New Illinois Bills Propose Incentives to Fund News Organizations, and Repopulate Newsroom

“It is the most ambitious package of local journalism policy that I’ve seen,” Anna Brugmann, policy director for the nonprofit Rebuild Local News, said of two bills introduced by State Sen. Steve Stadelman, a Democrat who chaired the bipartisan Illinois Local Journalism Task Force.

“Employment in newsrooms has drastically declined,” Stadelman said. “A third of the newspapers in Illinois have closed over the years. Clearly there is a crisis in local journalism.”

The Journalism Preservation Act would require Big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook to compensate news organizations for the content that they share, display or link to on their platforms. The Strengthening Community Media Act offers a broad array of incentives, tax breaks and scholarships intended to repopulate local newsrooms. Included in that bill is a provision that calls for 120 days’ written notice before a local news organization may be sold to an out-of-state company.

Stadelman said the suggested remedies were brainstormed by members of the state’s Local Journalism Task Force, which Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into existence in August 2021. (Tim Franklin, director of the Medill Local News Initiative and the John M. Mutz Chair in Local News at Northwestern University, was a task force member.)

Alex Gough, Pritzker’s press secretary, said late last week that it’s too early in this year’s legislative session for the governor to weigh in on the bills.

Illinois is now one of the more than a dozen states that has either passed or is considering legislation to help the local news industry, data from Rebuild Local News shows. At least three cities and the District of Columbia also have taken steps to assist local news. Legislation has been introduced in Congress as well.

According to Medill research, there are now 203 counties in the U.S. that are news deserts with no source of local news, and residents in more than half of the nation’s counties either have no, or very limited, access to reliable local news. The nation is losing an average of more than two newspapers per week.

Stadelman, who spent more than 20 years as a television reporter and anchor in Rockford before being elected to the Senate in 2012, said the lack of reporters attending local meetings and serving as watchdogs presents a problem for democracy. “When you don’t have a spotlight shining on local government, bad things could happen,” Stadelman said. “I thought state government should look at what could be done to help the bottom line of newsrooms.”

Included in the Strengthening Community Media Act are provisions that:

  • Call for state agencies to “direct at least 50% of its total spending on advertising to local news organization publications.”
  • Offer news employers a credit against the Personal Property Tax Replacement Income Tax for each qualified journalist hired.
  • Offer news employers “a credit against taxes in an amount equal to 50% of the wages paid for up to 150 qualified journalists.”
  • Offer eligible small businesses a tax credit “equal to the amount paid by the eligible small business to local newspapers or broadcasters for advertising in the State.”
  • Create the Journalism Student Scholarship Program to “award scholarships to students who will work at a local news organization in the State for a period of not less than 2 years.”

“The goal here is to directly target these efforts to incentivize the hiring of journalists at the local level,” Stadelman said. “We want to incentivize companies to put more reporters on the streets, more reporters in the newsrooms.”

Brugmann, whose Rebuild Local News nonprofit advocates for public-policy solutions, praised the proposed legislation for identifying pressing problems, such as the loss of journalists especially in the suburbs and Downstate, and taking specific actions to remedy them.

“You’ve got the employee retention/payroll tax credit that looks at how do we incentivize folks to hire local journalists,” she said. “You’ve got what I think is probably one of the most creative pipeline policies that I’ve ever seen, which is offering scholarships to journalism students who commit to serving in a particular area after graduation.”

That last point, she noted, is especially important because “we have a few jobs that a lot of people want, and we have a lot of jobs that no one wants, and a lot of those jobs that no one wants, they tend to be rural, they tend to be at smaller publications. So we need to both support these news outlets and help local journalists maybe not have the student loan debt barrier to going places that need local journalists the most.”

Brugmann also appreciated the requirement that a newspaper give 120 days’ notice before it is sold to an out-of-state company. “When a newspaper might be up for sale, usually we find out after Alden [Global Capital, the hedge-fund owner of many newspapers] already has bought it,” Brugmann said. “So there are lots of really creative policies in this package.”

To Brugmann the proposals of the Strengthening Community Media Act are a higher priority than the efforts to extract money from Big Tech in the Journalism Preservation Act.

But News Media Alliance President and CEO Danielle Coffey, whose organization represents 2,000 news and magazine outlets worldwide, stressed the importance of the Journalism Preservation Act and similar bills in other states and countries that require Google, Facebook and other Big Tech companies to compensate news organizations for their news reporting.

“This is incredibly promising, but more importantly it’s transformative for our industry, and it’s revenue that we’re owed,” Coffey said. “It’s not a subsidy. It demonstrates that our content has value.”

Illinois now joins two other large states, California and New York, in seeking to require Big Tech to compensate local news organizations for their content.

In November, three weeks before Canada’s Online News Act was scheduled to take effect, Google reached an agreement with the Canadian federal government to pay about $100 million per year to news companies in exchange for the right to continue sharing their content online. Meta responded to the Online News Act, which mandated Big Tech payments to news organizations, by pulling news content from Facebook and Instagram.

Coffey noted that Illinois’s news industry is larger than Canada’s.

In 2022, Google signed a deal with six European Union countries, including Germany and France, to pay news publishers for content. Australia subsequently enacted a law, the News Media Bargaining Code, that required Big Tech to compensate newsrooms, with a reported $200 million collected over its first year from Google and Meta. Google’s press office did not respond to an email request for comment.

“These [measures] are going to benefit the geography of the state that passes them,” Coffey said. “It’s admirable that Sen. Stadelman is insuring that Illinois publications are benefiting like other states are across the country and also countries around the world….We need to receive the value of our content. That’s a fundamental cornerstone of our business.”

Stadelman noted that Illinois’s budget talks won’t get serious until April or May, at which point he will get a better sense of his bills’ viability. “Do I expect everything I’ve introduced to pass? Probably not,” the state senator said. “If I can get a couple things that will help the bottom line of newsrooms, I will be satisfied.”

More than 100 New York State Newspapers form Coalition to Advocate for Local Journalism

The coalition is launching at a watershed moment for the journalism industry — and our democracy. Since 2005, more than 3,000 newspapers have shuttered across the country resulting in thousands of layoffs and countless communities losing essential platforms for sharing their stories. New York State has experienced a 40% decrease of newspapers between 2004 and 2019. Since then, the number of journalists has halved and there has been a 60% decrease in overall circulation. There is a growing number of communities with little to no access to local newspaper coverage: 13 New York counties are down to just one newspaper and Orleans County is the first with no local newspaper at all.

The decline of local journalism is a threat to the health of our democracy, research shows there is a direct correlation between the breadth of local media coverage and levels of civic engagement — an especially significant factor in an election year. If newspapers continue to shutter, communities across the state risk being effectively disenfranchised, losing the ability to shape policy conversations and hold local officials accountable.

“The Empire State Local News Coalition is dedicated to advancing a legislative package with bipartisan support aimed at providing a lifeline to newspapers across the State,” said founding member Zachary Richner, director of Long Island-based Richner Communications. “All New Yorkers deserve to have their voices heard, and hometown newspapers are key to that mission. We urge government officials and local stakeholders to rally behind us, safeguarding democracy and bolstering the future of local journalism in New York.”

The Empire State Local News Coalition is championing a robust legislative package that ensures local papers will survive through the 21st century and beyond. Key priorities include:

  • The Local Journalism Sustainability Act (S.625B/A2958C): Sponsored by Sen. Hoylman-Sigal, this bill provides tax credits to local news outlets for the employment of local news journalists. This critical bill ensures New York’s journalists and supporting workers will have job stability while paving the way for more hiring opportunities and an expanded workforce in the future.
  • Incentivizing small businesses to advertise in local media. This win-win proposal would incentivize local businesses to advertise in local media, driving revenue for hometown papers,  all while connecting businesses with their customers.

A 2022 analysis found approximately 354 newsrooms in New York State would benefit from the local journalism payroll tax credit. This includes 53 newsrooms in New York City, with 21 of them being ethnic media outlets serving BIPOC communities.

“Professionally-reported, fact-checked local news forges community, keeps elected officials in check, and strengthens democracy. This important legislation would help fortify our business and allow us to keep reinvesting in high-quality local journalists,” said Adam Stone, publisher at Examiner Media in Westchester.

