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Need to Know: Jan. 2, 2017

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


You might have heard: In December, The New York Times announced that A.G. Sulzberger would take over as publisher on Jan. 1 (New York Times)

But did you know: A.G. Sulzberger takes over as publisher of the NYT, and is taking questions from readers (New York Times)
On Jan. 1, A.G. Sulzberger officially moved into the role of publisher at The New York Times, succeeding his father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., who served as publisher since 1992. As he moves into his new role, NYT is giving readers the chance to ask Sulzberger questions via its Reader Center. In a Q&A with The New Yorker’s David Remnick last month, Sulzberger discussed the future of NYT and its relationship with its readers: “I believe that the single most important challenge facing folks like you and me is proving that there’s a path forward for that type of journalism [that asks tough questions]. And I’m really encouraged by the path we’re on right now”

+ “The challenge before me is to ensure The Times safeguards those values while embracing the imperative to adapt to a changing world,” Sulzberger wrote on Monday (New York Times)

+ Noted: Facebook is changing its licensing terms for Watch shows, opting to buy shows outright and creating “a scenario that would limit the amount of money publishers can make from Facebook” (Digiday); A former Anniston Star reporter says H. Brandt Ayers, chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co., sexually assaulted her in the 1970s while he was the newspaper’s publisher (Anniston Star); After a push for subscribers in the last month of 2017, local news site Bklyner says it now has 1,745 paying subscribers and will stay open (Bklyner)


Questions to ask before taking on changes in your newsroom (Poynter)
“As newsroom leaders, colleagues and employees, it’s our duty to keep open to change and work to make sure our coworkers remain willing, too,” Ren LaForme writes. He explains that there’s four distinct attitudes when it comes to workplace change: willing adopters, cautious enthusiasts, skeptics and the fatigued. With those attitudes in mind, LaForme outlines 13 questions newsrooms should ask themselves before adopting a new tool or taking on a major change, designed to prevent wasted time and to keep people from becoming fatigued. Some of those questions: Does it further your journalism? Does it save time or money? Does it offer something you don’t have or do? Does it have a grand champion in your newsroom? Is it sustainable?


Germany starts to enforce its new hate speech laws, which allow social media networks to be fined for failing to remove ‘hate speech, fake news and illegal material’ (BBC)
Germany is starting to enforce its new laws around hate speech, which require social media networks to quickly remove content that includes hate speech, fake news and other “illegal material.” Networks can be fined up to €50 million (about $60 million) for failing to remove “obviously illegal” posts within 24 hours of being notified of the content. Social media and websites with more than 2 million members will fall under these rules.

+ Chairman of the U.K.’s fake news inquiry gives Facebook and Twitter until Jan. 18 to turn over information related to Russian misinformation on the platforms, threatening sanctions if “continue to stonewall parliament” (Guardian)


Why small, niche communities made a comeback on the Internet in 2017 (The Verge)
“Americans got tired of big social media in 2017. Or at least, we stopped wanting to look at it, and we stopped pretending to like it,” Kaitlyn Tiffany writes. In 2017, niche communities made a comeback: Some examples include teenagers making separate “finstagrams” and the popularity of TinyLetters, which has a subscriber cap and no discovery option. “The mainstream social internet is so big … [that] we don’t really have the option of moving our lives off of the internet,” Tiffany writes. “But many of us found ways to renegotiate the terms of how we spent our time online. Rather than the enormous platforms that couldn’t decide if, let alone how they had contributed to the election of a deranged narcissist or the rise of the virulently racist alt-right or a pending nuclear holocaust, why not something smaller, safer, more immediately useful?”


A New York Post sportswriter fired for tweeting about Trump raises questions about the separation of work and life, and newsrooms’ social media policies (The Ringer)
On Jan. 20, 2017, New York Post pro football writer Bart Hubbuch tweeted, “12/7/41. 9/11/01. 1/20/17,” the dates of Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks and Donald Trump’s inauguration. A week later, he was fired. “At the time, his sacking was considered a small story about journalistic propriety,” Bryan Curtis writes. “But I’ve started to think of it as one of the most interesting stories of the last year. It speaks to a question we’re still figuring out: Can you offend people with your politics and still be a sportswriter?” Hubbuch filed a lawsuit against the Post where he argued that he was tweeting about Trump on his own time, but withdrew the suit in March. “As a practical matter, all it proved was that, in 2017, sportswriters are never not working,” Curtis writes.

+ “Positioning ‘positive stories’ versus ‘negative stories’ is not a terribly useful or sophisticated frame” (Audrey Watters, TinyLetter)


Is 2018 the year Facebook banishes news from the news feed? (Digiday)
After testing a newsless Explore feed, launching Watch and prioritizing Facebook Groups in 2017, Lucia Moses asks: Could 2018 be the year that Facebook banishes news from its news feed? “Fundamental to the success of platforms like Twitter and Facebook is keeping users happy, and as such, they’re always running experiments to see if changes will get people to return more often and stay longer. Given a lot of news is negative or controversial, a feed with no news (unless it’s shared by a user) could be less contentious and more enjoyable for users,” Moses writes. “Of course, none of this is a fait accompli. There’s good reason to think Facebook will keep news in the feed. Scrolling through the news feed is the core daily habit for most Facebook users. It’s what Facebook uses to promote its many other products, like the Watch video tab and Marketplace. … That said, even if a newsless news feed doesn’t materialize, publishers have to adapt.”

+ Facebook announced in late December that it would no longer use “disputed” flags to identify false stories, insteading showing related articles to give more context (Facebook Newsroom)

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