Need to Know: August 28, 2019

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


You might have heard: In 21 states, local newspapers lack a dedicated D.C. reporter covering Congress (Pew Research Center)

But did you know: How reporters for niche publications conquered Capitol Hill (The Washington Post)

After several decades of newspapers closing their Washington bureaus, reporters from niche publications now outnumber the daily reporters serving general audiences at Capitol Hill. Business people who work in certain industries are willing to pay for news from trade publications, often making them more financially viable than other papers. Mainstream outlets like Politico, Bloomberg and Business Insider also are producing niche coverage through additional news products as a way to build revenue. Some researchers have said that although they have different priorities, trade reporters help draw mainstream journalists into a topic. 

+ Noted: Local journalists uncovered cult Nvixm years before Hollywood paid attention (Poynter); Judge probes ‘context’ for White House’s suspension of Playboy correspondent’s credentials (The Washington Post); The Athletic is experimenting with free content (Axios)


Trust Tip: Use social media profiles to communicate trustworthiness (Trusting News)

Lynn Walsh of Trusting News asks you to consider what your community will see — and take away — if they check out your social media accounts. She writes that your profiles are an opportunity to explain your approach to journalism and how your audience can contact you. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


What to do when stock photos don’t meet journalistic standards (Self)

When Self decided to tackle the misinformation-laden minefield that is vaccines, the publication wanted every aspect of its Vaccines Save Lives package to be evidence-based. That included the photos. Self’s Health Director, Casey Gueren, writes that stock photos for vaccines are often medically inaccurate or include frightening imagery that “perpetuates the idea that vaccines are just scary, painful, and something both parents and their children dread.” So, Self consulted with the American Academy of Pediatrics to create medically accurate stock photos that also depart from the fear-mongering images that have become commonplace. The photos are free to use with proper attribution and can be found here.


Reuters boss: ‘If we don’t disrupt ourselves, somebody else is going to do it for us’ (Press Gazette)

Reuters may develop a peer-to-peer network to share content and collaborate on reporting and fact-checking, managing director of product and strategy Sue Brooks said. A network of that kind would come about as an expansion of Reuters Connect, a platform that provides content from Reuters and other media organizations. Brooks views lack of trust in the news as one of the biggest challenges to journalism organizations, especially as social media becomes a more dominant source for news consumers. According to an Ofcom survey from last month, half of adults in the UK get their news from social media.


‘Dangerous’ AI offers to write fake news (BBC)

Research firm OpenAI has released a version of an artificial intelligence system once thought to be “too dangerous” because of its potential for misuse. The public, scaled-back version of this text generator, called GPT-2, can write articles, stories and poems by predicting the next words after a series of text. While one computer science expert testing the program doubted it could create convincing fake news or spam, others beg to differ. Tristan Greene wrote of the program, “I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that, after trying it, I’m legitimately terrified for the future of humanity if we don’t figure out a way to detect AI-generated content – and soon.”


The news industry shares some blame for the opioid crisis (Columbia Journalism Review)

When Christopher Tedeschi was a medical student in the late 1990s, news stories repeatedly said that opioids are safe. Now an associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University, Tedeschi writes that those stories covered the topic without skepticism, while influencing the medical field’s attitudes toward opioids. According to a study in the journal Health Affairs, coverage of methadone and buprenorphine focus on negative effects of the drugs, which Tedeschi worries could sway doctors away from prescribing them.


NYT columnist Bret Stephens quits Twitter after challenging heckler to meet face-to-face (Daily Beast)

Bedbugs are small, but they are mighty. They are brazen, can survive two to three months without feeding and, as it turns out, they can compel New York Times columnist Bret Stephens to deactivate his Twitter account. After it came out that the Times office has bedbugs, George Washington University associate professor Dave Karpf posted a Tweet comparing Stephens to the insect. Stephens then confronted Karpf in an email that he also sent to the professor’s provost, which inadvertently made the columnist the target of an unprecedented amount of bedbug humor on Twitter. Stephens quit the platform yesterday, calling it a “sewer” that “brings out the worst in humanity.”