“Democracy places a responsibility on citizens to be informed so they can effectively participate in the electoral process and in local government. A trusted local news source is essential for that to happen. Healthy communities need an unbiased news organization to connect, enrich and inform citizens,” said Bill Shumway, editor & publisher, North Country This Week. “This legislation would ensure we can continue covering local government meetings each month as part of our comprehensive coverage of six village and town boards, a city council and the county legislature in St. Lawrence County.”

“The bottom line is that this proposed legislation would be a major game changer!  We would be able to increase the number and type of journalists we have on staff. It would allow us to cover more beats, do more video reporting, investigative reporting and expand our “Good News” initiative we have started,” said Mark Vinciguerra, president, Capital Region Independent Media.

“More than ever, we still need local, responsible organizations that collect, research and disperse, for public edification the news and information vital to a community. These organizations are independent local newspapers. Thanks to the internet and social media, many disparate personal and specialty niches build audiences among themselves, often casually; they can be vital and entertaining within the niche. But the serious job , the mission, or serving a broad, inclusive community of neighbors, falls on the shoulders of traditional local newspapers.  The best ones are of, for and about local people and issues, and they serve by following dependable schedules,  no matter how slow business might be in a particular period.  Supporting them and sharing information with them can give exponential returns,” said Dozier Hasty, publisher, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“Village View is a critical source of local news. Its importance is reflected by the fact that we distribute 11,000 copies, by hand, to building lobbies and door stoops all over Greenwich Village and the West Village and we always get calls asking for more. Print media is the only source of local news and views that reaches everyone, from seniors to college students. And the ability of local writers and leaders to write about the neighborhood they live in and the culture they live within is something which cannot be replaced,” said Arthur Z. Schwartz, senior editor, The Village View.

“In the fabric of our communities, independent local newspapers serve as the vital threads weaving together stories of triumphs and challenges, keeping us connected to our neighborhoods and shared experiences. Amidst the dynamic landscape of state legislation and the relentless march of technological progress, small independent local newspapers stand as sentinels of truth, weathering the storm of economic uncertainty and digital disruption. Future legislation will not only provide a sturdy base for local journalism, but as a result, bolster the sustainability and resilience of small businesses and communities,” said Bradley Waters, president and publisher, Sentinel Media Co.

Media workers strike to protest layoffs at New York Daily News, Forbes and Condé Nast

Journalists at The New York Daily News and Forbes walked off the job Thursday amid contentious contract talks with management and a difficult few weeks in the news industry.

Both strike are historic: It’s the first-ever at the business-focused magazine in more than a century, and the first at the storied newspaper in more than three decades, according to the NewsGuild of New York.

The one-day strike at the Daily News coincides with Forbes walkout, which runs through Monday.

PAGE Cooperative is pleased to announce Kevin Craig will be joining our organization as our next Chief Executive Officer. Most recently, Kevin served as SVP/Director at The Arena Group where he helped Parade magazine with its transition from print to digital. Prior to that, he was SVP/Director of the Newspaper Relations Group at AMG Parade for 12 years. “We are excited to welcome Kevin to PAGE. He comes with a passion and strength for our industry that will improve upon PAGE’s strong foundation of support for all newspaper owners,” said Brian Jarvis, PAGE Chairman.

Before joining Parade, Kevin was Director of Sales and Marketing for Signature Offset in Boulder, CO. He also served as Vice President/National Accounts for the paper manufacturer Resolute Forest Products (formerly AbitibiBowater, Inc.). “Kevin is joining PAGE at an important time in the history of the Cooperative and the news industry,” said Marc Michaels, PAGE CFO. “His experience in digital transformation and his industry profile will be of great benefit to the PAGE Membership as it moves forward in procuring digital services and solutions.”

Kevin graduated from Auburn University with a B.S. in Marketing and received an MBA from San Diego State University. He and his family reside in Raleigh, NC. “I am thrilled to work closely with PAGE members across the country and the Board as the Cooperative enters its 40th year.” Kevin will start his new role with PAGE on Tuesday, January 16th

Most Readers Want Publishers To Label AI-Generated Articles — But Trust Outlets Less When They Do

“We already expect quite a lot from the public in terms of media literacy to be able to navigate the contemporary information environment; the use of these technologies in news adds a whole other layer to that.”

An overwhelming majority of readers would like news publishers to tell them when AI has shaped the news coverage they’re seeing. But, new research finds, news outlets pay a price when they disclose using generative AI. That’s the conundrum at the heart of new research from University of Minnesota’s Benjamin Toff and Oxford Internet Institute’s Felix M. Simon. Their working paper “‘Or they could just not use it?’: The paradox of AI disclosure for audience trust in news” is one of the first experiments to examine audience perceptions of AI-generated news.

More than three-quarters of U.S. adults think news articles written by AI would be “a bad thing.” But, from Sports Illustrated to Gannett, it’s clear that particular ship has sailed. Asking Google for information and getting AI-generated content back isn’t the future, it’s our present-day reality.

Much of the existing research on perceptions of AI in newsmaking has focused on algorithmic news recommendation, i.e. questions like how readers feel about robots choosing their headlines. Some have suggested news consumers may perceive AI-generated news as more fair and neutral owing to the “machine heuristic” in which people credit technology as operating without pesky things like human emotions or ulterior motives.

For this experiment, conducted in September 2023, participants read news articles of varying political content — ranging from a piece on the release of the “Barbie” film to coverage of an investigation into Hunter Biden. For some stories, the work was clearly labeled as AI-generated. Some of the AI-labeled articles were accompanied by a list of news reports used as sources.

A couple of limitations to note. The news articles shown to participants, though sourced from tech startup HeyWire AI that sells “actual AI-generated journalistic content,” ran under a mock news org name, and the lack of real-world implications and associations may affect results. The sample of nearly 1,500 people also skewed slightly more educated and more liberal than the U.S. public at large. (There’s a wide — and widening — partisan divide when it comes to trust in news media.) This is a working paper or pre-print, meaning the findings have not yet been peerreviewed. Co-author Toff has said the idea for this research came after he was asked about trust toward AI-generated news — and he didn’t know the answer. A few takeaways from the resulting experiment and a conversation with the co-authors:

Readers perceived news orgs publishing stories labeled as AI-generated as less trustworthy On an 11-point trust scale, survey respondents who saw the news stories labeled as AI-generated rated the mock news organization roughly half a point lower than those shown the article without the label — a statistically significant difference. The respondents, interestingly, did not evaluate the content of the news article labeled as AI-generated as less accurate or more biased. The researchers found the largest difference in trust among those who were familiar with “what legitimate news production and reporting entails.” People with lower levels of “procedural news knowledge,” as the researchers put it, generally did not dock the news orgs trust points for labeling content as AI-generated.

Those who distrust news media…still distrust news media powered by AI

There’s some hope that generative AI could increase trust among those with the lowest confidence in media. Given historically low trust in media among Republicans in the U.S., perhaps some audiences would see generative AI as an improvement over professional journalists? An earlier experiment found that presenting news as sourced from AI reduced the perception of bias among people holding the most hostile partisan attitudes toward media. More recently, an editor from a German digital news site that experimented with AI-assisted content said an audience survey suggested some readers seem to favor “the mechanical accuracy of technology” over the “the error-prone or ideologically shaped person.”

But co-authors Toff and Simon found no improvement in this experiment. Their research showed no changes from AI disclosures among the least trusting segments of the public. Future research could still explore whether different labels could build trust with certain segments of the public, Toff said in an email.

“I wonder if there are ways of describing how AI is used that actually offer audiences more assurances in the underlying information being reported perhaps by highlighting where there is broad agreement across a wide range of sources reporting the same information,” Toff said.

“I don’t think all audiences will inevitably see all uses of these technologies in newsrooms as a net negative,” he added, “and I am especially interested in whether there are ways of describing these applications that may actually be greeted positively as a reason to be more trusting rather than less.”

The bots fared better when they cited their sources

Increasing transparency has been a hallmark of many efforts to improve trust in journalism, from a “show your work” ethos to enhanced bylines. With AI tools still regularly spitting out misinformation and hallucinating sources, being given the opportunity to double check original source material is highly encouraged. Researchers found that when a list of sources was provided alongside the news article, labels disclosing the use of AI did not reduce trust. In other words, the “negative effects associated with perceived trustworthiness are largely counteracted when articles disclose the list of sources used to generate the content.”

