Need to Know: August 3, 2021


You might have heard: Headlines lacking context are exploited by anti-vaccine activists (CNN) 

But did you know: How local media spreads misinformation from vaccine skeptics (The New York Times) 

While social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have come under significant criticism for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, a New York Times investigation has found that many local news websites, broadcast stations and podcasts have been major spreaders of anti-vaccine messaging. Superspreaders of anti-vaccine information — a group that the Center for Countering Digital Hate calls the “Disinformation Dozen” — have appeared as guests, written articles and been quoted as “experts” by small-town news outlets. This is particularly disconcerting since Americans are much more likely to trust local news than national news. 

+ Related: The media is making missteps in covering COVID-19; one government official called coverage “hyperbolic and frankly irresponsible in a way that hardens vaccine hesitancy” (Poynter) 

+ Noted: Twitter partners with AP and Reuters to address misinformation on its platform (TechCrunch) 


Applications are open for Trust 101: Earning trust with communities of color (Medium, Trusting News) 

Trusting News, an affiliate of API, is launching a new version of its Trust 101 series, this time focusing on concrete steps newsrooms can take to build trust with communities of color. The free four-week class will focus on identifying past and present barriers to trust with communities of color, working through coverage areas that are often especially problematic, equipping participants with strategies for effective outreach, measuring improvement, and coaching participants individually as they outline specific problem areas, coverage ideas and next steps for their own newsrooms. Applications are due by Sept. 7.  


Arizona Republic’s crime coverage is changing because Arizona is changing — and because it has to (Arizona Republic) 

In a note to readers, P. Kim Bui, Arizona Republic’s director for product and audience innovation, writes that the news outlet is changing its approach to crime coverage to better serve the community. Bui writes that discussions with readers and community members have highlighted the paper’s history of skewed coverage of certain neighborhoods, which distorted perspectives of certain communities and perpetuated stereotypes. Now, the paper is committed to taking steps like covering crime from beginning to end, making more discerning choices about the inclusion of mugshots, and focusing more on trends in crime rather than individual stories and minor issues. “Your trust is vital as we move forward,” Bui writes. “Tell us what you think. Hold us accountable. Our journalists are here to listen.” 


How this Ugandan journalism institute is changing investigative reporting in Africa (International Journalists’ Network) 

After suffering government harassment over his reporting on pharmaceuticals, Ugandan journalist Solomon Serwanjja teamed up with another journalist to create the African Institute for Investigative Journalism, an organization aimed at helping journalists from different outlets collaborate on investigative reporting projects. The group has spread to Kenya and South Africa, with plans for an office in Nigeria. Since its launch in 2020, the Institute has sponsored fellowships, provided training in investigative journalism, and awarded grants for investigative work. The group has also provided legal support for journalists who come under scrutiny, and they plan to build safe housing for journalists from Africa who are threatened because of their work. 

+ Sky News Australia temporarily suspended from YouTube for allegedly spreading coronavirus misinformation (The Washington Post) 


The push for a ‘PBS for the internet’ (Axios) 

Some in policy circles are pushing for a “non-profit, publicly funded and tech-infused” media ecosystem in response to the current information system, writes Kim Hart. Similar to the launch of PBS in 1967 and NPR in 1971, a new paper argues that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should fund digital platforms and other content producers such as local governments and educational institutions. The idea is to expand the availability of local civic information via digital distributions that are not subject to the business and algorithmic needs of the social media platforms. One of the report’s authors said that the inclusion of local, trusted institutions would hopefully “improve people’s overall media diet and exposure.” 


To end this public health crisis, journalists need to humble themselves (The Present Age) 

Recent coverage of so-called “breakthrough cases” of COVID-19 in vaccinated people is falling into the trap of the availability heuristic, writes Parker Molloy. This means that because the news often covers unusual events — plane crashes, winning lottery tickets — people will remember those occurrences and therefore overestimate the likelihood that they will happen. Molloy writes that by using alarmist headlines about breakthrough cases, people who only read the headlines will be misinformed — and many people only read the headlines. Instead, he says, news organizations need to be humble, realize that many people will never read the full article, and put the most important information front and center. 


Expanding the reach of local TV news: How journalism students can generate new ideas to grow the audience (RTDNA)

Younger Americans are much less likely to consume local television news than older generations, so USC Annenberg School of Journalism teamed up with LA-based TV network KTLA for an experimental course on how to increase viewership among Generation Z. Students became avid viewers of KTLA, did research on the demographics of KTLA’s viewership as well as groups who are not tuning in, then developed design challenges aimed at improving ratings. The students then designed proposals for the station and settled on  KTLA Changemakers, an outreach-based initiative that used Instagram and Google forms to encourage feedback from members of the community.

+ Earlier: How KXLY-TV reaches a busy audience with a handcrafted newsletter (Better News)