Need to Know: August 30, 2021

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


You might have heard: Forbes plans to go public via a SPAC, short for special purpose acquisition company (CNBC)

But did you know: The fall of the SPAC market has digital media companies in disagreement over the best path forward (CNBC)

SPACs, short for special purpose acquisition companies, have been part of some media outlets’ strategies to go public, including BuzzFeed, Forbes, Group Nine and Bustle Digital Group. In this kind of arrangement, SPACs merge with another company ahead of going public. However, after a surge in SPACs, the Securities and Exchange Commission has cracked down on some of their accounting practices, causing the trend to slow. Media companies like Penske Media Group, which owns Rolling Stone and Variety, have decided against SPACs, with a spokesperson saying they offer “short-term game to provide liquidity for opportunistic/greedy investors or fledgling companies who cannot get public through a traditional IPO process.”

+ Noted: Politico sells to German publisher Axel Springer in deal worth about $1 billion (CNBC); Vice begins new round of layoffs after latest pivot to video (The Wrap); Bklyner plans to stop publishing in September (Bklyner); After a third of its members applied for its new revenue growth fellowship, LION Publishers announced the program’s first cohort (LION Publishers)


What news publishers do to retain subscribers

API surveyed news publishers across the United States to find out what they are — and aren’t — doing to retain subscribers and decrease churn. Nine key retention strategies emerged, as well as several areas where many publishers say they need help. From our conversations with publishers, we also put together a list of 31 effective subscriber-retention ideas to use.


Write digital headlines both readers and Google will love (NPR Training)

This guide for writing SEO-friendly headlines includes a reminder to avoid “journalese,” language that may appear in writing but that no one actually says aloud. Instead, use conversational language that succinctly explains what the story is about and why it matters to your audience. Interrogative headlines, starting with “why” or “how” are one celebrated option, but Holly J. Morris recommends newsrooms avoid overusing them. She also warns against using headlines with partial quotes, which she says can sound sarcastic or may require more context for readers to understand them. 

+ and the Advocate launched a text service for Baton Rouge and New Orleans residents to get updates during Hurricane Ida (Twitter, @PaulCobler); How to meet your readers on Instagram with the hurricane information they need (Twitter, @malloriesullivan)


A cross-border collaboration exposes digital sex crimes in Asia (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

Five Asian news outlets, including South China Morning Post, The Korea Times and Tempo magazine in Indonesia, spent six months investigating digital sex crimes during a collaborative project that delved into policy and the experiences of victims. The team interviewed about 20 victims of image-based abuse, who they found through online platforms and connections with advocates and experts on the topic. The journalists made careful ethical considerations to tell the survivors’ stories without retraumatizing them or including information that could expose their identities, potentially putting their safety at risk. Part of reporting on these crimes responsibly involved avoiding victim-blaming terms, like “revenge porn,” which suggests perpetrators acted in response to a wrongdoing.

+ Yahoo pulls the plug on news websites in India due to policy limiting foreign investment in digital media (The Wire)


How politics, generation, news use, and time online play into attitudes about anonymity (Center for Media Engagement)

Different forms of anonymity have become common online and in leaks, political donations and journalism. In new research, the Center for Media Engagement found that people who consume news from multiple journalism outlets were more likely to have positive attitudes toward anonymous communication and to view it as an element of free speech rights. News consumers who don’t follow online news sources are more likely to hold the belief that anonymity should be banned.


How we report on pain, death and trauma without losing our humanity (ProPublica)

Transparency and emotional check-ins play an important role when journalists work with sources on stories that deal with personal trauma, writes ProPublica audience editor Karim Doumar. But what about journalists’ relationships to their readers?Responsible reporting on trauma shouldn’t spread more trauma — it should do the opposite,” Doumar says, arguing that investigative stories exposing problems should include reporting on how to tackle them. ProPublica engagement reporter Adriana Gallardo said: “For me, a story feels empty if it doesn’t have some level of ‘it doesn’t have to be this way.’”


How to design a job for the diverse hires you want (Source)

Reporter and editor Angilee Shah recommends hiring managers ask themselves some key questions before writing a job description and asking for candidate suggestions. For organizations interested in increasing diversity, Shah suggests first determining the skills or perspectives they aim to bring to their newsrooms. When writing the job description, “don’t beat around the bush,” says Shah. “If you want someone who has demonstrated understanding of life in low-income communities, say so. If you need someone who has general news experience but also can bring a new language into your organization, make it clear.” If what managers hope to accomplish with the position is a tall order, like bridging a trust gap and overhauling coverage of an underserved community, Shah says that managers should be prepared to pay the right candidate above an entry-level salary.