Need to Know: August 23, 2021

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


You might have heard: Facebook, fearing public outcry, shelved an earlier report on its most popular posts (The New York Times)

But did you know: A Facebook post casting doubt on the COVID-19 vaccine was the platform’s most popular from January through March (The Washington Post)

On Saturday, Facebook said that an article casting doubt on the coronavirus vaccine was its highest performing link for three months this year, while a site boosting misinformation was one of the platform’s most visited pages. These details on Facebook’s content follow a report the company released that shared some of the most popular content on the platform from this year but omitted details on posts from January through March, which were originally in a report the company had shelved. 

+ Noted: The Hill sells to Nexstar for $130 million (Axios); Three Gannett newsrooms are unionizing in New Jersey (Poynter)


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One campus editor wanted to boost newsroom diversity. Her solution: Pay student reporters. (NBCU Academy)

At Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the student newspaper Wesleyan Argus launched a program to provide stipends to low-income journalists of color whose financial needs would otherwise deter them from taking a position on the paper. Through a social media campaign, the paper funded two $660 stipends per semester, and the team also created a forum on reporting basics that students could participate in for class credit. Serena Chow, recent graduate and former editor-in-chief of the Argus, said that “when we compensate people fairly, when we take into account the barriers for people, our coverage becomes better, we become better as a newsroom and so does the news judgement that we’re all sharpening.”


How will journalists cover Afghanistan now? (The Washington Post)

As American news organizations pull out of Afghanistan, they have been forced to find alternatives to reporting on the country from inside its borders. After leaving Afghanistan last week, journalists for The Associated Press, Washington Post and other news outlets have continued their reporting from nearby countries. Without eyes on the ground, news organizations are turning to information from locals and social media for updates.


For publishers, the rewards of political books often outweigh the risks (The New York Times)

As journalists contend with how to serve audiences with vastly different views, the publishing industry demonstrates how polarization can affect book sales. Political books tend to gain popularity if they’re targeting readers who oppose the current party in the White House. During Trump’s term in office, multiple White House exposés hit the shelf, and sales for political books were the highest they’d been in 20 years. Although political book sales have slowed this year, books by conservative authors are beginning to gain steam, and publishers have signed deals with Trump administration figures like Jared Kushner and William Barr.


Closer relationships between journalists and academics could bring about a more data-savvy news industry (

University of Oregon professors Damian Radcliffe and Seth Lewis argue that academia and journalism could both benefit from deeper collaboration. In London, Kingston University students filed and analyzed the results of about 100 public records requests that exposed conflicts of interest in local government. Radcliffe and Lewis write that students may have more time than journalists to take on such expansive data projects, and news organizations could expand on collaborations with universities by allowing data projects to be observed by ethnographers whose work could lead to academic and industry reports. The professors also say that academics could make their work more accessible to journalists or share insights from their research in other places, like the news site The Conversation.


Why a small group of clinical psychologists is helping journalists with trauma (Poynter)

Journalists often witness human suffering and can be targets of violence or harassment themselves, leading to trauma, which the American Psychological Association describes as an emotional response to a terrible event, like an accident or natural disaster. Earlier this year, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma created a program that trains therapists to help journalists work through on-the-job trauma. The program has provided ongoing training to 22 trauma psychologists, who are paid to offer free sessions to journalists for six months.