Need to Know: April 20, 2018

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


You might have heard: Facebook introduced changes to the news feed earlier this year, intended to encourage “meaningful social interactions” (Recode); In his explanation of the change, Mark Zuckerberg specifically mentioned how news content on Facebook can promote those kinds of interactions (Facebook)

But did you know: After making changes to the news feed, data shows that Facebook is struggling to promote ‘meaningful interactions’ for local news outlets (CJR)
According to an analysis by the Tow Center, interactions on local publishers’ Facebook posts are down by as much as 56 percent since Facebook changed its news feed algorithm to promote “meaningful interactions.” That change was touted by Mark Zuckerberg as a way to deliberately promote news organizations on Facebook. The Tow Center found that on average, interactions on local publishers’ Facebook posts is 27 percent lower than it was in the preceding two years. Some publishers in the analysis (Denver Post, Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle) have seen declines of more than 50 percent; on the other end, a few publishers (The Tennessean, Boston Globe) saw smaller declines of about 6 percent.

+ Noted: Meredith turned down a $300 million offer from American Media Inc. for Time, Fortune, Money and Sports Illustrated (Vanity Fair); AMI says its “plentiful and positive” coverage of Trump has been good for its business, but WSJ reports that its debt is increasing while its newsstand sales are declining (Wall Street Journal); Michael Cohen drops his lawsuit against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS for publishing the Trump dossier, which alleges that Cohen met with Russian operatives on Trump’s behalf (Politico); Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes testifies in antitrust court that his company needs to merge with AT&T so it can better compete with Facebook, Google and Amazon for online advertising (CNN Money); Consumer Reports is launching new subscription tiers in an effort to grow its membership base and increase revenue per person (Digiday)


The week in fact-checking
As part of our fact-checking journalism project, Jane Elizabeth and Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis and Daniel Funke highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. This week’s round-up includes why AI is a double-edged sword when it comes to misinformation, tips for spotting “deepfake” videos, and the major source of misinformation that’s going ignored.


The best ways for journalists to engage with readers in the comment section (Coral Project)
When journalists engage in the comment sections, the quality of comments tend to be improved, it can increase readers’ trust in the journalists’ work and build a loyal audience, and journalists can find new story ideas and sources. But what are the best ways for journalists to do that? The Coral Project has a new guide outlining the best practices for journalists to achieve those goals by interacting with readers in the comments. Some of their suggestions: Respond to valid questions and provide more information where useful; thank people for productive comments and show that you’re listening; and let commenters know early on in the conversation that you’ll be listening and responding.

+ Related: More resources and strategies for user comments we’ve gathered at Better News

+ Should you design for addiction or loyalty? The answer lies in whether you’re seeking users or an audience (Nieman Lab)


More than 60 journalists in Pakistan are condemning what they call ‘the ongoing curbs on freedom of expression in the country’ (Voice of America)
This week, more than 60 reporters, op-ed writers and editors at Pakistan’s leading news organizations are issuing a call against the government’s attacks on the media: “Beginning with a crackdown against select media groups and banning the broadcast of various channels, there now is enhanced pressure on all media houses to refrain from covering certain rights-based movements,” the journalists said in a statement. Pakistan’s most watched news channel, Geo, has been blocked in many parts of the country for nearly a month, while newspaper editors say they’re under pressure from the government to block some of their op-ed pieces on some subjects.

+ Ahead of an abortion referendum in Ireland, Facebook is rolling out a new tool that gives users more info about the creators of sponsored posts and political ads (CNN Money)


Elevating your junior colleagues can help you grow. Here are the best ways to do it (Poynter)
“Everyone knows the one female VP or the women in the C-Suite, but it’s often harder to get visibility into entry-level workers,” says Caroline Cotto, who previously worked on female inclusion programming for marketing and sales software company Hubspot. “Women are trying to get into management roles, but they don’t always have people in their corner telling people they are great and here’s why.” WSJ digital strategist Rachel Schallom explains the best ways you can elevate junior members of your team, and grow yourself in the process. One way to do that is to say something in meetings when a junior member of the team is the best person to answer the question; another is offering recommendations that highlight the skills for roles they want to move into, even if they’re not necessarily up for a promotion.


If we truly had a ‘liberal media’ in the United States, ‘Paul Ryan would never have established the reputation has been accused of betraying’ (Splinter)
A common storyline in the “political obituaries” for Paul Ryan, Alex Pareene writes, is that he “pulled one over” on the news media, “which was eager to find any reasonable opposition to Obama in a sea of birthers and conspiracy-peddlers.” Pareene argues that’s partially true — but also argues that if the United States really had a “liberal media,” Ryan never would have been taken seriously. “If rank-and-file members of the media actually evinced any understanding of ideology and political economy, Ryan simply couldn’t have gotten away with it,” Pareene argues. “Ryan’s only truly canny move was that he didn’t personally engage in the culture wars … making it easier for the press to treat him as a responsible alternative to ‘those’ Republicans. Ryan grasped, consciously or not, that the ‘liberalism’ of the mainstream media is just a reflection of the geographical and professional milieu in which elite journalism is produced, and it features no actual political principles beyond cosmopolitanism.”


Why do so many local news sites have awful ad experiences? In short, it’s part of the business model (City Lab)
“The torments of [local newspaper] sites are well known: clunky navigation, slow page-loading times, browser-freezing autoplaying videos, a siege of annoying pop-up ads, and especially those grids of bottom-of-the-page ‘related content’ ads hawking belly fat cures and fake headlines,” Andrew Zaleski writes. But why are they so bad for users? The short answer, Zaleski explains, is that it’s part of their business, which is linked to their design. “We have a situation now where ads, even on reputable sites, can be difficult to corral,” New York magazine’s chief creative officer Ian Adelman tells Zaleski.

+ Pew Research Center finds that Americans tend to believe tech firms, not the government, should take action on restricting false information (Pew Research Center)


+ Report for America, modeled after AmeriCorps, is trying to place 1,000 journalists in understaffed newsrooms by 2022: “People are applying for the same reason people want to go into the Peace Corps: There’s an idealistic desire to help communities, and there’s a sense of adventure. … They want to try and save democracy,” Steven Waldman, one of the project’s founders, says (New York Times)

+ As Millennials move up in newsroom hierarchies, tensions are rising between the younger and older generations: Senior editors have seen their generations “destroyed” by the shift to digital, while younger journalists are less willing to put up with the status quo and are sometimes distrusted by those above them (Hollywood Reporter)

+ Amanda Woytus on the best advice she received from women in journalism after losing her job: If you say you don’t have time for something, you don’t want it enough; find little pockets of time during your day when you can get advice from mentors; and there’s many paths to journalism, and you shouldn’t stop because you haven’t found the right fit (Poynter)

+ A Q&A with Kevin Feeney, who wrote the first profile of Facebook as a college freshman for the Harvard Crimson: “I came at it from [the perspective of], what are the next steps? It was easy to get people talking in that direction because, at that time, that’s what was on their minds. Despite this legend that Zuckerberg has become, he was just a college student who had made a pretty rash decision to drop out of school and you could’ve seen that going badly for a lot of other people” (CJR)