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Need to Know: April 26, 2018

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


You might have heard: Information used to obtain criminal warrants is typically released to the public after a short holding period, but some Mueller documents have remained sealed for several months. Manafort and Gates, for example, were indicted in October.

But did you know: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Politico, Associated Press, and CNN ask court to unseal records from Mueller’s Russia investigation (CNN)

The effort by five major national news organizations marks the first time anyone outside of the government and defendants requested a judge unseal records related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The case could become an early test of the court’s limits on keeping filings sealed as Mueller’s work progresses, writes Katelyn Polantz. The news outlets are asking to unseal all search, seizure and electronic data warrants in the Russia criminal investigation, especially related to Manafort. They also are seeking unredacted versions of filings and transcripts from court actions in the case against Manafort, who continues to fight his charges. “Under the common law, courts balance the public’s right to information about the workings of the criminal justice system against the legitimate countervailing interests of the government; here, that balance tips decisively in favor of the public,” the media group’s legal team writes.

+ Related: News organizations have partnered to advocate for the unsealing of documents in other high-profile cases, such as the 2016 Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, when more than a dozen news companies successfully sought recordings of 911 calls to police on the night of the shooting.

+ Noted: Reporters without Borders has released its annual press freedom report-card and the US is ranked 45th in the world (The Washington Post); Jonathan Carson, who joined Mic as president in April 2017, is transitioning out of the company over next few months and CEO says Mic isn’t hiring a replacement (Recode); Peter Thiel agrees to withdraw bid for Gawker website and archives and wil give eventual an buyer legal release for archived articles (The Wall Street Journal)


The empathetic newsroom: How journalists can better cover neglected communities

This new study by API and journalist Kim Bui explores how empathy is an essential skill for journalists to accurately portraying any community. Suggesting new solutions to the problems of diversity in news, Bui shows how reporters can employ empathetic techniques in the field to understand different kinds of communities and portray them more richly and accurately. And we offer ways that newsroom leaders can foster a culture that encourages these approaches.


Seven ways to avoid a double standard when reporting on extremist violence (Asian American Journalists Association)

Ideologically motivated violence is a serious public safety and national security concern. And most people are paying attention to this issue. News organizations, willingly or unwillingly, guide the national discourse. How we present and frame issues directly influences how people think and talk about them. If we’re doing it wrong there can be widespread negative consequences, such as entire communities having to pay for the crimes of a few individuals, bad public policy reinforcing false narratives and misallocation of public safety resources. As journalists, we’re supposed to do no harm, but right now that’s not always the case.


As election looms, Brazil braces for fake news (Columbia Journalism Review)

Voters are convinced fake news will invade Brazil’s elections this year, writes Ricardo Gandour. In hopes of counteracting misinformation, newspapers have grown and independent watchdog agencies sprung up. In 2014, the newspaper O Globo created the “Preto no Branco” (Pen on Paper) blog, intended to fact-check information. As in the US, news bots and fake social media profiles proliferate in Brazil. After unions called for a general strike in April 2017, “over 20 percent of the Twitter interactions among users in favor of the strike were provoked by false profiles,” according to a study by the education and research institution Getulio Vargas Foundation, which adds that in 2014, robots managed to generate over 10 percent of the online discussions around the presidential election.

+ Guardian on track to break even as company halves its losses (The Guardian)


Are your Slack chats accidentally destroying your work culture? (Fast Company)

Most of us who use Slack (or other instant messaging platforms) to communicate with colleagues don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how we are saying what we say, says Lydia Dishman. But according to Anna McGrath, a partner in culture and transformation at the design firm Godfrey Dadich Partners, we should all be more conscious about this kind of seemingly casual conversation. “Electronic communication can be quite challenging,” McGrath says, because the person “speaking” isn’t right there in the moment. Reports indicate that even “simple” Slack chats can exacerbate sexism at work much the way other social media has been used to threaten or silence underrepresented minorities. Such feelings can translate to an employee feeling like they don’t belong at the organization and erode engagement and productivity.

+ Say hello to the new Gmail with self-destructing messages, email snoozing and more (TechCrunch)


In Sarasota, a pro-gun columnist is also a top editor at the paper (Poynter)

There’s nothing unusual about a columnist having strong opinions — even being an advocate. Lee Williams of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune hosts a podcast, “Think, Aim Fire,” as an extension of his opinion and news website called The Gun Writer. Williams writes about the firearm industry, authors columns about guns and advocates for the Second Amendment. What’s unusual, writes Allison Graves, is that Lee Williams doubles as a news editor at the Herald-Tribune, assigning and editing breaking news and local columnists. In that capacity, he would be responsible for editing breaking news such as the Parkland shooting, or other shootings that warrant news coverage. Graves argues that serving at the same time as a newspaper editor and advocate of gun rights is at odds with long-standing ethical principles of journalism that news reporters and editors must avoid conflicts of interest that impede their ability to deliver fair, unbiased news to readers.

+ Counterpoints: Former Sarasota Herald-Tribune editor Emily Le Coz asks, “Would Poynter would have written this if Williams’ was pro-gun restrictions? Or is it just because he’s pro-gun rights? … I was an outspoken advocate for autism while working as a reporter in Mississippi. I even started a non-profit autism center and served on a legislative committee to study the issue.” (@emily_lecoz, Twitter); USA Today deputy editorial page editor David Mastio asks, “which is a bigger problem: folks in MSM with an anti-gun agenda or folks in MSM with a pro-gun agenda?” (@DavidMastio, Twitter)

+ Why Trump is winning and the press Is losing (The New York Review of Books)


Do people really want to watch a Netflix show about BuzzFeed journalism? (Columbia Journalism Review)

Netflix is rolling out a new short-form series called Follow This, which will profile writers who work at BuzzFeed News and the stories they are working on, in 15-minute weekly segments. It’s easy to see why BuzzFeed would jump at a Netflix series, writes Mathew Ingram. It could potentially give the site a higher profile with a different audience, act as a teaser for upcoming stories, and maybe even teach the public some “news literacy.” And it’s easy to see why the streaming service would be interested in doing it: Netflix has a desperate need for more and more content, and Follow This is a good way to experiment with the 15-minute format (which Facebook Watch is also going after). But is there any real demand for this kind of content, apart from journalists and their friends?

+ Drew Cloud Is a well-known expert on student loans. One problem: He’s not real. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

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