Need to Know: April 1, 2019

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


You might have heardMicrosoft bans April Fools’ Day pranks, saying they “have limited positive impact and can actually result in unwanted news cycles” (The Verge)

But did you know: How April Fools’ pranks might help researchers better detect fake news (Nieman Lab)

Aside from causing some momentary confusion before people have their coffee, April Fools’ pranks allow researchers to compare what false narratives look like when intended to be pranks versus when they’re intended as disinformation. “April Fools hoaxes are very useful because they provide us with a verifiable body of deceptive texts that give us an opportunity to find out about the linguistic techniques used when an author writes something fictitious disguised as a factual account,” said Edward Dearden from Lancaster University, the lead researcher on a soon-to-be-released study. The researchers built a sorting algorithm that would identify whether a given story was real news, fake news, or an April Fools’ hoax or prank. When the classifier was trained on April Fools’ hoaxes and set the task of identifying fake news, it recorded an accuracy of more than 65 percent.

+ Noted: Knight Foundation expands major initiative to rebuild trust in media and democracy, announces $6 million in funding to three organizations that strengthen local news (Knight Foundation); The Community Listening and Engagement Fund awards more than $150k to 19 news organizations as part of its third round of grant making (Lenfest Institute); GateHouse to partner with Google News on digital subscriptions (; AP Stylebook 2019 updates: “It’s OK to call something racist when it’s racist” and the percentage sign is now OK when used with a numeral (Poynter)


To help reduce polarization, let’s re-envision news’ opinion sections

At API we’re interested in the role opinion journalism can play in facilitating better civic discourse within and among communities. More specifically, we’re curious how today’s news media opinion sections can support this goal. This is the topic of a conversation API will organize this week in Phoenix, which will tackle questions like, what are the best ways to create a more inclusive roster of opinion contributors, and how do we elevate perspectives from audiences that have been ignored? How can opinion editors actually help their audiences listen to and engage with different points of view? What are the best ways to do this with limited resources? The insights and advice emerging from the discussion will be distilled into a resource that opinion editors and their colleagues can use to emphasize better dialogue through and around their work.


Stories of Atlantic City launches, pairing community members with media in a unique new collaborative (Medium, Center for Cooperative Media)

Stories of Atlantic City is a restorative narratives series; an initiative that grew out of Free Press’ News Voices work in Atlantic City in 2015 and culminated in a partnership in 2018 between Free Press, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, Images and Voices of Hope (ivoh), a group of engaged community members, and six local media outlets. The basic premise is simple: A group of community members will find good stories, and a group of media outlets have agreed to tell those stories. To gather story leads, the partners brought together over 50 leaders, artists, teachers, students, professionals, local business owners, and concerned residents. This group nominated people and stories they felt exemplified the strength and resiliency of the city, but whom the local media weren’t seeing. “The goal of the event was to move below that grass-tops level, the part of the community which often are most in touch with reporters,” writes Stefanie Murray. “We wanted to really reach out to folks who we knew where doing impactful work, had stories to share, but were harder to reach.”

+ Related: Other tried-and-true ways to reach new audiences (Better News)


BBC puts focus on improving public perception of its news impartiality (Press Gazette)

Improving public perception of its news impartiality is one of the BBC’s four priorities for the year ahead, according to its annual plan. “We regularly track people’s perceptions of BBC impartiality, so we know that — like other organisations — they have weakened in recent years,” wrote Director-General Lord Tony Hall. The broadcaster will launch new training resources to “challenge subconscious bias and test how it might creep into anything from a presenter’s tone to a programme’s running order.” It also plans to use its specialists more “front and centre” in news output as it continues to “put analysis at the core of our coverage — not just the ‘what’, but also the ‘why’ and the ‘what next’,” Hall said. Reality Check, a fact-checking service set up during the EU referendum campaign, will become more visible for users at the heart of the BBC’s daily news output, “so we can effectively take on half-truths and misinformation head on, in real time.”


The best leaders do not set goals. Here’s what they do instead (LinkedIn, Marcus Buckingham)

“The only way a goal has any use at all is if it comes out of you as an expression of what you deem valuable,” writes Marcus Buckingham. “It doesn’t have to be SMART, or big, hairy, and audacious. It doesn’t need to contain key performance indicators or be built from objectives and key results. If a goal is going to be useful, if it is going to help you contribute more, then the only criterion is that you must set it for yourself, voluntarily.” According to Buckingham, the best leaders know that their employees don’t need to be coerced into aligning with the company’s strategic priorities through yearly goal setting. Instead, they “strive to bring to life for their people the meaning and purpose of their work, the missions and contributions and methods that truly matter. These leaders know that in a team infused with such meaning, each person will be smart enough and driven enough to set goals voluntarily that manifest that meaning.”  

+ Related: Help staff take accountability for performance and change (Better News)


What does it take to have ‘members’ of a news organization rather than consumers of its products? (Membership Puzzle Project)

Last week’s kerfuffle over The Correspondent’s decision to base its HQ in Amsterdam created a learning moment for all those working in the membership space, writes Emily Goligoski. The organization with the most participatory journalism crowdfunding campaign ever and once featured on The Daily Show made a decision not to open a second office in the United States, against some founding members’ expectations. But resulting furor was about more than any one news organization, Goligoski points out. “It’s about the fact that members anywhere can feel misled when they don’t see the trust and transparency they expect. It’s also about the challenges of mass communication — and the practicalities of involving people at scale — that member-focused organizations have to navigate. There aren’t clear historical expectations for members of journalism sites about how they or site staff should behave.”


How a 119-word local crime brief became Facebook’s most-shared story of 2019 (Slate)

On an otherwise ordinary Sunday in late January, a 32-year-old web editor for a chain of local radio stations in Central Texas ran across a news item that he found interesting. Ten minutes later, he had written and published what would become Facebook’s most-shared story of 2019 so far. Exactly how this news stub went mega-viral is a mystery no one has quite solved, though there are clues, starting with its alarming yet geographically ambiguous headline: “Suspected Human Trafficker, Child Predator May Be in Our Area.” At a time when fortunes can be built and lost on Facebook traffic, the story’s wild success might seem like a bizarre accident, a glitch in the system. But it also suggests that, for all of Facebook’s efforts to improve its news feed over the years, the social network remains as capricious and opaque an information source as ever.

+ The crisis in covering Indian Country (Columbia Journalism Review)