Need to Know: Nov. 27, 2017

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


You might have heard: The New York Times published a profile of “the Nazi sympathizer next door” on Saturday (New York Times), and is accused of “normalizing white nationalism” with the story (HuffPost)

But did you know: Without an explanation of why the story was written, ‘we have, essentially, a puff piece about a Nazi sympathizer’ (Quartz)
“What’s problematic about the story, ultimately, is not that it humanizes a man with repugnant views — he is, of course, a human,” Indrani Sen writes on the story. “It’s the lack of any explanation to the reader of why exactly this story exists, and what the writer expects the reader to glean from it. Without that we have, essentially, a puff piece about a Nazi sympathizer. … These are dangerous times, and we must hold our best journalists to high standards. This article failed to meet those standards.”

+ NYT national editor Marc Lacey responded to criticism: “We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.” (New York Times); The story’s author, Richard Fausset, says he didn’t get a sufficient answer on why the man in the story gravitated toward white nationalism (New York Times)

+ Noted: Meredith agrees to buy Time Inc. for $1.85 billion in a deal that’s said to be backed by the Koch brothers (Wall Street Journal) and CNN Money reports that Meredith plans to sell a portion of the combined business to the Koch brothers’ company (CNN Money); The L.A. Times Guild goes public with its concerns about high executive compensation at parent company Tronc, asking for “a more equitable distribution of money and perks between the executive suites and our journalists” (L.A. Times Guild); The Supreme Court will hear a case this week that could decide whether law enforcement can get phone location data without a warrant, an important issue for journalists and their sources (Washington Post); Tufts University cancels an event with Anthony Scaramucci after he threatened to sue the school’s student newspaper and a student journalist for defamation (Boston Globe); Arizona State University and the University of Kansas rescind awards given to Charlie Rose (New York Times)


Headline testing can improve an article’s performance by almost 80 percent, Chartbeat says (Digital Content Next)
“A headline should not only entice readers to click and see more; it should drive consumption of a story,” Chartbeat’s chief marketing officer Terri Walter writes on the art of crafting a good headline. Chartbeat’s data shows that headline testing can improve an article’s performance by 78 percent. “While gut instinct around language matters, technology can enhance that ability to find the right fit between content and audience. This, in turn, can dramatically improve engagement with content,” Walter writes.


One of Italy’s biggest alternative media networks is spreading misinformation and anti-immigrant news on Facebook (BuzzFeed News)
A massive network of Italian news sites and Facebook pages called Web365 are spreading misinformation and anti-immigrant stories on Facebook, Alberto Nardelli and Craig Silverman writes. The network “sheds a light on the overlap between the fringe underbelly of the Catholic world, Italy’s nationalist movements, and for-profit clickbait,” Nardelli and Silverman writes. The media network, which is owned by Rome entrepreneur Giancarlo Colono, includes some of Italy’s most popular Facebook pages and publishes content ranging from “viral clickbait and quick takes on the day’s headlines to misleading or alarmist stories about tragic events and hyperpartisan pieces about immigration that echo nationalist and Islamophobic rhetoric.”

+ Experts say that “recent efforts by the European Union and individual countries to regulate online misinformation will likely fail due to governance issues and legal restrictions in the region,” Poynter’s Daniel Funke reports (Poynter)


The value of emotionally detaching yourself from work: When work is a major part of your identity, it can be harder to see your work for what it is (The Cut)
Being less emotionally attached to your work can actually make you a better employee, Kristin Wong writes. “By looking at your work as it is, you can make a better case for why your approach makes more sense for the team or the company. After all, you’re not wrapped up in why it’s better for you, so you can make sure it’s better, period. In other words, objectivity helps you perform better as an employee.” That approach is harder when your identity and emotions are wrapped up in your work, Wong writes. “Some level of emotional attachment to work makes you happy (and likely highly productive) so the solution isn’t to detach from your job completely — it’s simply to recognize when you’re too attached.”


Jack Shafer: Reader revenue comes with its own set of ethical considerations (Politico Magazine)
Last week, The New York Times sent subscribers a letter from Nicholas Kristof, appealing to subscribers to continue supporting NYT. That letter, Jack Shafer argues, unveils some ethical issues news organizations need to grapple with as they become more dependent on reader revenue. One of those considerations, Shafer writes, is journalists acting as marketers, as Kristof does in his letter: “The best way for Times journalists to show appreciation to readers is to produce indispensable coverage and analysis, not to call attention to themselves with belabored thank-you notes,” Shafer writes.

+ “I’m grateful that Times readers are ponying up. But I do think that the ethics of dependence on subscribers is under examined compared to the ethics of dependence on advertising,” Lydia Polgreen said in response to Shafer’s piece on Twitter (@lpolgreen, Twitter)


After pivoting to video, Mic’s unique visitors dropped by 78% (Splinter News)
At its peak in December 2015, Mic brought in 21 million unique visitors. But after “pivoting to video” earlier this year, Mic’s traffic dropped to 4.6 million unique visitors in September. “What staffers describe as a headlong shift in strategy reflects how Mic, branded as a bellwether of wokeness for young people, is coming to grips with an inhospitable media environment in which outside investors’ patience is wearing thin,” David Uberti writes on the shift. “Venture-backed startups like Vice, BuzzFeed, Vox, and others have increasingly thrown money into video production in the hope of capturing ad revenue on Facebook and capitalizing on the disruption of the traditional TV business. Neither has yet to materialize to an extent that can sustain expensive accountability journalism.”