Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: Feb. 5, 2018

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Many news organizations have eliminated their comments sections over the last few years: “The comment space is just one tool for interaction and discussion, and it can be a highly effective one. But only if organizations are more thoughtful about where, how, and why they use the box,” The Coral Project’s Andrew Losowsky argues on the value of investing in comments (Wired)

But did you know: The Atlantic is getting rid of comments in favor of a new letters to the editor section (Nieman Lab)
The Atlantic’s website eliminated comments on Friday, but it’s finding a new way to elevate feedback from its readers. The website will regularly publish feedback from readers in its new Letters section, which editor Adrienne LaFrance says is “a huge leap up from the comment section.” The idea, LaFrance explains, is to incentivize more thought-out responses and to make it easier for others to read. “A team of staffers on the print and digital sides will read the letters, choosing the ones with the most interesting and challenging ideas. Many will be published individually and will get the same design and editorial as regular TheAtlantic.com articles, with illustrations and placement on the site’s homepage and social channels,” Ricardo Bilton explains on how Letters will work.

+ Noted: Research from the Tow Center suggests that more than half of Facebook’s Instant Articles launch partners have now abandoned the format (CJR); After the Shitty Media Men list emerged, seven of the more than 70 men named lost their jobs, while others who were named say it affected their work and personal lives (New York Times); NYT is starting to add augmented reality into some of its stories: The first will be a Winter Olympics story in its iOS app next week (New York Times); Medium, “chameleon of web publishers,” names former Time executive editor Siobhan O’Connor as its vice president of editorial (Vanity Fair)

TRY THIS AT HOME

Here’s what Facebook’s algorithm is prioritizing now: People sharing links via Messenger and engagement with a publisher post shared by a friend (@MattNavarra, Twitter)
In a webinar for publishers on the news feed on Friday, Facebook revealed some details about what factors its algorithm will be prioritizing. Facebook says it will be prioritizing “meaningful interactions.” Facebook says those include: People sharing links via Messenger, number of comments/reactions on a post, multiple replies to a comment on a post, and engagement with a publisher post shared by a friend. Some signals Facebook also says it will be paying attention to are the completeness of a profile page, average time spent on content, and how informative the post is.

+ Are Facebook’s news feed changes about promoting “meaningful interactions,” or were people moving away from the news feed? (Nieman Lab): “People have a great deal of time and emotional energy invested in their online communities. Asking them to throw these connections out and move to another network is a non-starter,” Ethan Zuckerman says (The Atlantic); Facebook is trying to enlist its users to get rid of misinformation in the news feed, but its survey is flawed and partisan Facebook users with an interest in promoting “their” media will bias the results (Washington Post)

OFFSHORE

The Kenyan government suspended 4 TV stations after their coverage of the ‘inauguration’ of opposition leader Raila Odinga (New York Times)
Four TV stations in Kenya were suspended by the government after covering the “inauguration” of opposition leader Raila Odinga  — and the Kenyan government is defying a court order to put the private TV stations back on the air. Before the “inauguration,” president President Uhuru Kenyatta warned the stations against covering the event, in which Odinga swore an “oath of office” as “the people’s president.” The TV stations were taken off the air on Tuesday during broadcasts from the event, and by Thursday, the Milimani High Court issued an order for the Communications Authority of Kenya to restore the stations “with immediate effect.” George Kegoro, director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, says: “This is absolutely unprecedented in our history. … We’ve never seen something like this, not even under Daniel Arap Moi,” whose 24-year reign as president “is remembered as a period of censorship and human-rights abuse.”

+ A BBC journalist was ordered to leave Indonesia after the country’s military says tweets she sent during the trip “hurt soldiers’ feelings” (Reuters)

OFFBEAT

The challenge in solving tech’s gender problem: ‘The people who are at the top want to believe in meritocracy because it means that they deserve their successes’ (The Atlantic)
There’s a lot of data available now on the gender imbalance in the tech industry — but there’s little incentive for leaders to change, Project Include co-founder Tracy Chou says. “It’s easier for people to believe that they have created an environment that is great, and anybody who has problems with it is deficient,” Chou told The Atlantic. “The people who are at the top want to believe in meritocracy because it means that they deserve their successes.” Chou emphasizes that tech’s gender imbalance isn’t just about how many employees are women. Amore telling story, Chou says, is how many women are in leadership and technical roles: Recent reports from Apple, Facebook and Google show that women are especially underrepresented in those categories.

UP FOR DEBATE

Do paywalls really create better content? (Big If True)
In the announcement that Wired was launching a metered paywall, editor Nick Thompson said that paywalls create incentives for better journalism: “We don’t know exactly how the web will develop, which platforms will become big, but we do know that having a direct monetary relationship with your readers is one way to insure that you have a stable financial future,” he told Nieman Lab. Mollie Bryant challenges that idea: “Paywalls at prestige publications haven’t exactly stopped them from running clickbait …  and pageviews undoubtedly play a role in the types of stories and topics to which they devote their resources. After all, pageviews are today’s single-copy sales,” Bryant argues. “Without a radical philosophical change [around journalism’s business model], this situation is not going to get better. Heavy-hitting decisionmakers at national publications are doing the rest of the nations’ journalists quite a disservice by suggesting this approach to journalism is sustainable for any news organization.”

+ “The view that adding a paywall to request payment in exchange for user access to content as simply a new revenue opportunity would be misleading and dangerous,” audience strategy consultant Alessandro De Zanche says. “Before publishers can decide which paywall model makes the most sense for their business, they must examine their own identity and audience. These factors are, in my opinion, the root causes of the bumpy road that many publishers find themselves traveling.” (AdExchanger)

SHAREABLE

How YouTube’s algorithm may have spread misinformation during the 2016 election (The Guardian)
According to former YouTube employee Guillaume Chaslot, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm can promote divisive clips and conspiracy theories by trying to increase people’s watch times. “The recommendation algorithm is not optimising for what is truthful, or balanced, or healthy for democracy,” Chaslot told The Guardian. “Watch time was the priority. … Everything else was considered a distraction.” As a result, YouTube could have played a role in spreading misinformation during the 2016 presidential election: “Wherever you started, whether it was from a Trump search or a Clinton search, the recommendation algorithm was much more likely to push you in a pro-Trump direction,” Chaslot says of YouTube’s recommendations during the election season.

+ “The promise of chatbots is dead,” investing app Digit says in its explanation of its app redesign. “That is, if the potential we envisioned for them was ever truly alive. The technology to make AI-powered assistants truly useful is still far out of reach, and people shouldn’t have to close that gap by adapting their behavior. Which is why, after years of being told chatbots are the future, there’s still no killer app to prove it.” (Digit)

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