribune seems to be aiming for is an institution housing practices already happening elsewhere. David Fahrenthold … won a Pulitzer prize this year for exactly the approach and methods of reporting described by Wikitribune,” Emily Bell writes on Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ new project Wikitribune. “One slightly off note about the launch of yet another site for news is the sense that all other models are wrong but someone has the right one. This is definitely not true. One analysis of the problem with news at the moment is that all institutions are in a state of frailty, and being good at accountability journalism does not necessarily inoculate you from this. Jimmy Wales’s assertions probably land most awkwardly in U.S. organizations such as ProPublica. … Is the problem with news that we are doing it wrong? Or is the problem that the institutions that are doing it right are too few and far between? Or that they don’t have enough sustainability and enough reporters to do more? Or is it that actually the broken parts of news are sometimes the journalism, but they are other things too — like the commercial structure of larger organizations such as Facebook and Google?”

+ NYT public editor Liz Spayd defends Bret Stephens’ climate change column, writing: “Readers … face the serious test of whether they can show tolerance for views they don’t like, even those they fear are dangerous. Stephens questioned the models of climate science, but isn’t it possible to take him at face value — to accept that he thinks global warming is at least partially man-made — and see where he takes his argument over time?” (New York Times); “[Liz Spayd] defends Bret Stephens, and somehow fails to note that scientists have debunked his so-called factsHow does a public editor fail to note that among the problems in Bret Stephens’ work are factual errors & selectively quoting?,” Mother Jones climate & environment reporter Rebecca Leber says (@rebleber, Twitter)


Outside Magazine built its own content recommendation widget to replace Outbrain (Digiday)
“Although the revenue from third-party recommendation widgets can be addicting for many publishers, the ads can be rife with clickbait that degrades the user experience,” Ross Benes writes. Outside Magazine decided to eschew third-party widgets, creating its own content recommendation widget that only recommends other Outside Magazine articles to replace Outbrain on its site. “The change got users to read more Outside articles, making up for the revenue that Outside had received from Outbrain, which supplied 10 percent of Outside’s digital ad dollars,” Benes reports.