What now?

Confirming previous studies, Toff and Simon found an overwhelming majority believed news organizations should “alert readers or viewers that AI was used” — more than 80% across all respondents. Among those who said they wanted to see a disclosure, 78% said news organizations “should provide an explanatory note describing how AI was used.”

The researchers also accepted open-ended responses from study participants, which resulted in practical suggestions to label AI-generated content (“a universally accepted symbol” or “industry-wide labels” similar to the “standard way nutrition information is displayed on food products”) and some statements of blanket disapproval (“or they could just not do this,” one wrote).

“While people often say they want transparency and disclosure about all kinds of editorial practices and policies, the likelihood that people will actually click through and read and engage with detailed explanations about the use of these tools and technologies is probably quite low,” Toff said.

The nutritional labels mentioned by one respondent might be instructive for thinking about what news consumers want. “People want companies to disclose what’s in their food even if 99% of the time they aren’t going to actually read through the ingredient list,” Toff noted.

It’s easy to forget it’s only been one year since ChatGPT was released and helped kickstart a seismic shift in the tech industry. Many in journalism — and in our audiences — are still getting to know the technology and perceptions, for better or worse, may evolve. (The researchers found, for example, that respondents who said they heard or read “a lot” about news organizations using generative AI were more likely to say they thought AI did a better job than humans in writing news articles.)

“Audiences are already often deeply skeptical if not downright cynical about what human journalists do (and a lot of news that people encounter in their social media feeds doesn’t give them much reason to feel otherwise). Inevitably as these tools become more widely used, newsrooms will need to grapple with how to effectively communicate what these technologies are and are not being used for, and we know so little about how to do that,” Toff said. “We already expect quite a lot from the public in terms of media literacy to be able to navigate the contemporary information environment; the use of these technologies in news adds a whole other layer to that, and neither newsrooms nor the public have a very well developed vocabulary to navigate that on either side.”

Simon stressed these early findings should not deter news organizations from setting up rules around the responsible use and disclosure of AI and noted that comparative work around disclosures is “well underway.” News organizations should consider where disclosure makes sense (when an article was largely written by AI, for example) and where it may not (when journalists used an AI-transcription tool to transcribe interviews to inform the story).

States Newsroom Launches North Dakota Monitor To Close Out Groundbreaking Year

Amy Dalrymple to lead States Newsroom’s North Dakota outlet

States Newsroom, the nation’s leading network of state-based nonprofit news outlets, has launched the North Dakota Monitor to provide free, high-quality, nonpartisan reporting on the important issues affecting the Peace Garden State. The Monitor will be the 39th news site in States Newsroom’s network and the ninth launched in 2023 alone. With the addition of its eight content-sharing agreements, States Newsroom is on track to have a presence in all 50 states by the middle of next year, elevating its status to a fully national network.

Veteran North Dakota journalist Amy Dalrymple will lead the Monitor’s newsroom as editor-in-chief. She has worked as a journalist in North Dakota for 20 years, most recently as editor of The Bismarck Tribune. Dalrymple reported from Williston for Forum News Service from 2012–2017 to cover North Dakota’s oil boom and also covered higher education and other topics for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. She has been involved in covering every North Dakota legislative session since 2009. Dalrymple will continue to be based in Bismarck.

“We are excited to close out 2023 by addressing the growing issue of news deserts in North Dakota,” said Chris Fitzsimon, director and publisher of States Newsroom. “Our goal is to make the North Dakota Monitor the go-to source for how decisions are being made by government officials in Bismarck and around the state. We know that Amy and her team will deliver on that mission by providing clear and honest reporting on the issues most critical to the Peace Garden State — all without a paywall.”

As part of its continued growth, States Newsroom announced in March that it was selected by The Pew Charitable Trusts to be the new home of Stateline — merging the two-state policy-focused organizations to expand their incisive reporting on state government around the country. States Newsroom also launched content-sharing partnerships with eight independent nonprofit outlets, including The Texas Tribune, to host reporting on News from the States, its comprehensive statehouse news site.

Last year, in a national study on statehouse reporting, Pew Research Center cited States Newsroom and other nonprofit newsrooms as key to filling the void in coverage left by staffing cuts at legacy media outlets. According to Pew, the overall percentage of reporters working for nonprofit newsrooms in the statehouse press corps has more than tripled since 2014 and now makes up the largest portion of statehouse reporters in 10 states and the second largest in 17 states.

States Newsroom is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit funded by the generous contributions of readers and philanthropists. States Newsroom is committed to supporting fact-based, non-partisan news to the public at no cost and ad-free.

Paywalled Content Is Deemed Higher Quality And More Trustworthy

KEY FINDINGS

• 30% of consumers believe that paid content is higher quality than free content, while 10% say free content is higher quality.

• 25% of consumers have more trust in publications that require a subscription, while 13% trust publications that are free to access more.

• Consumers believe publishers’ content is generally higher quality and more trustworthy when they have to pay to access it, according to research by Toolkits and National Research Group.

In a study of 1,007 U.S. consumers who have subscribed to digital publications, 30% of respondents said they believe content they must pay to access is higher quality than content that’s available for free, and 25% said they have more trust in publications that require a subscription. Ten percent said they view free content as higher quality and 13% said they trust free publications more.

Cause and effect The correlation between paywalled content and consumer perceptions of quality and trust is clear, but the factors driving those attitudes are open to interpretation. Several explanations are plausible, including:

Better business models: Publishers have gravitated towards subscription offerings and paid content access in recent years largely because they believe audience revenue can help fuel healthier and more sustainable businesses. That theory may be proving true, as challenges with ad-supported models mount and publishers with audience revenue components to their businesses fare better than those without. It stands to reason that healthy, stable, and sustainable media businesses might be likelier to produce high-quality and trustworthy content.

Improved user experience: Publishers that generate revenue directly from their audiences are often less reliant on advertising and can offer improved user experiences as a result. Some offer paid readers ad-free or ad-light experiences, while the data associated with logged-in or known users can often help boost ad relevancy – all of which can help boost consumer perception of quality and trust. Consumers may not dislike advertising in and of itself, but publishers frequently find that improvements in user experience correlate with increased perceptions of quality, trust and value.

Marketing and product positioning: Publishers that ask consumers to pay for content often go to great lengths to position it as higher quality and more trustworthy. Whether that’s true is subjective and difficult to quantify, but marketing messaging and product positioning alone might influence consumer perception, to some degree, regardless of the nature of the underlying content on offer.

Confirmation bias and behavioral psychology: Publishers increasingly find that subscription products and other audience revenue approaches enable them to more closely align their business needs with their editorial missions and the interests and needs of their audiences. While audience revenue might help underpin more viable business models, however, there’s also an argument to suggest it incentivizes publishers to pander to audiences by playing to their existing beliefs and biases. That, in turn, may influence perceptions of quality and trust. Elements of behavioral psychology come into play as well. Consumers often ascribe more value to products and services simply because they own them or because they’ve paid to access them, for example.

Publishers Forecast To Lose $54b In Revenue From Ad-Blocking

Publishers are estimated to lose $54 billion in ad revenue globally due to ad blocking in 2024, representing about 8% of total ad spend, according to data released Monday.

The ad-filtering technology group eyeo and its subsidiary Blockthrough released the 2023 report. This year’s report renamed Ad-Filtering Report from PageFair Adblock Report in previous years. The annual study provides an overview of global ad filtering and ad-blocking trends and user insights. The company estimates losses would be significantly higher, $116 billion, if ad-filtering tools that give users the ability to only see nonintrusive ads did not exist.

To determine ad-blocking rates, this study used anonymized, aggregate traffic data collected by Blockthrough from domains. Geographic locations came from truncated and anonymized IP addresses, while categorizing website content obtained via a third-party vendor used just for web analytics The number of users opting into Acceptable Ads, ad filtering, rose 300 million in 2023, up 42% from 216 million in Q4 2021.

The report also notes that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models are revolutionizing ad-filtering, making it more sustainable and scalable.

