Need to Know: August 21, 2018

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


You might have heard: Facebook uncovers covert campaign to interfere in midterm elections, fingers point to Russia (USA Today)

But did you know: Facebook’s plan to protect the midterm elections includes a ‘war room’ and doubling staff dedicated to safety and security (Recode)

With the clock ticking down to the November midterms, Facebook is scrambling to execute its plan to thwart foreign interference attempts. The company’s top priority is finding and deleting “fake accounts” — either automated bots, or Pages and profiles operated by a real person pretending to be someone else — which are usually responsible for Facebook’s other major problems, like disinformation campaigns and misleading ads. It’s also collaborating with external partners, including multiple government agencies, to investigate the increasingly sophisticated networks behind those campaigns. “We’re very serious about this,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Recode last month. “We know that we need to get this right. We take that responsibility very seriously.”

+ Related: Russian hackers targeted U.S. conservative think-tanks, says Microsoft (Reuters); Twitter CEO commits to fixing the platform’s “toxic” content problem, but gives no timetable (CNN); Twitter’s #DontBelieveEveryTweet shows off platform’s funny side — except it’s fake (The Drum)

+ Noted: Ida B. Wells Society and ProPublica announce free 12-day intensive workshop on data journalism (ProPublica); The Association of LGBTQ Journalists announces Carolyn Ryan as first recipient of the NLGJA Leadership Award (NLGJA); Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz, who both left ABC News after erroneous report on Trump, are joining Law & Crime as chief investigative reporter and producer (Mediaite); Los Angeles Times names Sewell Chan a deputy managing editor (Los Angeles Times)


How ad-blockers can help grow your subscriptions (Twipe)

Globally, 27 percent of readers use ad-blockers, writes Mary-Katharine Phillips. But some publishers are using this to their advantage by incentivizing readers to subscribe. Some, like the Bay Area News Group, ask ad-blocking readers to turn off their ad-blocker or support their journalism by subscribing. The Guardian and The New York Times explicitly inform readers that the ads fund their journalism. (Germany’s Spiegel Online takes a darkly humorous approach, with a pop-up featuring an image of a kitten, and the text “If you don’t whitelist us, we will kill this kitten.”) USA Today has a paid app ($2.99 per month) that offers an ad-free experience. The Texas Monthly has a pop-up that asks ad-blocking readers to sign up for their weekly newsletter, moving them along the funnel to become paid subscribers.

+ Tools for creating professional-looking infographics (Reynolds Journalism Institute)


How The Sun took on The Mail online and won (The Drum)

The Sun has risen to become one of the top web brands in Britain, with the biggest reach, says its editor Keith Poole. One reason for this is that the Sun, having never established a strategy for driving Facebook traffic to its site, was not affected by the changes to Facebook’s algorithm that rocked other news publishers in January. It’s also quickly adapted to changing user behavior — a staggering 91 percent of its readers access The Sun website via mobile. The content strategy is built around “owning moments” through bespoke websites for certain coverage like the World Cup or popular TV shows.


How to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in forever (Harvard Business Review)

Building and nurturing our personal and professional networks is essential for career success, with research showing that robust networks lead to better opportunities, faster advancement, and greater status, writes Rebecca Zucker. But when you need to ask someone whom you haven’t spoken to in a long time for help, it can feel awkward — not to mention insincere. To overcome that reluctance, keep a few things in mind. First, remember that the lapse in contact is due to both of you. When you reach out, acknowledge that it’s been a while. Avoid sounding desperate or demanding in your request, and make it easy on the other person to help you. Give them an out, which helps them save face in the event that they can’t offer any assistance. Don’t forget to offer to reciprocate, and show appreciation by following up after the fact.


Editorials defending the press are a nice start. Here’s where to go next. (The Washington Post)

Last Thursday more than 400 U.S. newspapers published editorials defending press freedom and condemning President Trump’s attacks on the media. “Love it or hate it, the effort was mostly symbolic,” writes Margaret Sullivan. “What’s really needed is a more practical kind of collaboration — and plenty of it.” These kinds of collaborations are already happening across journalism; in investigations, in legal defenses, in pushback on destructive policies from major tech platforms, and even in the White House press briefing room. “These instances make you think: What if? What if journalists could consistently and powerfully get their act together in meaningful collaboration? So armed, they might do battle against the crushing tariffs that are jacking up newsprint prices; they might force the tech platforms to treat their editorial content with respect; they might even solve the urgent crisis in local news.”

+ Earlier: Our strategy study for how to make news partnerships work


Papered over: How Liberty University censored its student newspaper (World Magazine)

Editorial independence at student newspapers on religious colleges and universities is sometimes a tug-of-war between students and school administrators, with some student journalists claiming censorship by their schools. At Liberty University, the Christian university run by televangelist and conservative activist Jerry Falwell, tensions between Falwell, top administrators and the staff of the campus newspaper Champion began appearing during the 2016 presidential elections, when Falwell ordered the deletion of several articles critical of then-candidate Donald Trump, and demanded that opinion columnists reveal which way they planned to vote.

+ Related: Students’ survey highlights censorship of Christian college newspapers (Religion News Service)