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Need to Know: April 11, 2018

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


You might have heard: Mark Zuckerberg began his Congressional testimony on Tuesday, answering questions about Facebook’s terms of service, how app developers access people’s information, and how and why Facebook stores data (Wired); In the second day of his testimony, expect committee members to ask about legislating the use of private data, Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference in the election, and Facebook’s responsibility as a publisher (New York Times)

But did you know: Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is auditing ‘every single application developer that had access to a large amount of information in the past’ (The Drum)
In the first day of his Congressional testimony, Mark Zuckerberg clarified that Facebook’s clampdown on privacy isn’t just related to Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg says Facebook is auditing “tens of thousands” of third-party app developers that could have abused users’ data, and says the company will be more proactive in the future about how it handles cases of data abuse. “If we find that someone improperly used data, we’re going to ban them from Facebook, and tell everyone affected,” Zuckerberg said, noting that Facebook is auditing “every single application developer that had access to a large amount of information in the past.”

+ Jason Kint outlines five ways that Facebook violates consumers’ expectations in order to maximize its own profits: Tracking users on apps that Facebook does not own, buying personal information from data companies, collecting location data when a user is not using Facebook, collecting data while a user is on a non-Facebook website while clicking a “Like” button, and collecting data while a user is on a non-Facebook website when they do not click a “Like” button (Nieman Lab); Recode explains how Facebook uses user data for ad targeting: “The simplest explanation for this is that Facebook uses that data to make money. No, Facebook doesn’t sell your data. But it does sell access to you, or more specifically, access to your News Feed, and uses that data to show you specific ads it thinks you’re likely to enjoy or click on” (Recode)

+ Noted: Sinclair Broadcasting’s chairman told Donald Trump during the election, “We are here to deliver your message” (The Guardian); Research from Emory University finds that when Sinclair purchases local stations, it increases national news, reduces local coverage and shifts the stations to the right (Washington Post); Sinclair is running banner ads on affiliates’ websites that criticize CNN and Brian Stelter for a “hypocritical and shameful” attack on Sinclair’s promos (Washington Post); The New Orleans Advocate purchases weekly paper The Gambit (New Orleans Advocate)


How local news organizations are using newsletters to monetize coverage of politics (Digiday)
Products such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s subscription newsletter Politically Georgia, The News & Observer’s newsletter NC Insider and The Texas Tribune’s newsletter The Blast show how news organizations can monetize local politics. “By aiming squarely at lobbyists and local business leaders, these products deliver a loyal audience that’s willing to spend big bucks for a product of sufficient quality,” Max Willens explains. These products typically have little to no advertising, and audiences tend to be smaller. “We may have one out of 100 consumers interested in this level of detail,” explains Annie Alexander, The News & Observer’s VP of strategic sales and partnerships. “We treat this more like a trade product.”


Journalists and human rights groups in Vietnam are accusing Facebook of suppressing dissent by removing content flagged by government-sponsored trolls (BuzzFeed News)
“We’ve noticed a troubling increase in the number of activist Facebook pages taken down and content removed. We have evidence that government-sponsored trolls are behind the ‘abuse’ reports that led to the content takedown,” says Duy Hoang, an organizer with pro-Democracy group Viet Tan. Journalists and human rights groups in Vietnam say that Facebook is helping the Vietnamese government crack down on dissent by deleting accounts and removing posts flagged by government-sponsored trolls. Notably, this isn’t the only time Facebook has been accused of “cooperating with repressive governments,” BuzzFeed News reports: Government officials in Cambodia said they have a “direct line” to Facebook, and suggested they use that relationship to suggest accounts and posts to be removed.


A lesson in digital disruption from the beauty industry: Customers wanted content about beauty rather than ads, so the industry embraced influencer partnerships (McKinsey & Company)
The beauty industry can serve as a case study in how consumer preferences and behavior are changing, as well as how brands can adapt. Sara Hudson, Aimee Kim, and Jessica Moulton break down how digital marketing and social media have transformed the beauty industry: Beauty brands have embraced influencer partnerships, using those relationships to create content that informs people about the products. “By engaging with consumers — mostly millennials — directly through social media rather than traditional advertising, challenger brands have created a new way of marketing,” Hudson, Kim and Moulton explain. “It is more than transactional; rather, it is about creating a relationship.”


Cuts at The Denver Post are putting the paper into a ‘downward spiral,’ limiting its opportunities and decreasing the quality of its product (Esquire)
“The anxiety level is at an all-time high. I’ve worked here for 17 years and I’ve never seen this many people get the ax at the same time,” Denver Post reporter John Wenzel says. The Denver Post is just the latest newspaper to “mount an insurrection” against its owners, joining The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune’s criticism of their owner, Tronc. Wenzel argues that the cuts at the Denver Post put the paper into a “downward spiral”: “You cut jobs. You raise subscription rates. The product gets poorer. Circulation and page views drop. We can’t charge as much for ads. There’s less revenue. That leads to less operating capital. Less to invest. Less for hires. That leads to a poorer product. And the cycle continues. It’s a death spiral.”

+ Rick Edmonds on what’s next for The Denver Post: “Alden has shown a readiness to sell if the price is right. … [But] finding a buyer in these tough times could be trickier. Gannett and other big chains have slowed or stopped such acquisitions as deepening advertising losses outpace the savings and other advantages of scale. GateHouse and its parent New Media Investment are still buying, but favor smaller and mid-sized metro markets. A wealthy individual, family or group might come forward, but that is no sure thing for the same set of business reasons.” (Poynter)

+ “The allegations against Digital First and Alden may be shocking, but they also underscore an important fact that casual observers often miss,” Dan Kennedy writes. “There’s still plenty of money in newspapers, even though the business continues to shrink. Indeed, as the editorial in The Denver Post pointed out, Digital First was ‘solidly profitable’ last year. Yet the Post’s newsroom has shrunk from more than 250 several years ago to fewer than 100 today — and will soon sink below 70.” (WGBH)


‘One of the country’s biggest publishers of fake news says he did it for our own good’ (Boston Globe)
Christopher Blair, known online as “Busta Troll,” says his “satire” is meant to “expose what he views as the bigotry and hypocrisy of those willing to accept his inflammatory fictions as truth.” And Blair claims that it’s working: By “holding up a mirror to actual stuff conservatives say on a daily basis,” Blair argues that he’s “injecting” people “with stupidity to cure their stupidity.”

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