Need to Know: September 15, 2023


Gannett’s announcement that it will hire reporters dedicated to covering Taylor Swift and Beyoncé generated a flurry of takes. Many were critical, given the company’s recent layoffs. The posting was “especially controversial among local news reporters who questioned the company’s priorities,” Jonah Valdez wrote in the Los Angeles Times. Leaders at the largest newspaper chain were unapologetic, with chief content officer Kristin Roberts saying that essential journalism “includes providing our audience with content they crave.” Michael Anastasi, Gannett’s vice president for local news, told the Associated Press that the jobs will not come at the expense of other reporting positions. The AP story also posed this pertinent question: “So, are artist-specific jobs the future of music journalism?” (The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press)

+ Noted: DallasNews Corp. announces companywide voluntary buyouts (D Magazine)


These are the stories that captured the most interest from Need to Know subscribers this week.

Newsrooms are beginning to experiment with AI chatbots trained exclusively on their own content. One of the goals is preventing the spread of false or out-of-context information. (Reynolds Journalism Institute) 

A journalist’s very personal project is aimed at helping guide families who have lost loved ones to violence. Justin Baxley’s “More Than A Number” guide helps local media outlets connect with families of homicide victims in a humane way. (Poynter) 

Facebook and community word of mouth are primary sources of news for residents in Oklahoma’s rural areas, a new study found. The findings will serve as the basis for a training partnership between the Oklahoma Media Center and Trusting News. (Oklahoma Media Center)


DEADLINE THIS SUNDAY: Join us to explore mental health solutions for journalists

API’s next Local News Summit is designed to help newsroom leaders prioritize and support their journalists’ mental health. If you have ideas about how news leaders can support their staff’s mental health or solutions to change the often-toxic cultures of the news industry — and especially if you are working on this yourself — we’d like to extend this call for participation in our event.

This summit, scheduled for Oct. 10-11 to coincide with World Mental Health Day, will gather approximately 60 media leaders and non-journalism experts in Atlanta. We are open to people with various responsibilities and titles from for-profit and nonprofit media of all platforms. Request an invitation for the remaining spots at our summit no later than Sunday, September 17, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

How community listening can help shape election-year coverage

Newsrooms can learn a lot about their communities by simply listening to their audiences, a practice that can be done in any number of ways – public events, online surveys, “pop-up” newsrooms or even just simple conversations where people can say what’s on their minds. Drawing on election-related listening experiments fueled by API grants to 31 news organizations in 2022, Susan Benkelman captured four key lessons from these projects. A big one: Audience listening helps newsrooms — not politicians — set their coverage agenda.

Table Stakes monthly program: Exploring how Gen Z & Millennials pay for or donate to news

Alumni of the Table Stakes Local News Transformation Program are invited to join a virtual session from 1 to 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, September 19 about how younger audiences engage with, pay for or donate to news. The hour will include a recap of API’s research with The Media Insight Project on Gen Z and Millennial perceptions about news by API’s director of strategic partnerships and research, Kevin Loker. A panel discussion with representatives from news organizations working to engage with younger audiences will follow. Register here.

SPECIAL EDITION: Diversify your sources 

Each Monday, Need to Know shares a special edition series focusing on top issues impacting today’s newsrooms.

Building source tracking into newsroom workflows

If your organization is serious about including new voices and better amplifying underrepresented voices, it’s crucial that you find ways to root your daily workflow in inclusivity, writes Katie Kutsko, API’s education and strategy manager of news products. 

One essential step in an effective source-tracking effort is planning the process for how reporters will collect information from sources. Will you provide a script for reporters to use at the end of interviews, or do you want to create a survey for reporters to send to all sources? This process looks different across newsrooms, so choose the way that reduces friction as much as possible to encourage wide participation. 

API’s Source Matters partners at San Antonio Report and the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, Kutsko writes, found that it’s crucial to underpin each step with clear explanations — internally and externally — for why their teams are taking on this project. Newsroom leaders should use staff training as an opportunity to spell out the process and explicitly state why source tracking is an organizational priority.

+ Source Matters is accepting new partners. Contact us to learn more about source diversity tracking.

+ If you want to start tracking sources but don’t quite know where to begin, here’s a guide to help you get started.

+ Coming on Monday: Tactics for getting staff on board with tracking sources.


+ What Americans can learn from British journalism (The Atlantic) 

+ Last of the watchdogs: As news deserts and disinformation spread, U.S. towns are missing a vital part of their community (Voice of America)

+ Christiane Amanpour reflects on her 40 years at CNN and explains why her ‘be truthful, not neutral’ mantra is more vital than ever (CNN)