In June 2014, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation launched the Local News Lab, an initiative in New Jersey to help local news sites develop new and sustainable business models. Supported by a $2 million grant from the Knight Foundation (disclosure: Knight also supports Nieman Lab), it has worked with a handful of local outlets in the Garden State.
This week, the Local News Lab is out with a new report — written by Molly de Aguiar, Dodge’s director of informed communities, and Josh Stearns, Dodge’s director of journalism and sustainability — that looks back on the lessons it’s learned over its first 18 months. The report focuses on a number of overarching questions that are broken up into chapters that examine how local outlets can experiment with new revenue models, engage their communities, and create a more sustainable news ecosystem. The report features case studies and examples of best practices that are worth checking out in full.
Another chapter is focused on how foundations can continue to support journalism. “This project has not only been an experiment with local newsrooms, it has also allowed us to explore new roles for philanthropy, and we have learned a lot about how foundations, particularly community and place-based foundations, can support local news,” de Aguiar and Stearns wrote.
As the business model for local news has floundered, many outlets, especially nonprofits, have turned to philanthropic support. The ways foundations can support journalism has become a topic at the forefront of many conversations of late as last month H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest decided to donate Philadelphia’s newspapers to a nonprofit.
The situation in Philadelphia shows that the difference between for-profit and nonprofit journalism can be small, and foundations should focus on supporting both types of newsrooms, especially when working with small hyperlocal sites like Dodge is doing:
We believe local journalism can be a sustainable business, but that philanthropy can play an invaluable role in providing the runway that these “mom and pop” neighborhood newsrooms need to reach a critical mass of support from the community, and stand on their own two feet. These small newsrooms — mission-driven and community-centered — face very similar issues to nonprofits, and are not in it to get rich or return money to investors.
And when foundations do decide to support news organization, de Aguiar and Stearns recommend that they focus on supporting operations and infrastructure, not specific beats. The report outlines several ways to do this, including through training and technical support, but the report emphasizes that funding content isn’t always in the best long-term interest of the organizations. Foundations should be looking at ways to make grants — even small ones, which can be immensely helpful to tiny outlets — that help the news organizations build toward a sustainable future:
Funding content/beats is not a sustainable approach for news organizations or foundations — philanthropy can’t and won’t pay for journalist salaries indefinitely. Furthermore, funding content exposes both news organizations and foundations to criticism that foundations are deliberately influencing coverage. Instead, philanthropy should try to fund structures and systems that help support a broad array of journalism enterprises that strengthen the overall local news and information ecosystem.
The report also stresses that foundations need to make it simpler for organizations to apply for support. With so much changing in the world of media, news organizations often can’t often go through time-consuming applications. As a result, Dodge says it has sped up its processes. “Funding decisions that took months now takes weeks or sometimes even just a few days.” Similarly, the report recommends that foundations be open to taking more risks by funding “ideas that might not work, but that could teach us important lessons.”
Many foundations, when funding journalism projects, look to support projects that can be scaled and replicated elsewhere. The report cautions that this approach can overlook smaller local organizations. Throughout the report, De Aguiar and Stearns stress the capacity for foundations to help rethink and support community news while also creating networks for outlets to share and learn from one another:
We know with certainty that there is no one-size-fits-all solution or model in this ever-changing journalism landscape, but we also know that there are distinct attributes of successful local news organizations and some clearly successful strategies for providing philanthropic support to them. Through our writing, presenting and one-on-one advising we’ve been trying to share what is replicable and help people adapt it to their local context. In this way, we are trying to support journalism at a human scale, not an industrial scale, while also sharing what we are learning as broadly as possible.
The New York Times is shuttering its tech blog, Bits, as a separate destination. From a post Wednesday:
“When Bits was born, blogs were the path toward a digital future. They were the only way for us to publish quickly, without the constraints of print deadlines and production. No more. We now have a home-grown publishing system that allows us to more seamlessly integrate our tech coverage across the web, apps, print, social media — everywhere you find our journalism.
So for clarity and simplicity, the blog goes away and all tech stories will now carry the label of Tech.
You will still see the Bits identifier on some of our journalism. The Bits email newsletter will continue, as will Bits special sections and daily reports that summarize the big news of the day.”
The New York Times did a big rethink of its blogs in 2014, shutting down almost half of them. “There’s little chance that our marquee blogs, ones like DealBook, Well, Bits, will be going anywhere anytime soon,” then-assistant managing editor Ian Fisher (he’s now head of the Times’ investigations department) told Poynter at the time.