Jan Wittek, CRO at eyeo, pointed to YouTube’s recent move to crackdown on ad-blocker users by showing those consumers an anti-ad-blocking wall when they try to watch YouTube content. He admitted to the company seeing some uninstalls. “People use ad filtering and ad-blocking software not only to block ads, but also to access content in a nonintrusive way,” he said. “They use it to stay in control, to have options and to have convenience. On the other hand, they understand that content creators and publishers need to get paid.”

Not all ad-filtering users are averse to advertising. Some 58% of ad-filtering users are open or neutral to seeing nonintrusive ads, but only 20% express a strong dislike for all ads.

Of those 58% who are open or neutral to seeing some nonintrusive ads, 78% were open to seeing ads if the ads are relevant or relevant to the content being viewed. Some 64% they are open to seeing ads if they are specifically targeted to the viewer’s interests.

Wittek said it is a fair balance that users embrace and all that chatter actually drives some, who weren’t using ad blockers before, to install ad-blocking and ad-filtering software. “We hope for a middle ground that balances the needs of the user along with the need for publishers and creators to get paid for their content,” Wittek said.

Data in the report shows users are annoyed with clutter and intrusive online ads and are reclaiming control of their online experience. The overall number of active ad-blocking users worldwide jumped to 912 million in Q2 2023, compared with 11% in Q1 2022.

Since the last report, the research shows ad blocking on desktop rose after a long plateau, lifted by the move to workfrom-home. Ad blocking on mobile crossed desktop by the end of Q2 2023 and is expected to continue its long-term growth trend into the future.

Introductory discounts drive subscription purchases, consumers say

Leading independent publishers are using Memberful to build sustainable reader revenue and better align their business models with the needs and interests of their audiences.

KEY FINDINGS

• 73% of consumers say they’re more likely to subscribe when publishers offer them introductory discounts.

• 54% of consumers say they’re more likely to subscribe if a publisher has allowed them to access some content for free.

• Consumers are evenly split on whether they’d rather pay more money upfront for long-term savings (30%) or a smaller monthly fee that costs more in the long run (33%).

• Consumers say they’re more likely to subscribe to digital publications that offer them introductory discounts and free trials, according to research by Toolkits and National Research Group.

In a study of 1,007 U.S. consumers who have subscribed to digital publications, 73% said they are more likely to subscribe when offered an introductory discount, and 76% said they’re more likely to subscribe if a free trial period is offered.

54% of consumers also said they’re more likely to subscribe if a publisher has allowed them to access some content for free, and 67% of consumers said they would be more likely to subscribe if the process of canceling was easier than it currently is.

When it comes to evaluating monthly plans vs. longer annual commitments, consumers are evenly split on whether they’d rather pay more money upfront for long-term savings (30%) or a smaller monthly fee that may cost them more in the long run (33%). The remainder – 37% – said they do not have a preference.

Considerations for publishers

• Introductory discounts drive purchasing decisions The majority of leading consumer-facing publishers continue to offer introductory discounts and free trials for one simple reason: They remain an effective driver of sustainable subscription growth. What consumers say and what they actually do often varies widely, so self-reported data should be always taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, advanced publishers say behavioral data tells a similar story, and that introductory discounts continue to prove effective for growing their subscriber bases and revenues. There’s a reason introductory rates continue to be offered by the world’s most successful subscription publishers, and their use does not immediately call into question the health of a publisher’s business despite what some industry observers suggest.

• Consumers expect introductory rates Publishers with valuable and highly differentiated subscription products don’t typically want to offer them at reduced prices, and some argue that introductory offers risk “cheapening” products in consumers’ eyes. But the reality is consumers have largely been trained to expect introductory discounts when beginning subscription relationships. While some publishers might avoid them in an attempt to differentiate their offerings and communicate more “premium” positioning, they might simply be limiting their subscriber growth as a result.

• Short-term vs. long-term revenue One common critique of introductory discounts is that publishers are leaving money on the table by selling at a discount, but as far as many publishers are concerned the data tell a different story. Introductory discounts may cost publishers revenue in the near term, but the additional subscriber volume afforded by introductory discounts often results in significantly greater revenue yield over a multi-year period. Many publishers also say they see little evidence to support the theory that discounted subscribers will churn at a significantly higher rate than those who pay full price from day one. Publishers optimizing for short-term revenue may wish to curb their discounting, but for those looking to maximize revenue on a long-term basis, introductory discounts will continue to be attractive.

• The B2B exception Publications targeting business or professional audiences may face very different dynamics, particularly if subscriptions are being expensed or charged to an entity other than the individual purchasing them. Publishers that sell primarily to businesses may find that introductory discounts are less effective at converting subscribers and that less aggressive discounting could result in greater revenue yield.

Google to pay $100M a year to Canadian news outlets in last-minute deal: report

Agreement comes 3 weeks before Online News Act rules come into force

Google and the federal government have reached an agreement in their dispute over the Online News Act that would see Google continue to share Canadian news online in return for the company making annual payments to news companies in the range of $100 million.

Sources told Radio-Canada and CBC News earlier Wednesday that an agreement had been reached. Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge confirmed the news Wednesday afternoon. “Many doubted that we would be successful, but I was confident we would find a way to address Google’s concerns,” she told reporters outside the House of Commons.

The federal government and Google agreed on the regulatory framework earlier this week, a government source familiar with the talks told Radio-Canada. The federal government had estimated earlier this year that Google’s compensation should amount to about $172 million. Google estimated the value at $100 million.

Simplified negotiations

Along with the financial demands, Google had expressed concerns about what spokesperson Shay Purdy called “critical structural issues” with the Online News Act, also called Bill C-18. The company said it would not have a mandatory negotiation model imposed on it for talks with Canadian media organizations, preferring to deal with a single point of contact.

The new regulations will allow Google to negotiate with a single group that would represent all media, allowing the company to limit its arbitration risk.Kent Walker, Google’s president of global affairs, thanked St-Onge for addressing the company’s concerns. “We are pleased that the Government of Canada has committed to addressing our core issues with Bill C-18,” Walker said in a statement. ” The rules will be added to the C-18 legislative framework, which must be unveiled by mid-December.

Google would still be required to negotiate with the media and sign an agreement. The digital giant could also add additional service contributions, which have yet to be specified. Google had threatened to block Canadian news content on its platforms as a result of the legislation. But unlike Meta, which ended its talks with the government last summer and stopped distributing Canadian news on Facebook and Instagram, Google has not blocked news in Canada.

A discount deal?

Faced with Google’s threat to stop distributing Canadian news, the government seems to have softened its position.But the government source argues that an agreement constitutes a victory and a net gain for Canadian media. The framework for a single negotiation is likely to serve as an example for other countries, the source added. St-Onge said the deal with Google could be reopened if other countries introduce their own legislation and reach more favourable deals with the tech giant. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the agreement was “very good news.””After months of holding strong, of demonstrating our commitment to local journalism, to strong independent journalists getting paid for their work … Google has agreed to properly support journalists, including local journalism,” he said on his way into Wednesday’s question period. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he welcomes news that Ottawa has reached a deal on online news with Google. He argues Facebook’s parent company Meta continues to ‘abdicate any responsibility’ in the matter. Bill C-18 applies to digital platforms with 20 million unique monthly users and annual revenues of $1 billion. Only Meta and Google meet those criteria.

Meta’s talks with the government have not resumed. When asked if those negotiations could be reopened, St-Onge said it’s up to Meta. “This [deal with Google] shows that this legislation works,” she said. “Now it’s on Facebook to explain why they’re leaving their platform to disinformation and misinformation instead of sustaining our news system.”

A Meta spokesperson told CBC News it doesn’t plan to allow news on its platforms in Canada while the Online News Act is law. “Unlike search engines, we do not proactively pull news from the internet to place in our users’ feeds and we have long been clear that the only way we can reasonably comply with the Online News Act is by ending news availability for people in Canada,” the spokesperson said in an email.

As a news organization, CBC/Radio-Canada could see a financial benefit under C-18, which includes a requirement for CBC to provide an annual report on any compensation for news it receives from digital operators. St-Onge said Wednesday that CBC’s eligibility under the bill will become clearer when regulations are released ahead of the bill coming into force on Dec. 19.

