Need to Know: Nov. 16, 2017

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


You might have heard: Time Inc. tried to sell itself earlier this year with a monthslong bidding process with several potential buyers (Recode), and announced in April that it would remain independent and not sell (New York Times); Meredith tried to purchase Time Inc. in 2013, but the deal fell through when the companies couldn’t agree on which magazines Meredith could purchase (New York Times), which led to Time Inc. being spun off from Time Warner (Bloomberg)

But did you know: The Koch brothers may be backing a deal for Meredith to buy Time Inc. (New York Times)
With an equity injection of more than $500 million, NYT reports that the Koch brothers are backing a deal for Meredith to purchase Time Inc. Though Time Inc. and Meredith as well as Koch Industries declined to comment, NYT’s Sydney Ember and Andrew Ross Sorkin report that Time Inc. and Meredith have been negotiating over the last few days, and Meredith is reviewing Time Inc.’s latest financial information. “Although it is unclear whether the proposed deal will reach fruition, both sides hope to move quickly enough to be able to announce a transaction soon after Thanksgiving,” Ember and Sorkin write.

+ Time Inc. is launching a subscription video service, Sports Illustrated TV, for $4.99/month (Variety)

+ Noted: More than a dozen current and former Vice employees accuse the company of having a “toxic” culture of sexual harassment (Daily Beast); Twitter has new guidelines for removing an account’s verification (The Verge); Wall Street Journal is testing The Coral Project’s commenting tools, offering comments using Coral Project’s technology on certain articles (Wall Street Journal); Jeff Sessions says the Department of Justice is investigating 27 leaks of classified information, “a sharp increase from recent years” (CNN Media); The Atlantic creates a browser extension that shows a different Atlantic article whenever you open a new tab (Building The Atlantic, Medium)


Small-market newspapers face common challenges and have similar promising opportunities for revenue (CJR)
A new report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism examines small-market newspapers (circulation under 50,000) in the United States, seeking to answer the question: “How are small-market newspapers responding to digital disruption?” The Tow Center report suggests that many of these newspapers are facing similar challenges, but also suggests that they have similar opportunities for revenue growth. Some ideas from the report: Collaborations can help these smaller outlets stretch their resources, smaller outlets tend to be skeptical of monetization via Facebook, and digital subscription experiments are a major opportunity for smaller publishers.

+ “For local newspapers to survive, they need to stop telling everyone they’re dying,” Poynter writes on the report (Poynter)


‘My democracy isn’t your laboratory’: A Serbian journalist’s open letter to Facebook (New York Times)
When Facebook began testing an “explore” feed in several countries last month, Serbian journalist Stevan Dojcinovic says his newsroom saw its “largest single source of traffic, accounting for more than half of our monthly page views,” crippled. In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, Dojcinovic, who is editor in chief of investigative nonprofit KRIK, explains why these changes can be disastrous for news organizations and citizens, particularly in a country like Serbia where news is sometimes censored: “Attracting viewers to a story relies, above all, on making the process as simple as possible. Even one extra click can make a world of difference. This is an existential threat, not only to my organization and others like it but also to the ability of citizens in all of the countries subject to Facebook’s experimentation to discover the truth about their societies and their leaders. … The major TV channels, mainstream newspapers and organized-crime-run outlets will have no trouble buying Facebook ads or finding other ways to reach their audiences. It’s small, alternative organizations like mine that will suffer.”


‘How social media fires people’s passions – and builds extremist division’ (The Conversation)
University of Southern California professor Robert Kozinets’ research challenges the idea that technology makes consumers more price-conscious and more rational. Instead, Kozinets says his research shows that smartphones and web apps increase people’s existing passions, and push them to polarizing extremes. Kozinets explains: “Even without foreign interference, our research demonstrates that social media is built for polarization and extremes. The basic engagement mechanisms of popular social media sites like Facebook drive people to think and communicate in ever more extreme ways. As people experience how these technological and social changes play out online, they will have to figure out how to adapt and change their behaviors — or risk becoming increasingly divided and driven to extremes.”


Facebook and Google’s algorithm problems are a problem for journalism, too (Poynter)
“We cannot write about what we cannot see, but we increasingly write about what we think will be surfaced by these algorithms, which generate eyeballs, which then generate clicks, which then generate an increasingly smaller pool of digital ad dollars,” Melody Kramer writes on why journalists should care about Facebook and Google’s algorithm problems. “And despite our (perhaps) growing unease with these platforms, we still rely on the them for distribution.” Kramer talks to Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski, who argues that alongside climate change “this algorithmic takeover of the public sphere is the biggest news story of the early 21st century,” about how journalists should cover the algorithms and think about the algorithms in terms of distribution.


Fox News anchor Shepard Smith debunks his own network’s coverage of a Hillary Clinton ‘scandal,’ infuriating viewers (Washington Post)
Fox News’ Shepard Smith debunked what the network called the Hillary Clinton uranium “scandal” on air, infuriating Fox News viewers. Smith called President Trump’s accusations against Clinton “inaccurate in a number of way,” highlighting some of the same points that fact-checkers have made in their analysis of the accusations. But “no one expected a similar debunking from Fox,” Washington Post’s Fred Barbash writes. “The sense of betrayal among some was similar to sentiments expressed Wednesday about Fox’s [Sean] Hannity after he stopped defending Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and gave him 24 hours to explain what Hannity called ‘inconsistencies’ in his responses to accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.”