Need to Know: August 19, 2021


You might have heard: Americans think fake news is big problem and blame politicians (AP) 

But did you know: More Americans now say government should take steps to restrict false information online than in 2018 (Pew Research Center) 

Nearly half of Americans (48%) now say they’re in favor of the government taking steps to restrict false information; that number has risen from 39% in 2018. And fewer Americans now say that the right to publish information — even if it’s false — must be protected. In 2018, 58% of Americans felt that right should be protected, but now only 50% agree. The percentage of Americans who believe tech companies have an obligation to address false information has changed less, from 56% in 2019 to 59% now. There is also an increasing partisan divide; 65% of Democrats say the government should take steps to restrict false information, while only 28% of Republicans agree. 

+ Related: Non-English Wikipedia has a misinformation problem (Fast Company) 


Webinar: How local newsrooms can better connect with conservative and right-leaning audiences 

Trusting News partnered with the Center for Media Engagement and 27 newsrooms to conduct a series of interviews with conservative and right-leaning audience members. Today they’ll discuss insights from their research in a free webinar at 2 p.m. ET. You can register here. 


Having limited data can’t be an excuse to do nothing (Substack, The Rebooting) 

For many media companies, data has become key to building a successful business. But for many outlets, especially smaller and niche organizations, there is simply not enough data to make the type of “data-driven” decisions that executives prefer. As a result, says Brian Morrissey, that shortage of data can lead to lack of confidence, and ultimately, a lack of decision-making entirely. “Ultimately, not making a decision is a decision, and it tends to be a bad habit,” he writes. Instead, he encourages news outlets to make decisions with whatever data they have, however limited it may be, even if it feels risky. 

+ Related: Need help with your audience data? API’s Metrics for News software is a user-friendly tool for tracking news analytics that can be customized for your newsroom’s goals. Learn more about it here.


An Afghan news channel won’t stop its important work — and hopes the world doesn’t look away. (The Washington Post) 

The future of independent journalism in Afghanistan is uncertain, but Saad Mohseni, chief executive of the television network Tolo News, says the Taliban has asked him to keep broadcasting. That, as well as a Taliban official agreeing to be interviewed by a female newscaster, are likely part of a campaign by the group to seem more moderate. Mohseni writes that, regardless of what happens with the Taliban, Tolo News is committed to “providing a voice for Afghanistan’s women and girls.” He hopes that scrutiny from both Afghan and international media will force the Taliban to uphold their commitments to better treatment and more rights for Afghan citizens.  


Facebook’s first ‘widely viewed content’ report argues political content isn’t actually popular (Engadget) 

Facebook has released the first in a new series of reports about the most-viewed content on the news feed in the U.S., and its data shows that political content is not at the top of the list. The reports are seen as a rebuttal to the commonly cited claim that far-right commentators and news outlets like Ben Shapiro and Newsmax have the best-performing posts on the site. Instead, the most commonly listed domains belong to YouTube, Amazon and Unicef, while the most popular pages belong to Facebook-centered media like The Dodo and LADbible. Facebook says it will release regular reports going forward. 

+ Earlier: Executives at Facebook have clashed over CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned data tool that revealed users’ high engagement levels with right-wing media sources (The New York Times) 

+ Related: Kevin Roose, who wrote about Facebook’s internal conflict, calls the report “a tremendously weird document” that allows the platform “to control and frame [the data] in a maximally helpful (to FB) way.” (Twitter, @kevinroose) 


The conflict over conflicts of interest (Columbia Journalism Review) 

In recent months, several writers for The New York Times have been found to have conflicts of interest, leading to a spate of corrections and belated disclosures on old articles and columns. Tim Schwab writes that these conflicts all came to light due to outside reporting or the writer’s self-disclosure, rather than from internal scrutiny at the paper. The Times is not the only mainstream publication to struggle with conflicts of interest, but Schwab writes many newsrooms seem unconcerned about even blatant ones, such as earning money from or soliciting donations from organizations being covered. Some have even suggested that some conflicts of interest are all but unavoidable, raising the possibility that journalists and newsrooms may eventually cease to see these conflicts as problems at all. 


When journalists and fandoms collide, everyone loses (Study Hall) 

When journalists cover internet influencers as celebrities, they often find that the influencer’s fans can be vicious about anything perceived as critical. Because these influencers can easily and consistently tell their own stories, any neutral or objective assessment can be seen as a threat to both the influencers themselves and their devoted followers. In extreme cases, this can lead to danger for the journalists, who sometimes receive death threats or are doxxed by loyal fanbases. For newsrooms, this may mean that culture and entertainment writers need the same online protection and resources as hard news reporters.