The New York Times Announces A New Weekly Interview Franchise

We are excited to announce the creation of a new weekly New York Times interview franchise that will provide readers and listeners with intimate, in-depth conversations with notable people from all realms of public life. It will be cohosted by David Marchese, the Magazine’s Talk interviewer, and Lulu Garcia-Navarro, a veteran and well-known audio journalist who hosted “First Person,” an interview show for Opinion Audio, after 17 years at NPR.

We’ll publish this new franchise as a podcast for those who want to listen to the interviews, and also as a text Q. and

A. for those who prefer to read. It will launch next year and be based at the Magazine.

The creation of this new franchise stems from our belief that rich interviews that engage with public figures in their own words are central to helping our audience understand the world. It will build on the success of David’s Talk column, which has been one of the most popular features on our site over the past five years.

We’re excited to bring together two master interviewers for this new venture. Lulu joined The Times in 2021 from NPR, where she held one of the most prominent jobs in audio journalism, as one of the hosts of “Weekend Edition.” The winner of two Peabody Awards, she is known for the empathy, range and rigor of her many interviews, all of which were on vivid display in the recent interview she did with the Israeli writer Etgar Keret, which appeared as both a crafted longform Q. and A. and an audio interview.

David took over the Magazine’s Talk column in 2018. Since then he has conducted more than 130 interviews, with figures including Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Rosie Perez, Paul Ryan, Bono and Tom Hanks. His interviews are often marked by surprising revelations, deep research and a probing, conversational quality that disarms his subjects (a common refrain is “No one’s ever asked me that before!”). His recent interview with Jann Wenner made headlines around the world.

This new franchise has been conceived and developed as a partnership between the Magazine and the Audio team. It will be overseen by Allison Benedikt, formerly the editorial director at Opinion. Allison joined The Times last year from Slate, where she was executive editor. Audio editor Anabel Bacon and producer Wyatt Orme will be part of the team, which we’ll continue building in the coming months.

Why Moving Public Notices To Government Websites Is A Bad Idea

Last year, the FL Legislature passed a public notice bill (HB 7049) that went into effect Jan. 1. The new law gives counties the option to place public notices solely on their own government website and dispense with any such notice in the traditional format — newspapers and newspaper websites.

The reasons given for county websites vary — saving the government money, newspapers are dying, it’s a newspaper subsidy, no one reads public notices, etc. But a closer look reveals another side to the story, one that casts doubt and reveals the downsides of such a plan.

In fact, government website-only notice will push government actions further into the shadows and make it less transparent. And it will make it harder for Floridians to monitor their local government and hold their leaders accountable.

Public notices cover a host of government activities, ranging from local millage rates and zoning changes to delinquent taxes and school board decisions. They can herald an important hearing by elected officials on matters crucial to everyday lives. The notices are, in fact, a form of basic constitutional due process protecting the rights of citizens and their property in a functioning democracy.

Under the traditional process, the notices are not just placed in the printed newspaper. They are also required by law to be posted visibly on the newspaper’s website. In addition, the notices are required to be uploaded to a searchable FPA website that aggregates all Florida government notices at floridapublicnotices.com.

If a citizen wants follow-up notices to those posted to the site (or the newspaper’s site), he or she can request email alerts of the new notices. These services – required by law – are free to the public; there is no paywall. What’s more, the aggregated site continues to be modernized and upgraded to serve Florida’s state government, as well as its towns, municipalities, businesses and taxpayers.

If this traditional process is discarded and notices move to the county website, they no longer will be posted in newspapers or on the statewide website. The result will be a county-by-county patchwork of notices around the states

— making public notices less visible and accessible to the public.

What about the claim that newspapers are dying? While print circulation in daily papers has declined, weekly newspapers are growing, and our dailies are seeing increases in digital subscriptions and page views. In some cases, newspapers are experiencing double-digit online growth.

Newspapers in Florida alone reach 5.6 million readers in any given week, and our newspaper websites typically reach more audience than most city or county websites and draw a minimum of 53 million unique online users in any given month. The claim of newspaper irrelevancy is simply not true. They are more relevant than ever.

So, what about cost savings the government websites will produce? In the counties considering this change, no specific savings have been outlined, including Volusia County. If county websites replace newspapers, the local governments will be required to recreate the same infrastructure newspaper have already have — increasing the cost of government.

In addition, without an investment in marketing to direct citizens to hundreds of government websites, the public will not know where to find public notices. Also, on the expense front, county government public notice websites will also be required to provide citizens, if requested, a copy of notices via email or first-class mail — another new cost.

As for the charge that the notices are a newspaper subsidy, it’s true newspapers derive some revenue from them but calling it a subsidy ignores the fact that newspapers perform a service just as other county vendors do. This issue is not only about the money. It’s about an independent publisher helping to ensure government transparency and honesty. Public notices belong in a public forum – newspapers – where citizens are most likely to see them. Public notices should remain in newspapers, not placed on hundreds of different government websites with the hope that people will find them.

Digital Revenue Profitability Confusing For Local Media Companies

Reaching digital revenue profitability for local media companies varies based on many factors.

A survey of financial executives released Friday shows 41.5% as the average gross margin and 32.8% as the average earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA).

The results of the survey — How Profitable Is Digital Revenue — found the greatest challenges are accurately tracking and maintaining profitability of digital products, and points to the entanglement of digital with broadcast media products, because they are not clearly differentiated.

The main challenges among the top five included:

• Ensuring revenue and expenses are appropriately identified, as well as the volume of tracking multiple vendors

• Revenue is bucketed by web apps, offsite, and programmatic, while expenses, other than commissions, are not broken down, and it is labor-intensive to track third-party costs to digital campaigns

• Accumulating all costs and getting the information in a timely manner

• Separating digital-only expenses when packages are sold with legacy print products – and no segregated costs for digital media

The online survey with email solicitations was fielded between October 24 and November 2, 2023, and targeted the executive members of the Media Financial Management Association, as well as Borrell Associates clients. All but one of the 58 responses were from U.S. media companies representing newspapers, radio, TV, cable, outdoor, and magazines.

Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell pointed to adjusted Q3 2023 operating margins for digital revenue from several companies including Townsquare at 31.8%, iHeart Media at 30.9%, Gannett DMS at 11.4%, and Entravision at 14.4%.

While executives expressed a high degree of confidence in the calculations, some expenses associated with digital operations were excluded. Some 81% said they were calculating digital profitability, while 71% of survey participants said their companies have a formal framework for calculating digital profitability.

The survey asked executives to cite company estimates for individual profit margins on a variety of products and services While search engine marketing came in at the very bottom with 23%, the average top four included banner display advertising at 65%, followed by mobile app advertising at 57%, whle targeted display advertising and email both came in at 53%.

Website development also ranked low on average at 38%, with social-media advertising at 35%.

On average, companies report revenue 11 digital products, and profit margins are calculated for an average of seven digital products. Interestingly, the highest profitability reported was for email newsletters, mobile advertising, banners, and geofenced ads. When calculating expenses for digital operations, most do not include shared resources with the core product, including production staff, equipment, and office space.

American Press Institute Works With The Associated Press To Strengthen Local Election Reporting For 2024

Beginning this fall and throughout 2024, the American Press Institute and The Associated Press will collaborate to share resources and insights to support news organizations’ evolving needs around local elections and democracy. As news organizations review their 2023 election coverage and look ahead to 2024, this effort will seek to provide local outlets with the resources they need to strengthen understanding of American democracy.

“AP has played a unique role in U.S. elections for over 175 years by counting the vote, declaring winners, and reporting the results with clarity and context,” said AP Washington Bureau Chief Anna Johnson. “We are pleased to work with the American Press Institute to share our expertise with local newsrooms as they prepare to cover one of the biggest stories in American politics.”

This month, AP will share local reporting tips in API’s election-focused Need to Know Special Edition, which will be published each Monday in November via API’s main email newsletter and on API’s website. The series will help journalists and media leaders take stock of their 2023 coverage — what worked well and what didn’t — to support their coverage planning for 2024.

