Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: Jan. 31, 2018

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


You might have heard: Google sometimes highlights what it calls “featured snippets” at the top of search results, using algorithms to highlight an answer to a specific question (Content Marketing Institute) — but those answers are sometimes “debatable, incorrect and sometimes completely inappropriate” (Search Engine Land)

But did you know: Google is going to put more ‘diverse perspectives’ in its search results (New York Times)
In a blog post on Tuesday, Google announced that its answers displayed at the top of search results will soon display multiple viewpoints. Google also said it’s considering new labeling to make clear when a featured answer is “an imperfect match” to the question. Google uses these “featured snippets” as a way to deliver information faster, pulling information from third-party websites. But those snippets have come under criticism for displaying conspiracy theories, inaccurate answers and offensive information. “There are often legitimate diverse perspectives offered by publishers, and we want to provide users visibility and access into those perspectives from multiple sources,” Google software engineer Matthew Gray said on how the company is dealing with those issues in this change.

+ Noted: Vice Media fired its chief digital officer Mike Germano after he was accused of sexual misconduct by two women (The Wrap); CNN is expected to shut down a number of digital projects this year, part of its parent company Turner’s six-year plan to achieve profitability (Axios); The Lenfest Institute is partnering with The Washington Post to bring its Arc publishing platform to the Philadelphia Media Network newsrooms (Poynter); Content recommendation services Outbrain and Taboola are no longer a guaranteed source of revenue for digital publishers: The companies are not offering guaranteed payments anymore, and publishers are opting for revenue-sharing models (Digiday)


‘Is there something innovative we can do to tell this story?’: How journalists and developers can work together on creative solutions for the audience’s needs
At the last Online News Association conference in Washington, D.C., API provided funding to enable  a few journalists in our Changemaker Network to attend the conference for the first time. Katie O’Connell, a digital editor at Gannett and one of the attendees we sponsored, shares what she learned about the disconnect between journalists and developers, and how they can work together on innovative projects to better serve their readers.


How to use scroll depth as a metric for readability on article pages (MediaShift)
Paying attention to readability metrics has two clear benefits for publishers, Andrew Sweeney writes: “First, it accurately gauges the quality of your content by measuring one aspect of user engagement. Second, it can easily be improved, allowing you to quickly alter your content and increase performance using analytics.” Sweeney explains how to measure readability using scroll depth as a metric. “Readability can be measured in percentages of the overall page height, in pixels from the top of the page or by specifying specific elements on the page to measure against,” Sweeney explains. “If you notice an article has poor readability, or you want to generally experiment, change its structure and measure the effects in real time on your analytics tool.”


Here’s how a Japanese newsroom is using AI to summarize news stories to get them out quicker (Splice Newsroom)
Japanese newspaper The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun is working with IT services company Fujitsu to create an artificial intelligence system that summarizes news stories. Right now, the newspaper’s staff writes summaries for each article, a task that takes about five minutes; Fujitsu says the AI software creates summaries instantly and with greater accuracy than similar AI technology out there. The program uses a combination of natural language processing and machine learning to identify the key points of the article, scoring each sentence in terms of importance.

+ “Through automation, AP is providing customers with 12 times the corporate earnings stories as before (to over 3,700), including for a lot of very small companies that never received much attention. … With the freed-up time, AP journalists are able to engage with more user-generated content, develop multimedia reports, pursue investigative work and focus on more complex stories,” AP business editor Lisa Gibbs said in a 2017 report on the impact of automation (AP Insights)


What if we tracked our Internet consumption the way we track our steps? (The Ringer)
You can use your Fitbit or Apple Watch to track your physical activity — what if you could use one of your devices to track your Internet consumption? “In an ideal world, companies like Apple and Google would spend as much time helping us unplug from our devices as they do loading them with more and more widgets,” Victor Luckerson writes. But in iOS, for example, there’s limitations on how third-party apps can keep track of phone usage data. And, there may not be incentive for tech companies to help people control their consumption. “It’s unclear how much the iPhone user actually cares about curtailing their use of Facebook — and even if they do, a product that helped them do so would run completely counter to Facebook’s business interests,” Luckerson writes.

+ Some tech companies are starting to acknowledge their effect on our health: Facebook said in December that passively interacting with social media (“reading but not interacting with people”) can harm your health — but engaging with content on social media can make people feel better (Recode)


Newsrooms welcome Facebook’s emphasis on local news, but remain wary (Poynter)
Reaching out to people in local news to see how they feel about Facebook’s plan to emphasize more local news in the news feed, Kristen Hare finds that newsrooms are welcoming the change — but remain wary of how it will play out. “Community-minded publications like ours have fought hard to win our community’s trust, and I think elevating our stories among our followers will go a long way towards disrupting the scourge of fake news infecting social media platforms,” Brick City Live founder and editor Andaiye Taylor said. “At the same time, I know that as Facebook giveth, Facebook can taketh away. So while we’ll stay tuned on how to take advantage of Facebook’s new emphasis on distributing local news stories in the News Feed, we’ll continue investing in ways to connect directly with our audiences.”

+ Analysis by SocialFlow found that since October 2017, Facebook has been sending less traffic to publishers’ websites — but in that same time period, referral traffic from Twitter increased (BuzzFeed News)


How do you support your local newspaper when its ownership isn’t local? (Matt DeRienzo, Medium)
Supporting local journalism can be complicated, Matt DeRienzo argues: Your local newspaper might be owned by a national hedge fund, and subscribing or donating may not directly help the financial situation at your paper. DeRienzo suggests a few ways that people who care about local journalism can support their local news outlets: Subscribe and be a noisy subscriber, support individual journalists, support independent local news sites, and start your own local news effort.

+ The New York Times is putting its national journalists in front of local communities with “Times in Person”: These events send NYT reporters back into the local communities they’ve covered before, “part of a national strategy that includes regional reporting by correspondents, issue reporting, and in-depth enterprise reporters” (Nieman Lab)

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