Last November, the Times shut down the eight-year-old City Room. For more on how blogs sparked and changed the Times’ digital evolution, you’ll want to read my colleague Joseph Lichterman’s entire oral history, but here’s what one former Times employee told him:
The success of a lot of the blogs was, in some ways, part of their downfall. For lack of a better term, they started competing with the existing sections.
The New York Times this week has launched a new email newsletter aimed at college students that will feature a collection of stories that will help students “through their next steps, both professional and personal, in a way that doesn’t come across as prescriptive.”
The newsletter, named The Edit, will be sent out every other week, and it’s just the Times’ latest attempt to target college students. The first issue of the newsletter, sent out Monday, includes stories on study abroad programs, Bernie Sanders, beer ads, and a guide to making eggs.
The paper offers discounted subscriptions to students and faculty. It also has a program where universities can purchase licenses to access the Times online or purchase subscriptions in bulk for distribution on campus.
For the Times, The Edit is part of an attempt to encourage a younger readership to develop an attachment to the Times — readers who could be converted into the future subscribers, key to its future growth and plans to reach $800 million in digital revenue by 2020. As Lydia Polgreen told me about the Times’ new Spanish-language site, “Our main goal in this is to get people to think of The New York Times as an important part of their daily lives.”
The Edit newsletter is another attempt to build that relationship with college students. Newsletters have become trendy recently as publishers look to offer readers finite products that are mobile friendly.
“We believe email is how people really communicate with each other, especially when we looked at the morning routines of our target audience,” Danielle Weisberg, one of the cofounders of theSkimm, an email newsletter aimed at young professional women, told the Lab last year.
The Times now has more than 40 different newsletters, including its daily morning and evening briefings, which originated as a feature on NYT Now. Digiday reported last August that for its weekly emails, the Times’ average gross open rate is about 50 percent, though that figure includes emails that were opened more than once.
The stories chosen for the briefings don’t mimic the homepage. These are not news summaries. We’re conscious of short paragraphs and sentences, of what’s pleasant to read on a phone screen. For example, in the morning briefing, there are few news items that are more one or two sentences long. If you want more information, you click on the links. The number of items included in the briefing depends on the day, and there’s no hard and fast rule on that.
Branded podcasts want to break out of the traditional intrusive model of advertising: “There are no interruptions for two or three minutes in the middle of a story. There are no top and tail ad breaks. There are no coupon codes.”
Swipe to skip, swipe to like, swipe to share: these are the familiar smartphone motions that the BBC and a Kenyan startup called Ongair are using in a mobile-focused website called BBC Drop that’s available for testing today. The project came out of a hackathon held by the BBC World Service and BBC Connected Studio (its digital R&D arm) that invited African tech experts to generate ideas for reaching young, digital-savvy African audiences. It was designed last year in Nairobi and user-tested in several other countries in Africa. Users can try out and rate the pilot for the next three months.
The pilot is for Androids (which makes sense given Android’s dominance in the African market), and relevant BBC content is filtered for users this way:
BBC Drop asks the user for a few favorite topics, or social media preferences, and then continues to learn what they like and dislike from what they swipe on screen. There is also the option of an even more personal news feed which incorporates the user’s own social feeds. The end result is users getting to see content specifically tailored to them, and the stuff they are not interested in being filtered out.
Content from all across the BBC feeds into the new Drop site.
The project is one of the BBC’s many recent efforts to reach audiences in Africa. BBC Connected Studio is currently seeking ideas from teams in Nigeria for improving and broadening the reach of BBC content there (the deadline for submissions is next week).
More than 90 percent of American adults followed the 2016 presidential election in some medium or another last week, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center.
Among survey respondents who said they had learned about the election, 24 percent said cable news was the most helpful way for them to follow the campaign. The next most helpful: social media and local TV, each at 14 percent. Only 3 percent of respondents said the print edition of a local newspaper was the most helpful way to follow the campaign, and just 2 percent said the same for national print papers.
Pew found significant generational differences in how Americans are learning about the election. Take cable TV: 43 percent of those 65 and older said it was their most helpful source of campaign news, compared to only 12 percent for 18- to 29-year-olds. That younger cohort was much more reliant on social media, with 35 percent of respondents saying that was the most helpful way to follow the campaign. That’s about double the next highest source for that age group, news apps or sites.