“News leaders today have to balance so much, including daily reporting needs with bold goals for the future,” said Kevin Loker, API’s director of strategic partnerships and research. “In this collaboration with the AP, we look forward to helping news leaders think ahead — so together we can build stronger local election coverage in service of our communities in 2024.”

The two organizations will also work together on an election reporting survey to gather insights on local news organizations’ reporting needs and challenges. The survey results will inform programming and resources from both organizations in 2024. If you are a journalist or media leader who wants to share your needs, please take a few minutes to complete the survey.

API and AP have a rich history of working together to meet the information needs of communities. As part of the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, the organizations conduct research on news consumers’ attitudes to inform the industry and the public. Since 2020, AP has also led webinars in API election-focused programs, with insights from those conversations shared on API’s website.

The Colorado Sun Donates Its Share Of 24 Suburban Papers And Urges They Go Nonprofit

One of the more innovative efforts at saving newspapers from chain ownership is winding down, although the papers themselves remain protected. The Colorado Sun announced Wednesday that it would transfer its ownership shares of Colorado Community Media (CCM), a chain of 24 weekly and monthly papers in the Denver suburbs, to the nonprofit National Trust for Local News, which led the effort to buy the papers two years ago. The Sun had been given a stake in CCM in return for helping to run the papers.

The reason given for pulling out was that the Sun is in the process of converting from a for-profit public benefit corporation to a nonprofit, which I wrote about recently for Nieman Lab. A story in the Sun that appeared Wednesday urged nonprofit status for CCM as well: “Just as we believe that nonprofit is the right fit for The Sun, we believe it’s a good fit for these weeklies, too. That will be a decision for the Trust and the board of directors of the Colorado News Conservancy, the parent company of CCM.” No money is changing hands. (The Conservancy is the entity established by the National Trust and the Sun to run the CCM papers).

Sun editor and co-founder Larry Ryckman said on X/Twitter: “We’ve been proud co-owners of Colorado Community Media for 2 years & wish it well in this new chapter. They’re doing great work & deserve your support.” Linda Shapley, publisher of CCM, was quoted in the Sun as saying: “I’m grateful for The Sun’s support at a time that was most critical for our future At Colorado Community Media, we’re excited to be part of the evolving Colorado news ecosystem, and we’re dedicated to serving our communities with timely, factual news and information.”

The Sun and CCM are the subject of a chapter in “What Works in Community News,” a book about the future of local journalism by Ellen Clegg and me that will be published in January. In September 2021 I spent nearly a week in

Denver reporting on Colorado’s media ecosystem. Obviously that ecosystem is still in flux, but the period covered by our book ends in late 2022.

I believe what was taking place in Colorado back then is a story still worth telling: the founding of the Sun by 10 journalists who’d quit The Denver Post following deep cuts by its hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital; the Sun’s early hopes of raising money through blockchain technology; its unique governance structure; and its participation in the acquisition of CCM.

Ellen and I look at our book not as a standalone entity but, rather, as the hub of an ongoing story that also comprises updates to our website, a podcast (Shapley, National Trust executive director Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, and former Denver Post editor Greg Moore have all been guests, and we hope to have Ryckman on once the book has been released), and an evolving social media presence (we’re currently on X/Twitter and Mastodon, but that may change).

How AI Could Help Publishers Prove The Value Of Their Journalism

The issue with AI as a tool for creation is that it raises the question of how much human interaction is required for something to be considered ‘human made’. Publishers should be looking for ways to demonstrate the provenance of their journalism, from inception through creation to publishing.

There’s lots of talk – again – about whether AI will replace journalists. The answer is no, at least not until it can walk around, conduct interviews, and start drinking too early. After all, journalists have been using AI to help put their stories together for years at this point. It’s just a tool, and handymen weren’t replaced by their hammers.

But what it does do is allow for the creation of content at scale. While the outlets that have disclosed they’re using generative AI are all at least paying lip service to using it responsibly, it has the potential to make the pink-slime problem much more prevalent.

If you thought competition for adspend was already fierce, it just might be about to become even more so. It doesn’t take much to pump out endless iterations on the same story already; just imagine how much easier generative AI will make it. But that’s content, not journalism.

So while AI won’t directly replace journalists, it could potentially make the economics of digital publishing even worse for the publishers that employ them. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. In fact, the ease with which content can be generated provides an impetus for publishers to change how their journalism is presented – and in such a way that it could help their bottom lines. It could push newspapers to put provenance at the heart of digital publishing.

Time and transparency I’ve sat in on a few sessions and roundtables over the past few weeks where creatives and artists have argued that ‘human-made’ will be the key differentiator in the age of AI. That having a human thumbprint on the work will increase its value, because it is truly original and unique. The issue with AI as a tool for creation is that it raises the question of how much human interaction is required for something to be considered ‘human made’.

Unlike, say, filters in Photoshop or spellcheck in Docs, AI can reduce human interaction to a simple, single prompt, at which time the AI takes over. Is that ‘human-made’? What if an artist draws a very rough sketch then prompts Stable Diffusion to turn it into a masterpiece in the style of Rembrandt? The user did some composition, after all, so is that now ‘human-made’? What about if they then refined it and asked the AI to use a specific colour palette instead, and to remove parts of the image? Is that, after all that human interaction, now ‘human-made’? The point is that it will be very hard to prove that any art is ‘human-made’, as the point at which that becomes ‘made by AI’ is a moving target. The same is true for journalism: is a journalist writing a 400 word piece and asking Bard to expand it to 1200 words a ‘human-created’ article? What about just a prompt to rewrite another piece from the web? To get around accusations of just generating art from a prompt, I’ve seen artists on Twitch stream the entire process of creating the art. Starting from a blank canvas, they document the process from conception to completion. That video is the provenance of the piece – it’s proof of the work that was put in, and even if they use AI during the process at least it’s documented. There’s no reason pieces of digital journalism couldn’t do something similar. Just as Twitter shows the timeline of edits made to a tweet, articles could provide timestamps of their development and creation. Those timestamps, or however the article’s provenance is demonstrated, is proof of the time spent by the journalist, if nothing else. There are problems to be worked through, obviously, particularly in a world where articles need to be heavily legalled before they actually go live. And inevitably there would be ways to fake time being spent on an article. But even providing evidence that the article was being worked on for hours, days etc. rather than the seconds required to generate one from whole cloth – that has to be worth experimenting with. And it wouldn’t just benefit the publishers who want to demonstrate their content is worth subscribing to, either.

Premium and perceptions of value News publishers have always made the case that their articles are so inherently important to audiences that it adds value to the advertising that sits alongside it. You’ll hear that described as ‘premium’, tacitly suggesting that other content online is worth significantly less. That’s the basis for private marketplaces (PMPs) like Ozone, which sell advertising on the understanding that the context of a newspaper’s website provides uplift to the brands that advertise on it. But for the most part that value is based solely on that context rather than the articles themselves. There have been attempts to provide ‘scores’ for articles based on other criteria – most notably overtone.ai – but the vast majority of articles on the internet are still undifferentiated in value. At the same time the twin issues of disinformation and trust are also being exacerbated by generative AI, as I wrote about here, so the considerations for news publishers are both commercial and societal.

So with those pressures, what can publishers do to reassert the value of their articles and combat the issues of disinformation? The answer is to bring the provenance of their journalism to the fore. By integrating the existence of that provenance – even if it’s just evidence an article was being worked on for a while – into news quality scores, it helps differentiate human-created articles from the pink slime of AI generated content. As I mentioned earlier, it is far from a perfectly realised idea. It might even be made redundant if the makers of AI tools require disclosure of the level of their involvement, or through regulation. It would require dev time and resources to be made available at a time when those are increasingly scarce, and for the uptake of a news scoring index from the big search players. But in the era of AI-generated content, it would help publishers prove that their articles are genuinely made by humans

– and therefore more valuable to both their readers and advertisers.

The New York Times Passes 10 Million Subscribers

The company reported an adjusted operating profit of $89.8 million in its latest quarter, up from $69 million a year earlier.

The New York Times now has more than 10 million subscribers, the company said on Wednesday, edging closer to its goal of 15 million by the end of 2027. In its third-quarter report, The New York Times Company said it had added 210,000 net digital-only subscribers in the three months through September, giving it 9.41 million along with 670,000 print subscribers.

