Need to Know: April 9, 2019

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


You might have heardAbout one in three users in the U.S. live in places where there is not enough local news for Facebook to be able to launch its “Today In” feature (Facebook Journalism Project)

But did you know: What kind of local news is Facebook featuring on Today In? Crime, car crashes, and not too much community (Nieman Lab)

Although Facebook’s effort to get quality local news in front of its users has been stunted by, well, a lack of quality local news, Today In has still gone live in around 400 U.S. communities, pulling in headlines from local news sources that have been vetted by Facebook. But most of those stories cover crime and court decisions, Nieman Lab’s Christine Schmidt found. “The crime-and-courts-and-death beats — often just TEEN MISSING or SEXUAL PREDATOR ON THE LOOSE stuff, barely digested police alerts — represented more than half of the stories in Today In during a week-long experiment I ran recently,” writes Schmidt. “For a company that says it wants to ‘encourage meaningful interactions between people,’ it doesn’t immediately strike you as the sort of content that’s going to build social cohesion, develop a sense of place, or otherwise do the good things that local news can do.”

+ Noted: Private equity firm Great Hill Partners agrees to acquire Gizmodo Media Group (Wall Street Journal); Austin American-Statesman launches new streaming radio station (GateHouse Media); Google cancels AI ethics board in response to outcry (Vox)


‘Mistakes, we’ve drawn a few’: Learning from our errors in data visualisation (Medium, Economist)

Each week the Economist publishes around 40 charts across print, its website and its app. “With every single one, we try our best to visualise the numbers accurately and in a way that best supports the story,” writes Sarah Leo, a visual data journalist at the Economist. “But sometimes we get it wrong. We can do better in future if we learn from our mistakes  —  and other people may be able to learn from them, too.” Doing an inventory of past Economist charts, Leo grouped mistakes into three categories: misleading, confusing and failing to make a point. For each of those, the offending charts contained common errors that many data visualization journalists grapple with: truncating the scale, forcing a relationship by cherry-picking scales, choosing the wrong visualisation method, taking the “mind-stretch” a little too far, confusing colors, and including too much detail.

+ RJI Fellow Fergus Bell is working on a playbook to help newsrooms collaborate on natural disaster coverage (Reynolds Journalism Institute)


Al Jazeera’s graphic novel-style story on Nigerian children facing witch-hunt receives award in innovation (

Al Jazeera’s “Lost Childhoods: Nigeria’s fear of ‘witchcraft’ ruins young lives” uses a graphic novel-style format to help the authors convey strong visual messages while also protecting vulnerable interviewees. Photographer and videographer Marc Ellison worked with Nigerian artist Samuel Iwunze, who produced the sketches both from Ellison’s photographs and reconstructions of scenes from interviews with characters in the story. “It’s one thing for me to write what I think is a good script but it’s another to bring it to life and engage the reader,” said Ellison, accepting the Amnesty UK award in London on April 3. He underlined the importance of working with local artists who are more attuned to social and cultural cues for this type of project. “Not many media outlets experiment with this format because it’s quite different and CMS systems can’t always handle this content,” he added. “It’s great that Al Jazeera takes a risk with this illustrative format.”

+ Earlier: Experimenting with visual storytelling formats can allow a newsroom to rise above the clutter by taking a fresh angle to news topics. Two years ago we spoke with Jake Halpern, co-creator of the New York Times’ groundbreaking graphic narrative “Welcome to the New World,” about the advantages and challenges of using such a format.


A historian’s approach to journalism (Nieman Reports)

Formal training as a historian dovetails nicely with the skills required for investigative reporting — and it also helps to have a historian’s passion for using past events to understand the present. “Reviewing documents and old newspaper articles or photographs felt like home,” writes Laura N. Pérez Sánchez, who studied history but ended up working as a correspondent for the AP. “It took me a few years to notice that the stories I enjoyed working on the most, the ones with impact, were relevant to the present but also had an important history unknown to or forgotten by the majority of the public. Once I allowed myself to fully accept that my academic training was seeping into my work, I started pursuing these kinds of stories with intention.” Pérez Sánchez is attracted to the kind of narratives that historians also tend to relish because they’re harder to uncover — those that question the official story and defy power.


‘Ethics’ bill leaves Georgia journalists on edge (Columbia Journalism review)

The Ethics in Journalism Act, proposed last week by Representative Andy Welch, would create an independent board that would “promulgate canons of ethics for journalism,” develop a voluntary accreditation process for journalists, and handle Georgia residents’ complaints of ethics violations against journalists working in the state. The bill would also grant interview subjects the right to request any photographs, audio, and video recordings taken by a journalist, ­­free of charge and at any time in the reporting process. Reporters that fail to respond in a timely manner would face civil penalties. Welch told reporters that he filed the measure to confront a national media landscape that, he claimed, blurs the line between fact and opinion.

+ “If anyone has a complaint/concern about news coverage, first step is contact journalist or news org,” tweeted Lynn Walsh, assistant director of Trusting News. “Journalists should be responsive and listen to feedback, complaints AND make changes as appropriate.” Walsh also pointed out that a code of ethics for journalists already exists. (Twitter, @lwalsh)


What news consumers say they trust (Medium, Trusting News)

Over the course of 81 in-depth interviews Trusting News’ partner newsrooms conducted with their readers, “balance” emerged as the top quality of news that readers deem trustworthy. “Honesty” and “depth” were two more top traits. In small focus groups conducted by newsroom staff, readers said they wanted clear attribution, good labeling of content (particularly around straight news versus opinion) and honesty around conflicts of interest on the part of journalists and sources. They also don’t like headlines and story details to be exaggerated or sensationalized. Readers who said they valued depth said they wanted more context for news stories and a better understanding of how the news impacts them.

+ “Shut up and listen”: The best advice Joseph Jaafari, the Marshall Project Tow Fellow for Military Justice, ever received. (Solutions Journalism Network)