Need to Know: April 24, 2019

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


You might have heard: In August Tribune Media called off its $3.9 billion merger agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting Group, halting Sinclair’s attempt to expand its local TV news empire (CNN)

But did you know: Sinclair plots national expansion (Axios)

Sinclair Broadcast Group, the massive local conservative broadcaster that’s been criticized for pushing Pro-Trump talking points, has been hiring a slew of ex-mainstream news anchors as it pushes into national news coverage. It’s also reportedly in the running to buy up a handful of Fox’s regional sports networks. Sinclair’s hiring spree suggests that it’s looking to position itself as a national news competitor to Fox News ahead of the 2020 election, and as an overall competitor to big broadcasters with its foray into sports coverage, writes Sara Fischer. The shift in plan follows Sinclair’s embarrassing rejection by Tribune, which came after Sinclair was accused of lying to the FCC about deal terms and being less than transparent with Tribune’s Board.

+ Noted: Months from launch, The Markup — a much anticipated watchdog for big tech — abruptly fired cofounder Julia Angwin, setting off an editorial exodus (Nieman Lab); Man to plead guilty to threatening Boston Globe journalists (AP); Warren Buffett sees most newspapers as “toast” after ad decline (Bloomberg); President Trump held private meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (Washington Post)


Trust Tip: Get started with these three questions (Trusting News)

For a simple on-ramp to discussing trust in your newsroom, ask these three questions about your news coverage: How are you telling the story of your mission and motivation? How do you explain your decisions and your ethics? How are you asking for and listening to feedback? This week’s edition of Trust Tips offers one way to take this conversation from the grand and abstract to the specific and actionable, so you can start taking immediate steps to build readers’ trust. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.

+ Trusting News has a new website! It’s organized around specific trust problems, so that solutions to nagging problems are easy to find (plus, you can sneak a peek at what other newsrooms are doing to build credibility). (Medium, Trusting News)


Transparency in journalism is about answering audience questions  —  both asked and unasked (Medium, Engaged Journalism Lab)

Transparency elements in news coverage are designed to tell your audience what you want them to know about you  —  your processes, your people, your motivation, your ethics and your values. Sometimes with those elements, you’re answering questions you’ve seen your users wonder about publicly (in a comment or an email, for example). But sometimes you’re adding information that users might not even know they need but will actually appreciate. “A good way, therefore, to kickstart your transparency effort is to make a list of what your audience members have asked you to explain and what you wish they understood,” writes Joy Mayer. “Anticipate what about a story your users might misassume. What might you take for granted that they might not understand at all?”

+ Related: What if you could create journalism that helps your audience become more “news literate,” or, in other words, skilled at recognizing quality news? It’s easier than you think — we’ve got some templates to walk you through it.


European media initiative fights polarization with ‘Tinder for politics’ (International News Media Association)

In the run-up to the European elections, 10 major European news outlets have partnered with a civic dialogue organization called “My Country Talks” to round up diverse reader viewpoints on some of the most controversial issues across Europe. The initiative creates profiles of participants who have shared their point of view on seven questions, and will “match” participants who disagree on four out of the seven. After being matched, the pairs will receive an email inviting people to get in touch with each other to meet in person and discuss the topics and why their opinions differ. Although it sounds like a non-starter, My Country Talks has already proven successful in its first incarnation, resulting in 8,000 people meeting their political opposites to talk about their differences. In that first round of match-ups, all — all — received positive feedback.  

+ European Commission urges Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more to tackle fake news ahead of key European Parliament elections next month (Reuters)

+ Inside the historic media blackout that allowed Prince Harry to serve with the British army in Afghanistan (Journalist’s Resource)


‘You’re unallocated!’ and other BS companies use to obscure reality (The Conversation)

Corporate America has invented many ways to avoid letting the public know it’s laying people off — or telling employees “You’re fired.” Common parlance includes “downsizing,” “headcount management,” “restructuring” or even the unsightly “involuntary separation program.” Or a boss might say “Your position has been made redundant” or simply, “You’ve been let go.” But using such euphemisms can backfire with investors, says Kate Suslava. Analyzing 78,000 earnings call transcripts, Suslava found that the companies that use euphemisms the most tend to be older businesses with fewer opportunities for growth, falling earnings and recent stock drops. Typically, when bad news is delivered, share prices react quickly then stabilize after the information has been absorbed. But when euphemisms were used, Suslava found that investors didn’t seem to fully understand the magnitude of the bad news.


The media are complacent while the world burns (Columbia Journalism Review)

In a fiery essay jointly published with The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope argue that the media have largely failed to cover climate change with appropriate urgency. “At a time when civilization is accelerating toward disaster, climate silence continues to reign across the bulk of the U.S. news media … Instead of sleepwalking us toward disaster, the U.S. news media need to remember their Paul Revere responsibilities — to awaken, inform, and rouse the people to action.” To that end, CJR and The Nation are partnering on a project aimed at dramatically improving U.S. media coverage of the climate crisis, which will launch on April 30 with a working forum at the Columbia Journalism School.

+ Related: On investigating the story of the century: “When it comes to environmental topics, we don’t just follow the money, we also follow the pollution — where it comes from, who benefits and who suffers from it.” (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

+ Offensive or appropriate? We talked to the reporter who questioned Mueller on Easter (Poynter)


Why local news outlets aren’t jumping in Apple’s ‘magic mixer’ (Medill Local News Initiative)

The recent launch of Apple News Plus is the biggest test yet for news bundling — the idea of selling access to a wide variety of news sources through one platform at one price. While a handful of major newspapers have joined, most local news organizations remain aloof — put off by Apple’s terms, which reportedly include Apple taking half of the revenue and not sharing subscriber data. “The Facebook experience has sort of tarnished the luster of shifting your content to other platforms,” said Tim Franklin, head of the Medill Local News Initiative. But it’s more than bad Facebook memories, he added. “Local news organizations and newspapers are now seeing the value of building a one-on-one relationship with the consumer and with citizens in their own markets. And they’re trying to build not just subscribers — they’re trying to build experience with those folks. It’s not just a newspaper subscription. …I think that’s the reason why newspaper publishers have been slow to jump on the Apple News Plus bandwagon.”

+ A reader’s guide to the journalism behind the Mueller Report (New York Times)