The Times Company has focused on getting subscribers to sign up for more than one of its offerings, which include the core news report, Cooking, Games, the Wirecutter review site and the sports news site The Athletic. Nearly 3.8 million of the 9.41 million digital-only subscribers are subscribed to at least two products, the company said.

Meredith Kopit Levien, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that the third-quarter results showed that The Times’s “multiproduct bundle” was performing well and would “further us down the path to building a larger, more profitable company.” The Times Company had an adjusted operating profit of $89.8 million for the quarter, up 30.1 percent from a year earlier. Total revenue was $598.3 million, up 9.3 percent from a year earlier.

The Athletic, which the Times Company bought for $550 million in early 2022, recorded an adjusted operating loss of $7.9 million for the quarter, an improvement from a $12.1 million loss a year earlier. The Athletic has lost about $68 million since the acquisition. Times executives said at the time of the deal that they expected The Athletic to take three years to turn profitable.

Quarterly revenue at The Athletic grew 45.8 percent year over year, to $34.4 million, because of an increase in subscribers and the introduction of display advertising, The Times said.

The Times disbanded its sports desk in September, with reporters and editors moving to other sections across the organization. Content from The Athletic, which is operated separately from The Times’s core newsroom, is now used in The Times’s print paper and its digital report.

Despite a challenging advertising environment across the industry, The Times posted a 6.7 percent year-over-year increase in digital ad revenue, to $75 million, aided in part by the new ad sales for The Athletic. Total advertising revenue was up 6 percent, to $117.1 million.

The Times, like other newspapers, has seen a steady decline in print subscribers. It has lost 70,000 in the past year.

For the final quarter of this year, the company expects total subscription revenue to increase 8 to 11 percent from a year ago on an adjusted basis, it said, while it forecast a single-digit percentage increase in digital advertising revenue.

Paxton Media Group Acquires The Southern Illinoisan Newspaper

Paxton Media Company (PMG), a family-owned media company currently managed by fifth generation family members, has agreed to purchase The Southern Illinoisan newspaper. Lee Enterprises had owned The Southern Illinoisan since 1979.

Dirks, Van Essen & April, a media merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is representing Lee Enterprises in the transaction. Terms were not disclosed.

PMG Group Publisher Bill Evans will add The Southern to his stable of media properties located in southern Illinois and western Kentucky. No stranger to southern Illinois, Evans has led the PMG-owned NBC television affiliate for the region, WPSD-TV in Paducah, Kentucky, for the last 23 years. He is also publisher of Paxton’s flagship newspaper The Paducah Sun, and weekly newspapers in Mayfield, Kentucky; Benton, Kentucky; Eddyville, Kentucky; Princeton, Kentucky; and Metropolis, Illinois.

“The SI naturally fits our footprint for community-based journalism. The team of journalists I have the opportunity to lead from our Paducah and southern Illinois newsrooms has covered many of the important stories impacting our hometowns in southern Illinois. I look forward to expanding our coverage. We have the resources to allocate to covering southern Illinois,” said Evans.

Paxton Media Group is a growing media company, having purchased numerous newspapers over the past few years in the Midwest and Southeast. PMG operates more than 120 newspapers in 14 states. Paxton owns six other newspapers in Illinois. “PMG believes strongly in the value of local newspapers and the vital role they play in the communities they serve. We appreciate being the new steward of this important community asset and intend to work hard to maintain the trust that The Southern has earned over its history,” Jamie Paxton, the president and CEO of PMG, said in a statement.

Alden’s At It Again: Hedge Fund Trims Staff At San Diego Union Tribune, Critic Charges

Alden Global Capital has been accused of gutting newsrooms since its takeover of Tribune Publishing in 2021. But the criticism has seemed muted lately.

No more. Andrea Donohue writes in the Voice of San Diego that the hedge fund is in the process of cutting staff at The San Diego Union-Tribune, the paper Alden bought from Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of The Los Angeles Times, in July of this year for an undisclosed sum.

Barely two weeks after Alden acquired the Union-Tribune, Jeff Light, editor and publisher, left the paper. And that was just the start of the talent exodus made of staggered buyouts, Donohue writes. “Internally, one newsroom worker said employees estimate that somewhere between 60 and 80 people are left from the 108-person newsroom under Soon-Shiong,” Donohue continues. He adds, “Another said the mostly editorial staff meetings that used to have between 100 to120 people now feature 50 to 60…If the newsroom is now at, say, 75 people, that would be just 18 percent of its 2006 size.”

Many may not realize that the La Jolla Light was also acquired during that transaction. This is not some small town: San Diego is a major city and military center that, like Chicago, may now see its local journalism suffering.

Alden is not the only hedge fund in the journalism game. Nor is it the only one accused of reducing newsrooms. But it symbolizes much of what is wrong in the news business: a bottom-line approach that puts short-term profits above product-building.

You may recall that Alden acquired Tribune Publishing, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and numerous other newspapers, for a reported $633 million in 2021.

The Union-Tribune was “big and important and it employed a lot of journalists at one point, and many of them were quite good,” Donohue writes. “The paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for a stunning investigation that sent Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham to prison for spectacular corruption. It had bureaus in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City. Even when it wasn’t great, it was at least there: watching meetings of the City Council, school board, supervisors, Port of San Diego and more.”

Two Daily Newspapers In Rhode Island Will Merge

Sad news coming out of Rhode Island, where two daily papers are being merged into one. Ian Donnis of The Public’s Radio reports that The Call of Woonsocket and The Times of Pawtucket will become The Blackstone Valley Call & Times as of Nov. 1. “Our commitment to being a daily news provider for Northern Rhode Island has not changed,” according to a story Donnis cited that was on the front page of The Call. The article referenced “current business trends and increases in printing costs” as the reasons behind the merger.

In addition, The Call’s Sunday edition will be discontinued, to be replaced with a Saturday weekend edition in the merged paper. And get this: Donnis writes, “Between them, The Call and The Times have two news reporters, two sports reporters and a photographer.” Now that is small. The papers are controlled by the same Canadian-based owner as The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro.

As I’ve written here before, I was a Northeastern co-op student at The Call from 1976-’78, working full-time for about a year in three- and six-month stints. The way co-op works is that you’re replaced by another student when the semester ends and it’s time to return to school. I alternated with Karen Bordeleau, a future executive editor at The Providence Journal who’s now at Arizona State University.

The Call was excellent, a place where I learned a lot under great mentorship. It’s sad to see what’s become of the paper, as well as The Times, but Woonsocket and Pawtucket are economically depressed cities, and they no longer reach out into the more affluent suburbs to the extent that they did at one time. According to U.S. Census data, the median household income in Pawtucket is $56,427, and in Woonsocket it’s $48,822. Both of those figures are well below the state median of $74,489.

In the mid-’70s, The Call covered what we referred to as “Call Country,” which comprised more than a dozen communities in northern Rhode Island and southern Worcester County. I don’t know what the circulation area is today. Nor do I know how many paid subscribers the papers have because the Alliance for Audited Media has ended instant access to those numbers.

Donnis doesn’t mention any layoffs, and it’s hard to see how they could get much smaller. I just hope the Call & Times will be able to at least do as good a job of serving their communities as the two separate papers do now.

News/Media Alliance Study Finds Pervasive Unauthorized Use Of Publisher Content To Power Generative AI Technologies

Yesterday, the News/Media Alliance published a White Paper and a technical analysis and submitted comments to the U.S. Copyright Office on the use of publisher content to power generative artificial intelligence technologies (GAI). Together, the three publications document the pervasive, unauthorized use of publisher content by GAI developers, the impact this may have on the sustainability and availability of high-quality original content, and the legal implications of such use. GAI systems have been developed by copying massive amounts of the expressive material published by the Alliance’s members, almost always without authorization or compensation, to create new products and services that frequently compete with Alliance member publishers.

The Alliance recognizes the exciting potential of GAI models and applications to improve aspects of our lives and supports the principled development of these systems. But this development must not come at the expense of publishers and journalists who invest considerable time and resources producing material that keeps our communities informed, safe, and entertained, and holds our government officials and other decision makers in check. The Alliance and its members would welcome working with GAI developers to help build and grow these technologies in a sustainable and responsible manner.

