Need to Know: August 27, 2018

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


You might have heard: News source ratings can help readers assess credibility of online news, particularly when journalists were known to have devised the ratings, study finds (Knight Foundation)

But did you know: A new browser plug-in called NewsGuard gives trustworthiness ratings to the internet’s top-trafficked sites (Wired)

The plug-in is operated, not by an algorithm, but by an actual newsroom comprised of reporters who hail from a range of news organizations, including New York Daily News and GQ. Together, they’ve spent the last several months scoring thousands of news sites, using a checklist of nine criteria that typically denote trustworthiness. Sites that don’t clearly label advertising lose points, for example. Sites that have a coherent correction policy gain points. If you install NewsGuard and browse Google, Bing, Facebook, or Twitter, you’ll see either a red or green icon next to every news source, a binary indicator of whether it meets NewsGuard’s standards. Hover over the icon, and NewsGuard offers a full “nutrition label,” with point-by-point descriptions of how it scored the site, and links to the bios of whoever scored them. The tool is designed to maximize transparency, says Steve Brill, NewsGuard’s cofounder. “We’re trying to be the opposite of an algorithm,” he says.

+ Noted: First black female journalist to cover White House being honored with statue at Newseum (The Hill); Kansas City Star launches sports-only digital subscription (The Kansas City Star); Denver officer accused of detaining Colorado journalist faces no charges (The Denver Post); A look at fertility benefits across the journalism industry (Poynter); How the newsprint tariff is taking a toll on newspapers across the U.S. (The Washington Post)  


Local angles for the ongoing clergy abuse scandal (Poynter)

The latest developments in the clergy sexual abuse scandal present opportunities for journalists to explore the issue in their own communities. Poynter’s Bill Mitchell suggests several angles for local watchdog stories, including a diocesan-level look at the crisis (and to what extent clericalism flourishes in your diocese); bishop profiles; the possibility of a grand jury investigation in your state; a look at local groups for victims and survivors; and tracing what happens when abuse is reported. Mitchell also includes a list of resources for reporters covering this and other religion stories in their communities.

+ Tips for acing your first week on the job (GroundTruth); So you want to teach (or take) a solutions journalism course? There’s a toolkit for that (Medium, Sara Catania)


How the BBC is getting people to watch short-form video (Digiday)

BBC Ideas, the company’s five-person short films team, has published 276 videos since its launch in January, after BBC research showed that people between 22 and 44 are looking for short-form content that is thought-provoking and factual. Some of the videos are created in house, others are commissioned from independent production companies, and some are taken from other BBC units. Most run two to four minutes long and become part of themed autoplay playlists like “reflections on dying,” “challenging taboos” and “extraordinary pioneers.” BBC Ideas executive editor Bethan Jinkinson said on average people are watching one to two videos per session, which is poised to increase as the content library grows. The videos are also well suited to YouTube, which represents 22 percent of video viewing for 16- to 34-year-olds. “YouTube has created a market, and it would be remiss for the BBC not to be in it,” said independent media analyst Alex DeGroote.


Is advertising obsolete? (The Conversation)

“We live in a world so immersed in easily accessible information that advertising is no longer needed to inform us about products,” writes Ramsi Woodcock. Yet advertising remains pervasive not because it informs, but because it persuades — a power that has been magnified by Google and Facebook, “which have invested billions in turning the internet into a vast infrastructure of persuasion.” Woodcock explores the history of antitrust lawsuits against advertisers, which halted in the 1980s when the Federal Trade Commission embraced the view of advertising as informative. But now that the information function of advertising is obsolete, argues Woodcock, “the FTC should pick up where it left off and once again challenge the business of advertising.”


Academics criticize study that says heavy Facebook use is linked to hate crimes (Nieman Lab)

Last Monday The New York Times published a story on the findings of a German study on self-radicalization through Facebook. The study’s key finding: In towns where per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the German national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent. But shortly after the Times article ran, academics began tussling over both the study’s quality (particularly the lack of comprehensive user behavior data, which only Facebook could provide), and how it was portrayed in the Times. “It’s a narrative that feels right,” writes Shan Wang. “There’s a lot of hateful shit posted on Facebook, and that avalanche of content eventually whips up very engaged users into a hateful frenzy that pushes them over the edge in real life … But it leans on this working paper to neaten the narrative, and reality is anything but neat.”

+ “The frustrating thing about the justified quibbles around this Facebook hate-crimes study is that Facebook itself could, in a couple hours, pull together a comprehensive data report that would answer all of the questions.” (Twitter, @max_read)


The Athletic fails to raid The Washington Post sports desk (Deadspin)

The Athletic, the venture capital-backed digital sports media venture that’s plundering sportswriters from news organizations all over the country and has said it wants to brutally kill newspapers, finally announced last Monday that it is turning its gaze to Washington, D.C. The company’s voracious recruiting, however, hasn’t yet yielded the flock of sportswriters that it has in other cities. That isn’t for want of trying. According to sources at The Washington Post, The Athletic has tried to hire a significant chunk of the Post sports department, but there haven’t been any takers so far. “…The Athletic’s entrance into the nation’s capital, one of the biggest sports markets in the country, has stalled before it even started,” writes Laura Wagner. “What that means for the narrative of triumphant inevitability, which has been The Athletic’s strongest selling point both to the public and to its investors, is nothing good.”

+ Earlier: Why the News & Observer’s Luke DeCock is not joining The Athletic: “I still believe in newspapers and the absolutely essential role they play in the life of communities like the Triangle, a role a sports-focused website like The Athletic could never fill.” (The News & Observer)

+ Why universities like Arizona State are producing investigative journalism, not just teaching it (AZ Central); Meet the new Denver Post editorial board (The Denver Post)