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Need to Know: Oct. 2, 2017

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


You might have heard: Puerto Rico is struggling for relief after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory nearly two weeks ago, leaving behind “apocalyptic” devastation (CNN)

But did you know: Compared to other natural disasters in the last few weeks, FiveThirtyEight finds Hurricane Maria has received less coverage both online and on TV (FiveThirtyEight)
While Puerto Rico has been suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria, media in the U.S. has been focusing on other stories: A failed health care bill, Alabama’s primary election, and Trump’s feud with the NFL, for example. Compared to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Maria has been getting less coverage both online and on TV, FiveThirtyEight finds. “Many observers are speculating that Puerto Rico’s status as a territory is one reason for both the lack of news coverage and delays in the delivery of aid,” Dhrumil Mehta writes on the data.

+ This week’s edition of Local Fix highlights reporting on the ground in Puerto Rico (Local News Lab); “Despite Losses, Puerto Rican Journalists Keep Reporting After Hurricane” (GIJN); How journalists in Puerto Rico are dealing with a collapse of communication technology and their own personal losses to keep reporting (Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)

+ Noted: Google announces new subscription tools for news publishers: Among other tools, Google is introducing “flexible sampling,” which allows publishers to determine how many free clicks a user referred by Google can receive (New York Times); “[Facebook] has declined as a referral source relative to Google and left publishers frustrated with lagging monetization opportunities in key areas like video” (Digiday); Data from Chartbeat suggests that publishers are seeing mobile performance improvements from using Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP, while monetization remains a question (Nieman Lab); The Athletic is a network of ad-free, subscription sports sites: Starting in Detroit, its founders say they need 10,000 to 12,000 subscribers to be profitable and could achieve profitability within a year (Crain’s Detroit Business); “Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to make a contribution to the mounting issue of ‘fake news,’ in part by seeking to promote ‘professional journalism which always seeks the truth, and therefore a journalism of peace that promotes understanding between people’” (Crux)


‘Building better story formats for live coverage’ (Source)
Live coverage can be a major challenge for newsrooms, particularly given that the traditional article isn’t an ideal story form for developing stories. A session at SRCCON in August explored new ways to present live coverage. Some ideas from the session: Live chats can be engaging for readers, but sometimes require more information than readers have to follow along; “live briefings” serve as a hybrid between a traditional article and a live blog; and smart notifications that can be updated as new information is available could be a way to keep a user updated on their lock screen throughout the day.

+ Lessons from Berkleyside’s direct public offering: “Journalists are not typically well-trained in asking for money; we all had to learn how to do that,” says co-founder Lance Knobel (Local News Lab); Charlotte Agenda founder Ted Williams on how it’s achieved $1 million in revenue just two years after launching: “We think about ‘ROE’ — return on effort — in everything that we do. For example, this has led us to have automated ad products like $300 featured events, and to raise our campaign minimum to $10,000” (LION Publishers)


‘Thanks to the rise of platforms like Facebook and Google, a growing amount of information being created for Americans is coming from overseas’ (BuzzFeed News)
“As ad dollars that used to fund journalism pour into the coffers of Facebook and Google, the information business is experiencing a trend familiar to other American industries: The product they produce is now competing with cheaper versions coming from overseas. … A growing amount of the information being served up in English is now coming from overseas, albeit without the same kind of labeling,” Craig Silverman reports. This can be seen in a few areas in particular, Silverman explains: Health and Native American news, for example. “[These foreign publishers] could be giving [readers] bad information, distracting them from proven treatments with snake oil spam, eroding their trust in their doctor, or even giving them bad information that could harm them,” says Sarah Thompson, who runs the Exploiting the Niche Facebook page, on the potential perils of this information.

+ Weibo hires 1,000 “supervisors” to conduct censorship as the Chinese government cracks down on the Internet (The Diplomat)


How brands are working to win back consumers’ trust (Adweek)
According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, Americans’ trust in government, business, media and NGOs has been in substantial decline since 2012, with the decline becoming more pronounced between 2016 and 2017. While trust is a major topic of conversation in journalism, what are companies outside of media doing to regain people’s trust? American Express’ EVP of global advertising and brand management Elizabeth Rutledge emphasizes the importance of authenticity: “It’s the best way for us to show our brand authentically through other customers who have stories to share about the experience they’ve had. That’s better than any ad in terms of a reference point,” Rutledge says.


Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that ‘both sides are upset’ is a flimsy defense of Facebook’s shortcomings (New York Times)
Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post in response to President Trump’s tweet that “Facebook was always anti-Trump.” Zeynep Tufekci argues that Zuckerberg’s claim doesn’t hold water: “Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.”

+ Recode reports that Facebook is sharing its data with Google as it reviews the impact of Russian-backed misinformation on its platform during the election (Recode) and Facebook said it will give Congress copies of the Russia-linked ads on Monday, but won’t release the ads to the public (CNN Media); A new poll from the Factual Democracy Project and Public Policy Polling suggests that “there’s broad bipartisan agreement that Russia shouldn’t be allowed to buy political ads targeted at American voters” (Factual Democracy Project)


The role of private equity in newspapers’ decline (The Nation)
“The most commonly cited culprit for the decline of America’s newspapers is the Internet and the assumption that no one needs to pay for news anymore,” writes Julie Reynolds. “But simple capitalist greed is also to blame. Since 2004, speculators have bought and sucked dry an estimated 679 hometown newspapers that reached a combined audience of 12.8 million people. Unlike large corporate owners in the past, the stated goal of the investment firms is not to keep struggling newspapers alive; it is to siphon off the assets and profits, then dispose of what little remains. Under this strategy, America’s newsrooms shriveled from 46,700 full-time journalists in 2009 to 32,900 in 2015 — a loss of roughly one journalist out of every three.”

+ “Tension between Trump and the media? That’s nothing compared to journalism’s worst crisis” — the financial state of local news (Washington Post)

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