Need to Know: August 20, 2018

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


You might have heard: Facebook teams up with Atlantic Council to fight misinformation (Axios)

But did you know: A variety of groups — from academics to journalists — are mobilizing to stay ahead of fake news (Axios)

A surge of nefarious activity online has created new businesses, research disciplines and newsroom beats focused on studying and combating internet propaganda, reports Sara Fischer. Experts interviewed by Axios agreed that the only way to stay on top of the threat is to increase the attention and resources being spent on learning about online fake news across a variety of sectors. Fischer offers a run-down of the biggest players in this space, from nonprofits, for-profits, and the news and advertising industry; to journalists, academics and big tech. “After the election, dozens of newsrooms assigned journalists to beats covering misinformation and fake news,” writes Fischer. With these combined efforts, “there’s a much higher level of awareness and attention towards the issue than ever before.”

+ Noted: Democratic nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bans press from town halls (Queens Chronicle); President Trump accuses social media companies of discriminating against conservatives (Politico); Cable TV giant Charter Communications to launch 24-hour hyper-local news channel (Los Angeles Times); “Weaponized ad technology”: Facebook faces continuing calls for regulation of microtargeted ads in U.S. and Europe (The New York Times)


How The Seattle Times uses the comments section to drive subscriptions (Digiday)

Since launching a metered paywall in 2013, The Seattle Times has now reached 36,000 digital subscribers — not bad for a city of Seattle’s size. The paywall is the biggest subscription driver, but other digital products, like contest tools, an election app and newsletters, keep subscribers engaged and attract new ones. Another important part of the subscriber value proposition is turning on the comments feature. Every visitor to the site has to register to be able to leave a comment, which helps the Times in moving these visitors through to the mid-funnel. “It’s an important driver for us. We know from the market data that our readers value the ability to comment [on stories],” says Sharon Chan, VP of innovation and products at the Times.


How an Argentine newspaper built its membership program around commenting (The Lenfest Institute)

Página/12 wanted to create a meaningful digital membership system that provides real value for those who choose to support the outlet financially — which was more than 70 percent of its readers, the paper found in an online poll. Those willing to support the paper financially were also those most interested in engaging with one another and with Página/12 journalists, writes David Akst. So Página/12 introduced a commenting system (or a “contribution” system, as the outlet calls it) that’s only available to members. The system runs on Talk, a platform from The Coral Project. Talk is used by a number of large American news organizations, including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, to create, host, and moderate comment sections. Since April, Página/12 has gone from zero to 7,000 paying members.

+ New report shows that since GDPR went into effect, European news outlets have cut down on third-party cookies and content on their sites (Nieman Lab); Malaysia scraps “fake news” law used to stifle free speech (The Guardian)


What we learned about media literacy by teaching high school students fact-checking (Poynter)

In a summer program on media literacy run by the Poynter Institute and partners, trainers found that students were not immune to misinformation. Their experience is backed by research: According to the Stanford History Education Group, the vast majority of teenagers are unable to correctly evaluate the credibility of online news and information, despite being online much or all of the day. The MediaWise program focused especially on Instagram, as “the high school interns were quick to tell us that Facebook is for ‘middle-age adults,’ not young people,” write Allison Graves and Hiwot Hailu. “[On Instagram] we found the perfect storm of circumstances. Whether it is celebrities, made up quotes, inaccurate memes or viral videos, the misinformation on the platform is wide-ranging and often goes unchecked.” However, the interns displayed a willingness to learn fact-checking, and as part of MediaWise, will make up a network of teen fact-checkers across the country.

+ Earlier: Teens are debating the news on Instagram (The Atlantic)


As our media environment blurs, confusion often reigns (AP)

“In a chaotic media landscape, with traditional guideposts stripped away by technology and new business models, the old lines between journalism and commentary are growing ever fuzzier,” writes David Bauder. The distinction blurs further when information is decoupled from the newspaper columns and appears in the wild of social media feeds. News articles often lose their context when spread on Twitter feeds and other social media. Opinion and news stories live in the same space, sometimes clearly marked, sometimes not. “For many people, the editors and news producers who were once media gatekeepers have been replaced by opinionated uncles and old high-school classmates who spend all their time online. Russian trolls harnessed the power of these changes in news consumption before most people realized what was happening.”


Public radio’s efforts to track source diversity seen as path to addressing ‘deep problem’ (Current)

KUT in Austin, Texas, along with Philadelphia’s WHYY, Seattle’s KUOW and San Francisco’s KQED, are all engaged in efforts to gather and analyze data on their sourcing in news reports or show segments. The work involves logging the race, gender and role of the interviewees and the stories they appear in. Some stations plan to follow NPR’s lead by publishing their findings to their websites; others are talking about them at industry conferences. “I think you see a lot more transparency emerging in the system,” said Doug Mitchell, a public media consultant and project director with NPR. “I’m hoping that with NPR, KUOW and others, this is the beginning of a groundswell of transparency to addressing a deep problem.”

+ Preparing journalism students for the “trickle down” of hostility toward the press (Columbia Missourian)