Need to Know: August 27, 2021


Last weekend, Facebook acknowledged for the first time that an article casting doubts on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine was the site’s most popular between January and March of this year. The article, from the South Florida Sun Sentinel and distributed by the Chicago Tribune, looked at the CDC’s investigations into the death of a doctor two weeks after he received the vaccine. The admission came only a few days after Facebook’s first quarterly “Widely Viewed Content Report,” which was seen by many as an attempt to disprove reporting from New York Times reporter Kevin Noose, who consistently found that right-wing media gets the most engagement on the platform. (The Washington Post, The New York Times)


These are the stories that captured the most interest from Need to Know subscribers this week.

How the pandemic (sort of) changed the way we consume news. When the pandemic hit, some news consumers couldn’t get enough information, while others began avoiding the news entirely. One study, out of Norway, found that “news avoiders” were in fact just being cautious about their consumption as part of “a thoughtful, strategic” approach to the news. (Nieman Lab)

A Harvard professor predicted COVID disinformation on the web. Here’s what may be coming next. Harvard researcher Joan Donovan was one of the first people to predict that medical misinformation would hamper the fight against COVID-19. Now, she’s warning that social media platforms must change their algorithms or risk online lies spreading in the next few months to the point where they “threaten the national discourse around the pandemic recovery, climate change, and racial inequality.” (Boston Globe)

Six newsrooms are collaborating to cover how schools can rebound. As schools around the country gear up after a strange year, six news organizations —, The Dallas Morning News, The Fresno Bee, The Seattle Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Hechinger Report — are collaborating on an eight-part solutions-focused series about best practices for returning to school. Each newsroom will focus on stories from their own communities, but the solutions can be applied in other places. (Medium, Solutions Journalism Network)


What can journalists do about the ‘Unreality Crisis’?

How much responsibility do journalists bear for misinformation spreading around America, such as the belief by more than half of Republicans that the presidential election was stolen? Tom Rosenstiel, former executive director of API, argues that modern journalists are more committed to contextualizing false claims now than they were a generation ago, or even five years ago. However, “bothsideism” — giving equal weight to arguments, even outlandish ones based on false information — is still problematic particularly in television journalism, where more airtime is given to those with more extreme views. At the same time, politicians on the right have thrived by rejecting the media entirely, capitalizing on the distrust felt by conservatives and right-leaning Americans.

+ Local journalists, do people trust the wire content you publish? Trusting News is examining this issue and others in its Road to Pluralism initiative, which helps newsrooms gain trust with audiences across the political spectrum (Trusting News)


+ In “the capital of income inequality,” Canopy Atlanta wants to equalize how journalism is produced (Nieman Lab)

+ How journalism saved “Jeopardy!” from an unworthy host after an utter failure of corporate vetting (The Washington Post)

+ Former Tampa Tribune sports reporter’s last piece was his own obituary (Tampa Bay Times)