Need to Know: April 5, 2019

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


You might have heard: Voice assistants have been adopted faster than nearly any other technology in history (Recode)

But did you know: For many publishers, there’s not much question if voice will grow. The question is whether news will grow with it. (Nieman Reports)

As smart speakers proliferate in homes, come pre-installed in cars, and find their way into the final corners of consumers’ connected lives, news outlets are racing to find a place on the platform. “If [voice] does become an ever more dominant interface, then it will probably have quite profound effects on the way that information and content is consumed,” says Mukul Devichand, executive editor of voice and AI for the BBC. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 18 percent of American smart speaker owners ask for news every day — typically by saying, “What’s in the news?” or a similar phrase and getting back short newscast-style reports. Most listeners, however, are merely accessing the radio on their smart speakers, making the speaker a sort of “radio replacement.” But as people get familiar with their devices, and as publishers start designing news updates that take advantage of smart speakers’ unique capabilities, streaming could wind up being a transitional behavior.

+ Earlier: Google is launching a voice-driven version of Google News for smart speakers and phones (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: Bill introduced to help publishers bargain with tech giants (Washington Post); The City, a new local New York City outlet, publishes a diversity report on its first day (Nieman Lab)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually (formerly “The Week in Fact-Checking”): misinformation is inciting violence all over the world; how personal information like degrees and experience can be easily faked on LinkedIn; and Singapore is the latest country to make fake news illegal.


How to use article metadata to limit misinformation on social media (Nieman Lab)

“Journalists complain all the time about how people don’t click through — they just see a headline or a picture in a scrolling feed somewhere and get left with a limited or warped view,” writes Joshua Benton. “Well, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.” Inspired by the Guardian’s tactic for emphasizing the pub dates of older articles on social media, Joshua Benton began wondering why news organizations don’t think of article metadata on social as a “sort of publishing platform unto itself.” Publishers can — and in most cases, pretty easily — change pieces of metadata like the headline, image, and description a platform will use to represent an article. So if an old article is being circulated on social media in a way that’s misleading, newsroom staff can spring into action by changing the story’s metadata to point to a version of the image with its pub date added, rewriting the metadata headline to emphasize it’s not a new story, or adding an image with a line that gives up-to-date context.  


Is WhatsApp the ‘next frontier’ for publishers? (What’s New in Publishing)

According to Reuters’ 2018 Digital News Report, the use of WhatsApp for news has almost tripled since 2014. The platform is particularly popular for sharing news in Latin America and parts of Asia and Africa. In India and Zimbabwe, publishers have been experimenting with “broadcast lists,”  newsgroups, quizzes and audio notes on Whatsapp. “I really think that instant messaging is where the news is going to go, especially when people figure out how to format it and make it beautiful,” said Edmund Kudzayi, founding editor of Kukurigo Updates, a Zimbabwean Whatsapp-based news platform. WhatsApp can also help publishers speak directly to audiences, bypassing the challenge of competing with multiple publishers to surface news on social media and search engines, said Ankit Dhadda, head of marketing and digital product at Bloomberg|Quint. The India-based company was the first to launch a WhatsApp news service in 2017 and now has more than 400,000 subscribers.

+ In Australia, a new law on livestreaming terror attacks doesn’t take into account how the internet actually works (Nieman Lab)


Measuring the value of membership (Membership Puzzle Project)

Calculating the lifetime value of a subscriber is relatively straightforward. But figuring out what a member is “worth” is much more complicated, and membership-based news organizations are still figuring out how to do it — or even if it’s possible. Researcher Joe Amditis takes a cue from traditional membership organizations, which typically use dues and non-dues revenue as key factors in their equation. But that still leaves the challenge of quantifying non-monetary contributions like sharing content, posting comments and other forms of participation. Some organizations have attempted to codify these kinds of contributions, like the Water Environment Research Foundation, which published a tool to help people evaluate the intangible benefits of a project or initiative and translate them into monetary terms; or Google Local Guides, which reward various user contributions with points and perks.


Why business (and other beat) reporters should cover the arts (Poynter)

For years, local news organizations under financial strain have cut back on arts coverage or eliminated their arts staff altogether. But the value of arts coverage to a community should not be underestimated, says Tom Huang, assistant managing editor at the Dallas Morning News. “I would ask [local news publishers] to look at the hard data, and they would probably see that their arts institutions drive more visitors and revenue than most of their local sports teams … there needs to be a recognition that the arts are as important to the local economy as the local sports teams are.” Huang, who will be leading a Poynter workshop on “how to cover the arts on any beat,” also pointed out the different angles that reporters from other beats can use to enrich arts coverage. “The other argument I would make is that the arts are a way to bring diverse people together. It’s a way to have interesting conversations where you can have debates and go back and forth, but it’s not as controversial as politics.”


Why losing our newspapers is breaking our politics (Scientific American)

As local newspapers disappear, citizens increasingly rely on national sources of political information, which emphasize competition and conflict between the parties. Local newspapers, by contrast, serve as a central source of shared information, setting a common agenda. Readers of local newspapers feel more attached to their communities and are more likely to be civically engaged. Research suggests that unless something is done, American politics will likely become more contentious and partisan as the media landscape consolidates and nationalizes. “If people want to fight back against the polarization that has infected our politics,” write Matthew Hitt, Joshua Darr and Johanna Dunaway, “part of the answer may be on their doorstep.”

+ Earlier: To help reduce polarization, let’s re-envision news’ opinion sections


+ The inextricable role of gender in the history of fact-checking (TIME)

+ “Journalists are better at covering events than institutions” — CJR’s “exit interview” with Bill Keller, former editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project, covers crime reporting and the future of single-subject newsrooms (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ The NYT Magazine three-part series “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World” may have been the week’s hottest read. (New York Times Magazine)