Need to Know: August 5, 2020


You might have heard: Hundreds of ‘pink slime’ local news outlets are distributing algorithmic stories and conservative talking points (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: As election looms, network of mysterious ‘pink slime’ local news outlets nearly triples in size (Columbia Journalism Review)

Around the U.S., websites designed to push partisan talking points in the guise of local news are on the rise, with more than 1,200 identified in 2020. These sites use mostly inexpensive automated stories, known as pink slime journalism, as well as a few legitimate stories written from a conservative perspective. While most sites are designed to look and feel like local news, some new sites have narrower focuses, like business or religious news. The goal is for PACs and lobbyists to borrow the credibility from news design to push partisan issues in the run-up to the election. Ownership of these sites is purposefully hard to untangle, but many share key identifiers that link them as a deliberate network.

+ Noted: Bloomberg and The Athletic to bundle subscriptions (Axios); Hannity partners with RNC to fundraise for Trump’s re-election (CNN); McClatchy and Chatham have reached a tentative agreement (McClatchyDC)


Trust Tip: Help your users be smarter news consumers (Trusting News)

It can be hard for readers to tell whether news they see online is real, agenda-driven or altogether untrue. Adam Richter, the digital news editor for the Reading Eagle, suggests teaching readers to trace the root of a story, which includes how to differentiate news from opinion, how to tell if the information is being sourced, and if those sources are reliable. One way to communicate this information is a social post or column with a checklist of things your audience can look for when they see a social post or an article being shared that they feel unsure about. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.

+ Earlier: Here are nine templates for building a story in a way that helps consumers develop news literacy, depending on the type of story you’re working on 


In search of common ground: How to avoid polarizing narratives in your reporting (The Groundtruth Project)

Researchers studying conflict resolution say that one way for reporters to avoid exacerbating the partisan gap is by highlighting bipartisanship and exposing audiences to more similarities than differences. It’s important for journalists to avoid highlighting the most extreme voices on an issue, and instead focus on nuanced opinions and ways to find common ground, Cynthya Gluck writes. Through smarter interview questions, journalists can also assess how a person came to their opinion, which in turn sheds light on the broader narratives that might lead someone to cling to identity over facts.

+ What we learned from rebuilding our editions CMS for The Times (Medium, Digital Times)


British arm of News Corp is growing a 7-figure revenue stream from branded social video (Digiday)

News UK, the British subsidiary of News Corp that owns The Times and The Sun, has begun pulling in a seven-figure incremental revenue streamfrom branded social video. Social videos tend to be shorter and cheaper than bigger campaigns, making them appealing to strapped advertisers during the pandemic. News UK’s branded content studio, Social Studio, aims for a 10-day turnaround on videos, and the studio’s sales lead says the videos have been a great way to build relationships with new clients.


How to ask someone to be your professional reference (Twitter, @emmacarew)

When asking someone to be a reference for a job or work opportunity, it’s important to consider that person’s time constraints. In a Twitter thread, Emma Carew Grovum says the first thing to do is ask the person if they have time, then bring them up to speed on the position that you’re applying for and your resume. Going above and beyond — like letting your reference know the area code of the incoming call — will ensure that they have all the information they need to help you the most.

+ Ad industry to push tech companies to not limit their ability to track users (MediaPost)


It’s not just misinformation that’s confusing us, it’s also missing information (Medium, An Xiao Mina)

While much of the debate about coronavirus has focused on bad information surrounding the spread and severity of COVID-19, An Xiao Mina writes that a key element remains a lack of information. Misinformation and disinformation are based on the premise that “there might be a ground truth, somewhere, at some point, that someone might have in some situation,” but when it comes to COVID-19, there are things we may never know. She refers to this shaky ground as “midinformation,” or an “informational ambiguity based on scant or conflicting evidence.” One solution is to bring audiences along on the journey of discovering new information by engaging them with the ongoing research.

+ Earlier: Journalists should be “Not just saying what we do know, but what we don’t know” (Recode)


How the ‘Beyonce of earthquakes’ uses storytelling to explain science (Nieman Storyboard)

Lucy Jones has become a “celebrity seismologist” by learning how to explain the complex science of earthquakes in ways that people can understand. She says that scientists are trained to “stick to the data” and reject any narratives, but doing so can make it easy for data to be misunderstood or manipulated. Since 2016, she has helped other scientists understand the public importance of their work in a process she calls “science activation.” She’s also launched a podcast about disasters called Getting Through It, where she coined the phrase “Don’t share your air” to explain the importance of masks.