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Need to Know: Oct. 24, 2017

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


You might have heard: Facebook is testing a radically different Explore feed in six countries, which could lead to the “biggest drop in Facebook organic reach we have ever seen”: In the test, Facebook is moving posts from publishers pages to the Explore feed, while the regular news feed has posts from a user’s friends and sponsored posts (Filip Struhárik, Medium)

But did you know: Facebook says it has no plans to release the feed changes globally, but the fact that Facebook is even testing it is cause for concern for publishers (Recode)
After reports on the test, Facebook said Monday that it has “no plans to roll this test out further.” But Kurt Wagner argues that the fact that Facebook is even testing this major news feed change is reason enough for publishers to worry. Creating two feeds would in effect require publishers to pay to get their content in front of Facebook’s users — and it would lead to dramatic drops in Facebook referral traffic and engagement. “Regardless of whether or not Facebook chooses to roll this out fully, it’s yet another reminder of how important Facebook has become for the media world, and for news distribution in particular,” Wagner writes. “It’s possible Facebook will see the same data publishers are seeing in Slovakia and decide hiding publisher Pages isn’t a good idea after all. It’s also possible the opposite could happen.”

+ Noted: Co-founders of The Athletic, a network of sports sites, says they’ll lead to the demise of the local sports section: “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them,” co-founder Alex Mather said (New York Times). Mather later apologized “for the tone of my comments” (@alex3780, Twitter); After FT reported that Google was planning to use its trove of personal data and machine learning algorithms to help publishers sell subscriptions, Google says the report is “totally wrong,” adding that its subscription project is still in the early stages (CNET); CNN unveils a promotional campaign that pushes back against Trump’s claims of “fake news” (Variety); The Virginian-Pilot will cut up to 10 percent of its staff and offer buyouts to long-time employees (Virginian-Pilot)


Advice on personalization: Build a better story recommendation engine by scoring stories by relevance and depth (Monday Note)
News media need better story recommendation engines, Frederic Filloux writes, and building better story scoring systems could help. As part of a series of stories for the News Quality Scoring Project, Filloux offers some ideas for how to improve: A good scoring system would rate stories along relevance, freshness, “evergreenness,” uniqueness, and depth.

+ A gun-focused news outlet shares what it takes to cover firearms credibly: “The most pernicious challenge facing any outlet that covers gun violence, including The Trace, is one of emphasis: the blanket coverage of mass shootings, and underreporting on daily gun violence. Even as we cover attacks like those in Orlando and Las Vegas, we do so with the recognition that they are not a good proxy for understanding the epidemic of gun violence in America.” (CJR)


‘How can we help our readers to be better and more efficiently informed using data and algorithmic technologies?’ (René Pfitzner, Medium)
“Contrary to many other personalization efforts in e-commerce or advertisement, our aim at NZZ is not to provide recommendations that are optimized to increase click rates,” NZZ lead data scientist René Pfitzner writes. “Rather we have been looking into engineering a personal news stream that upholds journalistic standards. A news stream that can be best defined as a personal news companion.” With support from Google’s Digital News Initiative fund, Switzerland’s NZZ is using data science to automate content curation by topic and around certain interest groups, and personalize story recommendation.

+ Tatyana Felgenhauer, a well-known journalist at Moscow’s top independent radio station, was stabbed in the throat Monday by an attacker who burst into the studio, “the latest in a string of attacks on journalists and opposition activists in Moscow” (Associated Press); In Malta, thousands of people rallied on Sunday to demand justice for journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed in a car bombing earlier this month (Guardian)


The real product Facebook is selling is you: More rules around ad transparency won’t solve what’s really wrong at Facebook (Ben Wolford, Medium)
“Does anyone here believe $100,000 in Russia-funded campaign ads on Facebook is the real problem? I’m not saying transparency isn’t a positive step. But it’s like treating a gunshot victim for his headache,” Ben Wolford writes. “By pushing nearly victimless election transparency rules, the social media companies protect their overall business models and the senators get a quick win … without upsetting San Francisco’s lobbyists. But the impact will be marginal because the problem isn’t the ads.” The problem, Wolford argues, is that the product Facebook selling is its users, and it’s prioritizing advertisers first and users second.

+ Ben Thompson on why Facebook shouldn’t be allowed to buy anonymous teen compliment app “tbh” (Stratechery)


‘Powerful women editors of major newspapers took on institutions and exposed wrongdoing. But we didn’t stand up strongly enough for other women’ (Arizona Republic)
For too long, Baby Boomer women in journalism have been quiet about sexual harassment, AJC’s first female editor in chief and ASU journalism professor Julia Wallace writes. “We didn’t stand up strongly and loudly enough against the barriers we and other women in the workplace faced. We mistakenly believed that when enough of us were in positions of authority, things would change,” Wallace writes. “As the Fox News and Harvey Weinstein scandals have shown us, this strategy hasn’t worked. I wonder if we had been louder and yes, bitchier, would we have accomplished more? I don’t know, but I do know that putting your head down and focusing on the work for the past 30 years hasn’t worked.”

+ “If we continue to ignore the information needs of news consumers representing a wide swath of economic and demographic realities, we will deserve any loss of relevance we experience,” Sarah Alvarez writes on why public media needs to serve an inclusive view of the “public” (MediaShift)


‘Who are the Adams family, and why are they buying newspapers by the dozen?’ (Poynter)
“As family owners of newspapers are deciding in waves to exit the difficult industry, many of them are finding a new and eager suitor — the secretive Adams Publishing Group,” Rick Edmonds writes. Adams Publishing Group is three years old and based in Minneapolis — and it purchased Pioneer News Group’s newspapers just two weeks ago. But who’s behind the company? Mark Adams is CEO of the publishing company, and he’s the son of Stephen Adams, who started Camping World/Good Sam network of RV dealers and camping equipment retailers. Though Edmonds’ attempts to get in touch with Mark Adams went unreturned, Adams Publishing is getting good reviews as a newspaper owner: Inland Press Association president Tom Slaughter says, “They are unlike companies that rely on stripping out expense. … In their model, they often leave managers and staff in place.”

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