While the Copyright Office submission and White Paper discuss the wider publisher landscape in the face of the GAI revolution, including relevant principles of copyright law, the accompanying technical analysis documents the extent to which GAI developers rely on high-quality journalistic content to power their models. In particular, the results show:

GAI developers have copied and used news, magazine and digital media content to train large language models (LLMs).

Popular curated datasets underlying LLMs significantly overweight publisher content by a factor ranging from over 5 to almost 100 as compared to the generic collection of content that the well-known entity Common Crawl has scraped from the web.

Other studies show that news and digital media ranks third among all categories of sources in Google’s C4 training set, which was used to develop Google’s GAI-powered products like Bard. Half of the top ten sites represented in the data set are news outlets.

The LLMs also copy and use publisher content in their outputs. The LLMs can reproduce the content on which they were trained, demonstrating that the models retain and can memorize the expressive content of the training works. Alliance President & CEO Danielle Coffey stated, “The research and analysis we’ve conducted shows that AI companies and developers are not only engaging in unauthorized copying of our members’ content to train their products, but they are using it pervasively and to a greater extent than other sources. This shows they recognize our unique value, and yet most of these developers are not obtaining proper permissions through licensing agreements or compensating publishers for the use of this content. This diminishment of high-quality, human created content harms not only publishers but the sustainability of AI models themselves and the availability of reliable, trustworthy information.”

The Copyright Office comments and the White Paper offer multiple recommendations to policymakers, including recognizing that unauthorized use of publishers’ expressive content for commercial GAI training and development is likely to compete with and harm publisher businesses in a manner that infringes copyright; creating transparency requirements to require disclosure of the use of copyright protected content in training; encouraging and facilitating effective licensing solutions; supporting international cooperation and harmonization on GAI regulations; and adopting legislation to remedy existing market imbalances that prevent publishers from engaging in fair negotiations for the use of their content against dominant platforms.

Coffey continued, “Generative AI systems should be held responsible and accountable, just like any other business. This White Paper demonstrates that these systems rely on journalistic and creative content, which have the benefit of investment in quality on the front end, as well as publishers who are required by law to take responsibility for the content they share with the public. Continued unauthorized use will harm existing markets that acknowledge the value of archived and real-time quality content, and over time the GAI models themselves will deteriorate. You get out what you put in. It is critical that our copyright protections are properly enforced and that high standards of quality and accountability are the foundation of these and other new technologies.”

Four Subscription Themes Are Top Of Mind For Publishers In Q4

Many publishers are now more dedicated to their subscription and membership businesses than ever, as their desire for direct consumer revenue grows in an ever-uncertain digital media landscape.

We expect publishers to think about audience monetization more holistically in 2024, and to take more sophisticated and nuanced approaches to optimizing their subscription businesses alongside other revenue streams such as advertising, commerce, licensing and events.

But as 2023 draws to a close, a handful of key subscription themes are top of publishers’ minds as they look to maximize revenue for the year and chart paths for the year ahead:

• Emphas

• is is shifting to ARPU growth as publishers attempt to extract more revenue from existing subscribers.

• Value perception is more important than ever as publishers raise prices and attempt to build long-term subscriber loyalty.

• Regulatory pressure on cancelation practices continues to mount and will result in more control being placed in the hands of consumers.

• AI platforms increasingly threaten to disrupt the viability of publishers’ subscription products – and their business models more broadly.

‘Robotic’ Reviews Raise Concerns About AI-Generated Journalism At Gannett

The content included reviews of scuba masks that were near identical to reviews of drinking tumblers

Newspaper publishing titan Gannett has denied that reviews of consumer goods posted on Reviewed, part of USA Today, are AI-generated after journalism union the NewsGuild of New York called out the publisher on X for the posts.

In a thread on X, formerly Twitter, the NewsGuild of New York said the posts sounded “robotic,” and were “shoddy AI consumer reviews.” As an example, the union posted nearly identical reviews for a scuba mask and a drink tumbler. Gannett appeared to remove the content before putting it back up.

A spokesperson for Reviewed denied that the articles were AI generated. In a statement sent to The Messenger, they said the content was “created by third-party freelancers hired by a marketing agency partner, not AI.” (The Messenger is trying to contact the marketing agency for comment.)

However, the spokesperson also added that they did not “meet our editorial standards.” “The pages were deployed without the accurate affiliate disclaimers and did not meet our editorial standards. We anticipate the updates will be published later today.”

One of the broken standards appears to be Reviewed’s commitment not to review products like dietary supplements, which the NewsGuild found on the site. NewsGuild also called out that several post authors appear to have any connection to Gannett after a search on LinkedIn and Google, and the union questioned if they are real people. The Messenger was able to find other articles by one author published on another, non-Gannett-owned newspaper, however.

The Reviewed Union, a subchapter of the NewsGuild, as well as the NewsGuild of New York and the union’s national office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

This is not the first time AI has caused a stir at Gannett: In August, the publisher said it would pause a program whereby AI wrote sports reports for local newspapers after an AI-written article in the Columbus Dispatch went viral because it contained no information about the game or the players, confoundingly referred to the match as a “close encounter of the athletic kind.”

Physical Newspapers Are Better Than Digital Media

With an overwhelming amount of news consumption happening online, it’s important to note how systems inherent to online outlets affect the headlines people see. After evaluating the influence of media algorithms on digital news sources, physical newspapers offer themselves as a more encompassing alternative.

More often than not, people are getting their news online. Understandably so, as the convenience and accessibility of online news is difficult to compete with.

Physical newspapers are typically large, need to be folded and aren’t always free, making them an overall hassle. With virtual media outlets being available to nearly everybody at the click of a button, it comes to no surprise that it’s grown to be the dominant form of news consumption.

Regardless of convenience or accessibility, it’s important for readers to consider exactly what they’re consuming when getting their news through an app versus a paper, namely the influence of an algorithm.

According to Medium, a search algorithm is essentially a set of rules made to put forward content the reader is more likely to engage with and filter out what they will ignore. Based on one’s viewing history, an app or service determines what kind of content the user enjoys, then recommends similar content from that point onwards.

Algorithms are not inherently harmful though. By design, they serve the customer to their fullest potential, and they do it effectively. Without them, it could be difficult for readers to easily find the news they care about. Algorithms give the viewer what they want, that’s undeniable, but it’s also the problem.

Research ranging from a decade ago up until just last year still finds that practically every online media app uses algorithms to limit viewers’ content, opting to incessantly promote the same style of news.

Digital media experts warn readers to be cautious of how an algorithm processes content. These experts specifically cite echo chambers, online spaces that continuously reinforce the same belief, as cause for worry.

These systems are designed to show a reader more of what they want, but in the process, they block out any pieces that aren’t in sync with their observed beliefs for the sake of customer service. The end result is a person who is always given the same type of content, rarely venturing outside of their own viewpoints.

There is, fortunately, a way for readers to still get their news without risking the entrapment of an algorithm: classic print newspapers.

Physical newspapers are not hindered by the same technological disadvantages, as there is no ruleset constantly tailoring the words offered to the reader. News in print needs to satisfy every type of reader with only one copy, allowing it to offer a wide scope of topics.

Printed news isn’t designed to trap its reader with a relentless reel of headlines, which offers its viewership more freedom over what they choose to read. While an algorithm purposely chooses and narrows potential news, a physical paper’s diversity grants its news a more exploratory nature.

Taking the time to engage with every part of a physical paper puts a variety of subjects, views and information on display for readers. Ultimately, the viewer can trust certain news isn’t being filtered out.

It’d be naive to believe print newspapers are completely free from bias or a certain degree of filtering. Still, a physical newspaper will almost never be as narrow in scope as the suggestions of a digital media outlet will be.

According to research from The United Kingdom Literary Association and the Educational Research Review, readers absorb information better with printed media compared to digital alternatives, especially when it came to expository writing, such as news articles.

Print is made to inform and entertain; digital is made to keep eyes on the screen.

Algorithms can be quite useful in certain cases but, unfortunately, have been employed in a manner that doesn’t always have its user’s best interests in mind.

Print isn’t flawless, but it’s genuine. So, get your hands on a physical newspaper and flip through the pages. You may find something you’ve never seen before.