Need to Know: August 29, 2018

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


You might have heard: President Trump accuses Google of burying conservative news in search results (The New York Times)

But did you know: Trump’s claim is based on a study that is ‘not scientific’ (The Washington Post)

Trump is most likely repeating a claim that first appeared two days ago on PJ Media, a conservative news site, which published a piece with the headline, “96 Percent of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.” The PJ Media author performed a search in Google News for “Trump” several times across a few different computers and then listed the news outlets appearing in the first 100 results for each query. The 96 percent figure seen in Trump’s tweet and the piece’s headline draws on these findings. The author used a media bias chart from a third party to determine a publication’s leanings and found what it deemed to be major right-leaning news sources with large reporting staffs like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, but didn’t see several smaller right-wing and right-leaning sites better known for their commentary in the results, including the National Review, Breitbart, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, Hot Air, Townhall, Red State and PJ Media. “While not scientific, the results suggest a pattern of bias against right-leaning content,” the author writes.

+ Trump is right about Google — sort of (Slate); Does your Google News change based on whether you’re conservative or liberal? (Nieman Lab); Google, Facebook and Twitter will testify before Congress on Sept. 5, where they will face questions on censorship and election interference (Axios)

+ Noted: 18 newsrooms receive grants totaling more than $100k for engagement work (Poynter); Quartz launches paid cryptocurrency newsletter (The Wall Street Journal); BuzzFeed launches a new product-review site akin to Wirecutter (The Wall Street Journal); USA Today investigative team triples in size (USA Today); Twitter suspends more accounts for “engaging in coordinated manipulation” (TechCrunch)  


Vox’s Borders series uses engagement to frame its stories and build local source networks (Nieman Lab)

Blair Hickman, Vox’s director of audience, explains how her team gathers audience input for each season of its popular video series Borders. For the first season, which takes a broad focus on borders throughout the world, reporter Johnny Harris made a video asking followers to suggest places for him to highlight. Hickman designed a form to gather ideas, garnering 7,000 responses over one month. For the second season on Hong Kong, Harris and Hickman created a network of local followers who wanted to participate in or help the videos’ creation in some way, using a Google form and other callouts. “We expected 40 responses and got more than 700,” Hickman said. “In the weeks leading up to [Harris’s] trips, each week we would send via email a set of structured call-outs for what to explore.”

+ “Lifting the veil”: The Fresno Bee explains the processes behind its journalism (The Fresno Bee); Earlier: We studied what Americans do and don’t understand about journalism, and published a guide to how more transparency in your news stories can create organic news fluency


Human rights groups tell Google to cancel its China censorship plan (The Intercept)

Leading human rights groups, including press freedom groups Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN International, are calling on Google to cancel its plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, which they said would violate the freedom of expression and privacy rights of millions of internet users in the country. Their statement is the latest backlash over the censored search platform, code-named Dragonfly, which was first revealed by The Intercept earlier this month. The censored search engine would remove content that China’s ruling Communist Party regime views as sensitive. Google launched a censored search engine in China in 2006, but ceased operating the service in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech, block websites, and hack Google’s computer systems. The open letter released Tuesday asks Google to reaffirm the commitment it made in 2010 to no longer provide censored search in China.

+ Study shows that female sources in Norwegian newspapers are only equal to men as ordinary citizens and children, and only in lifestyle content (Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly)


I used AI to clone my voice and trick my mom into thinking it was me (BuzzFeed)

In the latest installment of the BuzzFeed News series “Follow This,” which explores the “terrifying future of fake news,” reporter Charlie Warzel created an AI-rendered digital recreation of his voice using Lyrebird, a free software for creating “vocal avatars.” Lyrebird analyzes the cadence of users’ speech and the way they pronounce vowels and consonants to create a realistic digital copy of their speech patterns. Once the copy is made, users can type anything into a text box and hear it read aloud in their voice. “Lyrebird’s technology is far from perfect, but it’s evolving fast enough that it doesn’t really matter,” writes Warzel. “It’s going to get better and it’s already good enough to fool my mom.”


Are journalists allowed to criticize John McCain? (Politico)

“I’m almost certain that a samizdat chapter of the Associated Press Stylebook exists that prohibits journalists from writing anything praiseful about Republicans — except when one dies or if the Republican’s name is John McCain,” writes Jack Shafer. Shafer examines media coverage in the wake of McCain’s death Saturday evening, including the fierce backlash one reporter experienced when she tweeted a few hours before he died, “Today, I’m told, we should pretend John McCain didn’t pick Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008.” “Journalists have long harbored a reputation for being hard-nosed cynics,” writes Shafer. “But as the mourning for McCain proves, scratch their surface and sentimentality runs out of them sweeter than maple sap in the spring.”


Billy Penn, Denverite, and The Incline are all going after members. Can they become predominantly reader-supported? (Nieman Lab)

All three sites are just south of 1,500 paying customers, 60 percent of whom are signed up as recurring contributors (of these, the average annual contribution is around $115 or $120), according to Spirited Media CEO Jim Brady. The sites are part of the News Revenue Hub, which has inked a blueprint for building membership programs for news organizations; the Spirited Media sites have been following their recommended course around focusing on email newsletters and messaging closely, including time-pegged, shorter-run membership drives. Because of an early focus on events, the for-profit company’s reader-derived revenue per month is already higher than its advertising revenue, but “for my purposes, I’d love to be in a place where events and memberships were 75 percent of our revenue,” said Brady.

+ Study finds that just 2 percent of American teens read a newspaper on a regular basis, compared to one-third of teens in the 1990s, although it’s uncertain whether teens surveyed included their consumption of online news in their responses, or merely print newspapers (The Hill)