2
0
1
9

Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

“In many ways, these are basic things — standards of journalism that have been around for centuries — but in today’s media environment, they are beginning to matter to readers and publishers more than ever.”

For the past decade or so, the currency for publishers on the internet has been, first and foremost, volume. Pageviews. Clicks. The problem, of course, is that high-quality investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account — the kind of journalism people need most in a democracy — rarely attracts enough volume to support the high cost of producing it, at least not from advertising revenue alone.

Meanwhile, the web has been flooded with websites that churn out recycled, unverified, sensationalized, and sometimes entirely fabricated stories at almost no cost. Their content costs little to produce and to an average reader can look close enough to real news content to warrant a click. In the past, search and social media algorithms have aided the growth of this kind of junk news. Even more concerning, news publishers have seen the success of such content and in some cases adapted their own content to mimic it; for example, it’s no longer uncommon to see a misleading “clickbait” style headline on the digital version of an article from a major newspaper — a headline that was no doubt the result of A/B testing to see which of several choices would generate the most volume. This makes it even harder for readers to distinguish quality news from misinformation, disinformation, and viral junk.

In 2019, I have hope that this trend will begin to reverse, for three reasons.

First, more news publishers are realizing that their future lies in consumer revenue — not just advertising revenue — and in pivoting their focus to digital subscriptions or memberships. In 2018, I had the pleasure of participating in efforts like the Knight-Lenfest Table Stakes initiative, the Facebook Local News Subscriptions Accelerator, and the Facebook Memberships Accelerator, in which publishers from companies across the country made big efforts to shift toward reader-revenue business models. With reader revenue, of course, what matters is not the volume of clicks but the number of readers who find great value in a publication’s content. This requires publishers to focus on content that is local, relevant, useful and, importantly, credible and reliable. In shifting to this model, publishers shift from selling their audience to advertisers to selling content to their audience — something journalists have been doing for centuries.

Second, the major platforms, under pressure from users and regulators, have begun to take some steps to make it harder for low-quality news content to spread on their platforms. Facebook’s algorithm changes and new verification requirements for ads, for example, have pulled the rug out from under a wide range of publishers. While traditional news organizations found the changes to be surprising and inconvenient, for content farms, hoax websites, and other forms of junk news, the changes led to a deep (if temporary) disruption in their business model. As news publishers are forced to wean themselves off of high-volume referral traffic from major search and social media platforms, they may find it easier to focus their efforts instead on quality, credibility, and reliability. The platforms seem to have realized that too — and are looking for ways to reward quality content and limit the spread of unreliable sources.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, news consumers themselves are clamoring for news they can trust. According to recent Gallup surveys, only 32 percent of Americans say they believe the media adequately separates fact from opinion. According to an Axios Survey Monkey poll, 72 percent of Americans believe news sources knowingly report false information. In this environment — in which consumers have trouble distinguishing the content of one brand from another, especially in social media feeds, where every headline and link looks the same — there is great value in having a brand that consumers can trust. That, in part, is why companies like NewsGuard, which I helped launch this year, are finding a market for products that help news consumers distinguish reliable news websites from unreliable ones. NewsGuard uses nine journalistic criteria for credibility and transparency to assess thousands of websites — things like whether the site regularly reports false information, discloses its ownership and conflicts of interests, gathers information from reliable sources, separates news from opinion, or uses deceptive headlines. In many ways, these are basic things — standards of journalism that have been around for centuries — but in today’s media environment, they are beginning to matter to readers and publishers more than ever.

Matt Skibinski is a reader revenue advisor for the Lenfest Institute.

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Hearken   Pivot to people

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote