Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: April 10, 2018

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


You might have heard: Twitter is cracking down on bots, and purged thousands of bots from its platform earlier this year (Daily Beast)

But did you know: Two-thirds of tweets linking to stories come from bots rather than humans (Pew Research Center)
If it looks like one of your stories is getting a lot of attention on Twitter, new research from Pew suggests that it might be coming from bots. Pew found that as much as two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites are posted by automated accounts. While Pew notes that “these accounts can play a valuable part in the social media ecosystem by answering questions about a variety of topics in real time or providing automated updates about news stories or events,” bot accounts also can be used to “attempt to alter perceptions of political discourse on social media, spread misinformation, or manipulate online rating and review systems.”

+ After criticisms of the report’s methodology were raised on Twitter (@JonasKaiser, Twitter), associate director of research Aaron Smith tells Nieman Lab: “Any classification system of whether something is likely bot or not is inherently going to contain some level of uncertainty and is going to produce false positives as well as false negatives … I’m a survey research guy by training and an analogy I sometimes use to talk about this is, if you pick any individual person out of the population, you may find someone who has views that are wildly divergent with the bulk of public opinion, but if you collect this bulk of responses using known and tested methodologies, you find something that largely conforms with observed reality, even if you have outliers and extreme cases.” (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: Univision forces out Gizmodo CEO Raju Narisetti, “a sign that parent Univision plans to get more directly involved with its flagship digital media property as it weighs deep cuts” (Daily Beast); Mark Zuckerberg will tell Congress that Facebook dealt with several Russian threats before the 2016 presidential election (TechCrunch) and Zuckerberg tells The Atlantic that while he will not resign, Facebook does need to bring in “independent and outside experts” to “contribute ideas on how to address these issues” and “hold us accountable” (The Atlantic); The Washington Post is starting to launch some features exclusively for subscribers: That includes a new article format and subscriber-only content (Digiday)


API Field Notes: We’re helping metro newspapers use metrics to better understand their audience
This week, API’s Amy Kovac-Ashley and Liz Worthington are in Detroit to work on newsroom culture and analytics with teams from local newspapers from Detroit, Omaha, Sacramento and Pittsburgh, as part of the the Knight Temple Lenfest News Initiative.


Flipboard is re-emerging as a major source of traffic for news publishers (Poynter)
Flipboard has caught journalists off guard, Ren LaForme writes. After starting out as a pioneering iPad app that resembled the look and feel of a magazine, Flipboard remains a major traffic source for publishers in 2018. found that among the digital publications it works with, Flipboard is the No. 4 traffic source, behind only Google, Facebook and Twitter. What’s the lesson for publishers? LaForme writes: “For one, keep an eye on those traffic sources and look into strategic changes you can make to maximize new ones. And maybe don’t count a good app out when it’s actually not?”

+ “A concern I have with measurable journalism is when what can be measured takes precedent over what should be measured. These are sophisticated technologies, but they can only ever get to what people do. What we can’t know is what news audiences think or why they do what they do. I am always worried that user data becomes so fetishized that we forget it can only ever be a partial representation.” (MediaShift)


‘Journalism is on the brink of a gender revolution where women will set the news agenda’ (iNews)
After U.K. media companies revealed statistics on their gender pay gaps last week, Ian Burrell argues that women are in a position to have a far greater say in what constitutes “news” — a concept that has been “overwhelmingly based on what men thought was interesting to men.” The companies are promising to increase their diversity, and put more women in positions of power. Burrell argues that will change how news gets covered, for the better: “I have heard female journalists argue that news sense is unrelated to gender: ‘A story is a story.’ … We have seen the rise in coverage of subjects such as mental health and transgender, two issues largely ignored by the press for years until the interactivity of online media demonstrated the strength of audience interest.”


A guide for managers on how to give feedback more effectively (Quartz at Work)
Research shows that feedback at work increases productivity, drives innovation, and improves employee satisfaction. But at the same time, poorly delivered feedback can “stir confusion” at best and “[breed] fear, resentment, and revenge” at worst, Leah Fessler and Khe Hy write. In this guide for Quartz at Work, Fessler and Hy break down how managers can master the art of giving good feedback. That includes forgetting the “feedback sandwich” (putting something negative in between two positive comments), figuring out the purpose of your feedback, and learning how to offer constructive praise.


‘Why Sinclair’s promos were a journalism ethics train wreck’ (Poynter)
“From putting partisan language into the mouths of news anchors to serve what appear to be financial and political interests of corporate owners to the stripping of local content and trust in community news, the episode has been a debacle for Sinclair, its employees and its audience,” Indira Lakshmanan writes. “This is an ethical no-brainer. News anchors and reporters must stick to the news; when they inject opinion, they squander trust as impartial truth-tellers. … The closest analogue to the Sinclair promo is a newspaper editorial that reflects the views of a paper’s owners, not the newsroom. Sinclair would have faced far less backlash if it recorded the same message in the mouths of owners or executives, and clearly marked it as editorial commentary that ‘represents the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group, and does not necessarily represent the views of this station.’”

+ Deadspin’s Timothy Burke says that the video he created about Sinclair’s promos has been viewed in three distinctively different contexts: proof of “fake news,” proof of how Sinclair controls its local stations, and proof that “you can’t trust the news” and “they’re all reading from the same script” (Deadspin); Former Sinclair employee Adam Bagni says that while Sinclair never altered his stories, “We should all be concerned about the company creeping closer to that red line, and I did read mandatory scripts that were politically bent” (Providence Journal)

+ Sinclair agreed to air a commercial from liberal consumer watchdog group Allied Progress that criticizes its actions — but sandwiched it between two commercials defending itself (CNN Money); Sinclair commentator Jamie Allman resigns after a vulgar tweet about Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg (Washington Post)


Why Trump thrives in areas that lack traditional news outlets (Politico)
An analysis by Politico of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed previous Republican candidate Mitt Romney in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do as well as Romney in areas with higher subscription rates. Politico suggests that the results show that the “decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results. … That gives new force to the widely voiced concerns of news-industry professionals and academicians about Trump’s ability to make bold assertions about crime rates, unemployment and other verifiable facts without any independent checks.”

+ Joshua Benton argues that Politico’s analysis isn’t really showing what it claims to show: Local newspapers “play only a tiny role” in how voters get information about a presidential election, and the study just underscores the rural/urban divide, he argues (Nieman Lab)


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