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Need to Know: Nov. 10, 2017

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


You might have heard: Owner Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down DNAinfo and Gothamist last week (Wall Street Journal), and the site’s archives were temporarily taken offline (Washington Post)

But did you know: The Freedom of the Press Foundation is trying to save Gothamist and DNAinfo’s archives with a software that creates PDF archives of stories (Freedom of the Press Foundation)
When DNAinfo and Gothamist were abruptly shut down last week and their archives taken offline, “the daylong scramble for copies of the stories drove home the precariousness of much online reporting and the need for a more comprehensive approach to solving that problem,” Parker Higgins writes. Though the archives are back online for now, the Freedom of the Press Foundation is releasing a software that creates PDF archives of stories written by individual journalists at the outlets. “Of course, these scripts only solve part of the archiving problem,” Higgins writes. “The fact that moneyed interests can take an archive of journalism offline represents a major censorship threat to a functioning free press.”

+ Noted: The Washington Post will alert readers to contrary viewpoints in its opinion section with the help of an AI-based tool (Washington Post); ESPN is expected to lay off more than 100 people after Thanksgiving, largely targeting its SportsCenter franchise and coming just months after laying off more than 100 this spring (Sports Illustrated); On track to make $11 million this year, business video startup Cheddar is planning to launch a general news channel in 2018 (Digiday); NYT will publish a kids’ section in its Sunday print editions and will create a kids’ version of The Daily podcast (Nieman Lab)


The week in fact-checking
As part of our fact-checking journalism project, Jane Elizabeth and Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis and Daniel Funke highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. This week’s round-up includes what fact-checkers have learned after a year of Trump, the legacy of an infamous misinformation creator, and what journalists get wrong about “fake news.”


Common myths about disinformation that your newsroom should be aware of (
Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher for the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute, says that while newsrooms can fall victim to misinformation, they can also be accidental aides to it. Neudert warns newsrooms of three common myths about disinformation: All bots are stupid (“There are bots on social media that are communicating just as well as a human can, while distributing fake news on a scale that no human can do”), data is king (“The problem is often that the data we are seeing is being gamed”), and the era of fake news will pass (“It’s not something that is going to go away”).

+ Josh Stearns on why quality journalism is important when we talk about honoring veterans: “These stories are complex, emotional, and take significant resources – and over and over again they produce meaningful impact. Some of the most important recent policy changes related to veterans’ health and well-being started as investigative stories by journalists. We need to support those who serve our nation and the journalists who cover them.” (MediaShift)


Facebook is blocked in China, but the country’s state-owned media is still targeting English-speaking audiences through Facebook advertising (New York Times)
“China does not allow its people to gain access to Facebook, a powerful tool for disseminating information and influencing opinion,” Paul Mozur writes. But China’s state-owned media still targets English-speaking audiences on the platform, using Facebook as a tool to spread propaganda to the United States. Mozur reports that the Chinese government through these state-owned media organizations spends “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on Facebook ads each quarter. “There is no indication that China meddled in the American election, but the Communist government’s use of Facebook is ironic given its apparent fear of the platform. It also hasn’t been reluctant to use it as a soapbox where China’s relationship with the United States is concerned,” Mozur writes.


Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker: Social media networks are exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology (Axios)
At an Axios event in Philadelphia this week, Facebook’s founding president and Napster co-founder Sean Parker gave a candid look at what social media networks do to our brains. When Facebook was first being created, Parker says the question they asked themselves was, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” They did that by making likes and comments a part of the experience, what Parker calls a “social-validation feedback loop.” Parker continues: “[It’s] exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. … The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”


Russian Twitter accounts deflected negative news about Trump and refocused criticism on mainstream media and Clinton, an AP analysis finds (Associated Press)
According to an AP analysis of Russia-backed Twitter accounts, Russian agents were deflecting negative news about Trump and focusing on critiques of Clinton and the “mainstream media” ahead of the 2016 presidential election. “AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.” The AP examined 36,210 tweets sent between Aug. 31, 2015, and Nov. 10, 2016 by 382 of the Russian Twitter accounts shared with Congress last week.

+ Earlier: Russian-operated bot accounts were cited by a number of established news outlets, including The Washington Post, Vox, BuzzFeed and the Miami Herald (Recode)

+ RT agrees to register with U.S. authorities as an agent of the Russian government, and the Russian embassy suggests that U.S. news organizations may face retaliation in Russia (Washington Post)


The low cost of Internet harassment: How trolls attacked 3 ProPublica reporters with Twitter bots and email bombs — and covered their tracks (ProPublica)
Three ProPublica reporters were attacked by “email bombing” (using an automated program to scan the web for any sign-up form that asks for an email address, flooding the victim with confirmation emails) and Twitter bots that retweeted their tweets thousands of times and sent them hundreds of new followers, the idea being that Twitter can kick you off the platform for being followed by too many bots. ProPublica’s Julia Angwin (one of the victims) dives into how the trolls were able to unleash these attacks. Angwin writes: “In a world of global information warfare, I had to admit that the idea of a small organization like ProPublica mounting a solo defense against all attackers was becoming increasingly unrealistic. … [But] the next time it happens, we plan on having stronger fortifications against attack.”


+ Twitter has pledged to remove hate speech and violent groups, but it verified the account of Jason Kessler, the creator of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville (Daily Beast); Twitter has suspended verification of all “general” accounts after criticism over verifying Kessler (TechCrunch)

+ “How Facebook figures out everyone you’ve ever met” (Gizmodo)

+ Kyrre Lien, a photographer based in Oslo, puts a face to online commenters, profiling some of the most prolific (and inflammatory) commenters: “I thought if you’re writing hateful comment towards Hillary or Trump that are really, really angry and horrible, I thought that person is going to be horrible in person as well. But many of the people were actually quite nice, made me coffee and tea and, until politics came up, it was like flipping the switch on a different personality,” Lien says about his experience (New York Times); AJ+ executive producer Ethar El-Katatney reflects on the one-year mark since the 2016 election, and what she’s been doing to protect her own mental health: “The gist of it being feeling less guilty about not being plugged in and on all the time, and understanding that taking care of myself means I’m not drained at work and will bring fresh eyes and heart to my work. The bad news will never end, and if I want to keep doing what I do as a career, I have to step away every now and then” (Ethar El-Katatney, Medium)

+ “The death of the alt-weekly as told by an industry lifer” (Reason)

+ “Trump and his team understand that for the political press, the only thing that matters is what’s happening right now, not yesterday. And whether through his tweets or his surrogates in the briefing room, the president has been largely able to bait reporters into playing his game, because he knows what makes them tick,” Peter Hamby writes (Vanity Fair)

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