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Need to Know: June 23, 2017

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


You might have heard: Conservative coal mogul Robert Murray is suing HBO, Time Warner and the writers of Last Week Tonight over John Oliver’s recent segment on miner safety (Daily Beast)

But did you know: Another civil case from Murray Energy in a New York appeals court is testing whether the state’s shield law protects small, subscriber-based news organizations (New York Times)

Murray Energy Corp. sought an order from a New York State Supreme Court judge to force Reorg Research Inc., a Manhattan-based corporate intelligence company, to disclose the identities of anonymous sources it used in two news alerts last year. Reorg claimed it is a traditional media organization and argued that the Shield Law protected it from having to divulge the names of its sources. An affidavit from Paul Steiger, a former top editor at The Wall Street Journal who went on to found ProPublica, said he was concerned about the precedent that might be set. Reorg’s appeal filed in March was joined by Reuters, Politico and The Economist, all of which argued that “journalism comes in all shapes and sizes, with the universal goal of publishing truthful, newsworthy information. All are deserving of the application of the Shield Law.”

+ Noted: Charter Communications is weighing a plan to acquire Cox Communications (New York Post); The Washington Post gets more than a million comments every month, so it’s using AI to tackle them (Poynter); An internal email shows that Wall Street Journal reports are demanding action on newsroom diversity (Huffington Post); More than 30 Facebook pages being run from Macedonia have been removed by Facebook in the past two months (BuzzFeed); Bloomberg News lays off about a half-dozen employees amid newsroom reorganization (Talking Biz News)


The week in fact-checking

As part of our fact-checking journalism project, Jane Elizabeth and Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. This week’s round-up includes the winners of a $1 million challenge from The Knight Prototype Fund to tackle misinformation and build trust in media, a test for teachers and insight into how fake news starts.


How to teach journalism fundamentals, and creativity, with podcasts (MediaShift)

When Ben Bogardus was planning fall classes a couple of summers ago, he turned to podcasts to teach skills in a way that sparks student creativity. He found podcasts are especially well-suited to teach three key communications skills: telling a story with a distinct beginning, middle and end, conducting thoughtful interviews, and developing strong research skills.

+ Tool for journalists: Enigma Public, for finding and analysing public datasets (


To encourage employees to go outside, Bloomberg’s billion-dollar HQ in London won’t have a cafeteria (Evening Standard)

The company’s founder and CEO Michael Bloomberg said he wanted to avoid the “Google syndrome” seen in some tech firm offices where the free meals and facilities are so luxurious that employees become addicted to their work life. Bloomberg says he wants “people to get out and enjoy the local economy. We are going in the opposite direction to Google — we encourage people to go outside.”

+ A group of Arab states tells Qatar to close state-owned Al Jazeera and all affiliated channels as part of a list of demands to be met in 10 days (Financial Times)


Mark Zuckerberg wants to transform society through Facebook Groups (Mic)

On Thursday morning in Chicago at Facebook’s first ever Facebook Communities Summit, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a fundamental shift in the company’s mission: Zuckerberg said that he used to think that if Facebook just gave people a voice and helped them connect, that was “enough,” but recently he has changed his mind. Rather than simply helping users find and connect with each other, he wants to help them find and build meaningful communities. But there are problems with Zuckerberg’s plans, writes Taylor Lorenz. “Zuckerberg’s goals are lofty, but his strategy is far from perfect. The most glaring problem with his grand plan to build community around the world is the somewhat faulty notion that all community is good community.”


A proposal to start a responsible, reliable, reasonable conservative news organization (Medium)

America needs a new, fact-based, journalistic, and intelligent conservative news outlet to report (and not merely comment upon) the nation and the world from the worldview of the right, writes Jeff Jarvis. “Establishment mainstream media are liberal. The vast majority of journalists are liberal. Journalism schools are liberal,” Jarvis says.” Our failure to be honest and open about that is a key cause of the distrust that has overtaken news media, particularly from the right.”


Sizing up BuzzFeed: Could this unicorn ever go public? (Variety)

The number of private companies that exceed a $1 billion valuation is roughly one-third of what it was prior to 2016, according to research Goldman Sachs issued in March. Even rarer: the number of “unicorns” (the label Silicon Valley reserves for its most promising start-ups) that reach a more exalted status — the initial public offering. Those plummeted at a similar rate after 2014. All of which may explain why BuzzFeed has the tech industry abuzz in anticipation of an IPO of its own — even though CEO Jonah Peretti has yet to confirm that’s where he’s headed. “I know that there’s a lot of focus on things like IPOs or potential transactions,” says Peretti. “The thing I try to stay focused on is the work itself.”


+ When student journalists need defending, these lawyers swoop in. For free. (The Washington Post)

+ How the Guardian lost America: The Guardian’s US newsroom didn’t become the voice of the Bernie left during the election. It didn’t break huge campaign scoops. Years after winning a Pulitzer for the Edward Snowden story, Guardian US has slashed costs, leaving employees stewing about mismanagement, infighting, a sexual harassment allegation, and unrealistic business expectations. (BuzzFeed)

+ Tumblr, once one of the fiercest defenders of net neutrality, seems to be silenced on that issue by its new owner Verizon (The Verge)

+ Limited in their ability to monetize video on Facebook, publishers eye video-licensing opportunities (Digiday)

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