This is consistent with Pew’s previous research. Last year, it released a study showing Facebook had supplanted local TV as the primary political news source for millennials. According to that report, 61 percent of millennials said they got political news from Facebook compared to just 37 percent who said they learned about political news from local TV. That was the inverse of how baby boomers got their political news: 60 percent of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 said they got news from local TV and 39 percent said they found news on Facebook.
Party identification also leads to differences over the value of cable news: 34 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of independents, and 19 percent of Democrats called cable most helpful. Democrats were more likely to rely on local TV news than Republicans or independents.
Still, most U.S. adults get news about the presidential election from more than one source. The survey found that 45 percent of respondents learned about the election from more than five sources in a week. Only 9 percent used just one source.
TV was the most popular way of learning about the election, with 78 percent saying they followed the election in either local TV news, cable TV news, the national nightly news, or late night comedy shows. That beat out digital at 65 percent of U.S. adults.
Print newspapers were the least popular popular way to follow the election, the report said, with only 36 percent of respondents saying they had gotten election news from one in the past week, though that doesn’t mean readers aren’t consuming newspaper election coverage online:
The survey specifically asked about the print version of the paper and does not include the representation of newspapers in the digital space (48% of Americans got election news and information from news websites or apps in past week). This is an important distinction, as newspaper properties make up three of the top 10 digital news entities, according to comScore data compiled for our annual State of the News Media report. But it does speak to the precipitous decline of print as a mode of news — even as print-only consumers remain a key part of newspapers’ audiences.
While 44 percent of American adults learned about the election on social media, the study found that among those that use social media, users are more likely to read about the election than share information about it. About half of users learned about the election from social media, but just 18 percent took the next step to share content about the election. Lower-income social media users were more likely to share election news on social media, the study found — “about 20% of social networking users with household incomes under $75,000, compared with 14% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more,” it said.
If you work with podcasts, how many times have you heard complaints about the difficulty of getting accurate data on audiences and their listening habits, and the lack of an industry standard? Probably too many times to count. Is a download a listen? Were listens on a web player figured into a podcast’s total audience? And so on. (Though podcast metrics are not, as some have pointed out, worse than, say, broadcast radio measurements.)
A group of public radio staffers from stations and networks across the U.S. have been working since spring of last year on comprehensive guidelines to help improve the accuracy and reliability of podcast audience measurement in the industry as a whole, and also help generate more consistent data for potential sponsors. The fruits of their discussions were published in this document, made available Tuesday. The recommendation, the report cautions, “are not intended to operate as a full technical standard per se, but rather overall principles and public radio’s technical guidelines for measuring podcast usage.”
The document first clearly defines the “slippery label” that is podcasting, distinguishing it as a subset of the broad category of on-demand audio:
[Podcasts] consist of recurring shows or audio content collections. Measurement of downloads should include any form of on-demand, digital listening to that podcast, regardless of platform and inclusive of full episode downloads and downloads of segments of an episode. Often this is limited to audio files downloaded because they were enclosures in an RSS feed but may also include things like download links on a Web page or plays of an episode via a Web-based player.
It also encourages organizations that rely on both internal and third-party metrics to choose as the “primary source” the metrics that “adhere closest to the guidelines outlined in this document,” noting that “the guidelines presented in this document have the greatest impact when adopted by the greatest number of organizations.”
The document also gets into the nitty gritty of measurement standards, such as how to best count unique downloads:
It’s difficult to count accurately the number of downloaders: no unique ID is transmitted when requesting a podcast file; multiple downloaders can use a single IP address (such as when they are on a shared private network); one downloader can have multiple IP addresses (such as when changing cellular towers). Each downloader does transmit a user agent description which varies by software and sometimes by hardware used. The combination of IP address and user agent provide something closer to a unique identifier for a device, which is itself an approximation of a unique identifier for a downloader. Where the user agent of the requesting client is available, this will be a count of the unique combinations of IP address and user agent for the period reported. Otherwise, this will be a count of unique IP addresses for the period reported.
NPR’s Boston-based Digital Services team is working now to incorporate these guidelines into the tracking mechanisms in its Station Analytics Service, a digital metrics dashboard. Tweaks will be reflected next month.
The Times is grappling with the past, present, and future of its race coverage, encouraging readers to share their own materials and memories and along the way shedding a little light on the journalistic process.