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Need to Know: Feb. 26, 2018

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


You might have heard: The investigation into Newsweek’s finances and ties to a Bible college is widening, triggered by suspicious loan applications that may have included bogus financials approved by a phony auditor (Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: ‘Newsweek’s downfall highlights the existential vulnerability of even the best-known media brands to the whims of tech companies’ algorithms’ (Slate)
Speaking with more than a dozen current and former Newsweek staffers, Slate’s Will Oremus writes that it’s clear that Newsweek’s problems started long before the Manhattan DA office started its probe. “It’s a tale of a precarious business model, a roller coaster of explosive growth and cruel contraction, mercurial corporate ownership, and journalists forced to produce work so shoddy and craven that they were embarrassed to attach their name to it, all in the name of ‘saving the company’ — and their jobs,” Oremus writes. “At a time when Google and Facebook have become the prime conduits to online news, Newsweek’s downfall highlights the existential vulnerability of even the best-known media brands to the whims of tech companies’ algorithms. It also suggests something more chilling: how quickly a reputable news organization can disintegrate in the hands of the wrong owners.”

+ Noted: As Facebook’s subsidies for Facebook Live end, so do publishers’ participation (CJR); Facebook is eliminating 20 “outdated, redundant” ad metrics and adding more labels about its methodology (Marketing Land); The Bay Journal, a nonprofit that covers environmental issues around the Chesapeake Bay, is suing the EPA, claiming the EPA cut its funding because of its coverage (CJR); One of L.A. Times’ websites was injected with cryptocurrency mining script, which was on the website for weeks before being detected (TechRepublic); BuzzFeed News reports that Aron D’Souza, an Australian with few public ties to Peter Thiel, helped mastermind the lawsuits that led to Gawker’s demise (BuzzFeed News)


Here’s how the BBC is using chatbots to let readers ask reporters questions and introduce them to complex topics (Nieman Lab)
“Often people aren’t engaged in stories because they haven’t had the right context,” BBC developer Grant Heinrich says about its chatbot efforts. The BBC News Labs and the BBC Visual Journalism team are developing a custom bot-builder app, which allows reporters to easily create chatbots and put them into their stories. The chatbots, Heinrich explains, will be used to help explain complex topics to readers by allowing them to ask questions and get more context. “If you have a really complicated, long piece and you want people to grasp the basics very quickly, they’re very good,” Heinrich says.


There are now 149 fact-checking projects worldwide in 53 countries, a new high (Poynter)
Last week, the Duke Reporters’ Lab published its fifth annual census of fact-checking operations, finding that the number of fact-checking projects worldwide has more than tripled over the last four years. This year, the Reporters’ Lab put the number of fact-checking operations worldwide at 149, operating in 53 countries; that’s up from 114 projects last year. Part of the increase, Mark Stencel explains, is that community building in the fact-checking community has made it easier to find these projects.

+ API’s Accountability Project has been part of those community building efforts since 2014: Learn more about what we’re working on here


‘The inside story of how an Ivy League food scientist turned shoddy data into viral studies’ (BuzzFeed News)
Though you may not know it, you’ve probably heard of some of Brian Wansink’s studies: His research was covered everywhere from the Today Show to The New York Times to O Magazine, with a message that weight loss is possible for anyone with a few small changes to their environment. But now, his colleagues are saying Wansink used low-quality data to create “headline-friendly” studies intended to go viral. “This is not science, it is storytelling,” University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek said.


The NRA is using Trump’s playbook to attack the media, claiming ‘many in legacy media love mass shootings’ (Washington Post)
Responding to mass shootings, the NRA is using a familiar playbook, Margaret Sullivan writes. Taking a cue from Trump, the NRA is attacking “the media.” Spokeswoman Dana Loesch claimed that those in media “love mass shootings,” while NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre said the media “doesn’t care about our school children.” Sullivan argues: “The NRA is wrong, disgustingly wrong, about this. They’re even more wrong about the news media as their adversary — a claim that’s certainly not new but now blasted out at higher volume. … Journalists would do well to remind their readers and audiences what the organization actually is and what motivates it: money.”

+ After it was accused of scripting words for a Florida student for a town hall, CNN released emails showing the student was asked to ask a question he submitted (Washington Post)


Gothamist and its sister sites will be relaunched. Will a new Gothamist be the same? (Splinter)
On Friday, news broke that a public radio consortium will relaunch Gothamist, DCist and LAist. “But peer closely at the details made public about this revival, and some questions pop up,” David Uberti writes. “It requires that an alternative media site with a distinct voice shares space with buttoned-up public radio sensibilities; it relies on anonymous funding and the vision of controversial newsroom leaders; and it’s uncertain whether it will include the writers who gave the sites a unique identity, and who lost their jobs when they were abruptly folded last year.”

+ WAMU, which will be the new home of DCist, says it doesn’t “plan to take our existing roadmap for our newsroom and superimpose it on DCist” (@abeaujon, Twitter)

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