Need to Know: August 8, 2018

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


You might have heard: In 2016 Facebook bought CrowdTangle, a tool that publishers use to track how content spreads on the internet (The Verge)

But did you know: Facebook’s terms of service restrict journalists from using their own investigative tools on the platform (Gizmodo)

Last year reporters at Gizmodo built a tool to help with their investigation into how Facebook’s People You May Know algorithm works. After they released the tool publicly on GitHub, they were notified by Facebook that it violated the platform’s TOS, and were asked to take it down. “The episode demonstrated a huge problem to us: Journalists need to probe technological platforms in order to understand how unseen and little understood algorithms influence the experiences of hundreds of millions of people,” write Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu. “Yet journalistic projects that require scraping information from tech platforms or creating fictitious accounts generally violate these sites’ terms of service.” Facebook is happy to have users hand over data about themselves, they add, but “doesn’t like it when the data flows in the other direction.”

+ Yesterday the Knight First Amendment Center called on Facebook to amend its TOS to establish a “safe harbor” for public-interest journalism and research focused on Facebook’s platform (Knight First Amendment Institute)

+ Noted: School board asks judge to hold South Florida Sun Sentinel in contempt over Parkland school-shooter report (Sun Sentinel); Jared Kushner personally ordered the deletion of stories at his newspaper (BuzzFeed); Following bans on other platforms, downloads of the InfoWars app have shot up on Google Play and Apple Store (The Verge); Roanoke Times owner sues former reporter over Twitter account (Richmond Times-Dispatch)


Try the ‘sub-zero draft’ to capture story ideas (Poynter)

Roy Peter Clark uses a technique he calls the “sub-zero draft” to kickstart the writing process. “The zero draft is the writing – maybe the scribbling – that happens before the first draft … It occurs at the first moment that random thoughts, ideas, images turn into language. For me, the blank canvas most likely to catch them before they evaporate is the simple napkin.” At this early stage, content is not important. What matters is the quick creation of a set of possible elements for a story, a couple of key questions to be answered, with some evidence to be checked, weighed, and organized.

+ 6 studies on digital news and social media you should know about (Journalist’s Resource)


More than 1,000 U.S. news sites are still unavailable in Europe, two months after GDPR took effect (Nieman Lab)

After missing the deadline to comply with GDPR, many U.S. news websites — including digital properties operated by Tronc, Lee Enterprises and GateHouse Media — are unavailable in Europe. “I was surprised when I saw that, a couple of months after, they’re still blocking our access,” Portuguese journalist Flávio Nunes said, after he tried to access a Los Angeles Times article. “It’s crazy because Europe is a massive market. We have over 500 million people living in the EU.” About a third of the 100 largest U.S. newspapers have opted to block their sites in Europe rather than comply with the regulations, which requires websites to obtain consent from users before collecting personal information, explain what data are being collected and why, and delete a user’s information if requested.


Twitter’s new pitch to brands and agencies says its users are more influential (AdWeek)

Twitter is positioning itself in a new way by arguing that Twitter users are more engaged and influential — and therefore more valuable — than members of larger networks like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, reports Patrick Coffee. “Twitter wants brands, particularly those in the B2B space, to see it as an effective way to launch new products and campaigns tied to the larger cultural conversations of the day.” While the company has remained vague about its plans, one way Twitter is attempting to implement this image change is through restructuring its internal creative team.


How journalists should not cover an online conspiracy theory (The Guardian)

The recent burst of coverage on the conspiracy theory group QAnon shows that journalists need better practices when reporting on baseless claims and hoaxes, argues Whitney Phillips. Phillips has spent years researching the “symbiotic relationship” between online trolls and the news media: trolls need journalists to amplify their attacks, and some journalists need trolls to give them sensational things to write about. She has two suggestions for journalists: don’t cover trolls and hoaxes unless the story becomes relevant to people outside the community in which the behavior occurs; and consider first whether a group’s actions bear repeating. “How and whether to cover a story must hinge on what the story might do, and whose interests it will ultimately serve.”


Meet the woman behind BuzzFeed News’ video strategy (Digiday)

Here’s BuzzFeed News’ approach to video, adapted for its morning news show on Twitter: Cover the big stories of the day, but in a youthful, earnest way, without the snark or outrage of other millennial outlets. The show is a prime example of how Shani Hilton, vice president of news and programming for BuzzFeed News, is reimagining the outlet’s journalism for small and big screens as it takes a plunge into video. Hilton doesn’t have a video background, but she’s played a key role at BuzzFeed News since editor Ben Smith hired her in 2013. Just 33 years old, she’s risen rapidly in the newsroom. When BuzzFeed News decided in 2017 to play a bigger role in video, Hilton stepped forward. It wasn’t a surprise to Smith, her boss: “She, unlike most journalists, honestly, is interested in doing the business of news and reinventing the business of news,” he said.

+ Jeff Bezos has transformed The Washington Post since he bought it five years ago. Here’s what still needs changing (Washingtonian); “Corporate drama almost every day”: behind the layoffs at Good and Upworthy (Digiday)