Need to Know: August 8, 2019

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


You might have heard: WhatsApp fights fake news with message forwarding restrictions (Time)

But did you know: Misinformation still eludes fact-checkers on private messaging apps, particularly Telegram, which U.S. journalists may be underestimating (BuzzFeed News) 

After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, disinformation spread rapidly across Telegram, a messaging app that’s become a safe haven for bad actors who have been banned from networks like Facebook and Twitter. But much of it found its way back to mainstream social platforms, as users screenshotted the information or copy-and-pasted it into group chats, where there’s no way for fact-checkers to correct it or even know that disinformation is spreading. “It becomes harder and harder for us, particularly going into 2020, when there is just no way of understanding how widespread something is,” said Claire Wardle, who heads the fact-checking nonprofit First Draft News. “I think this is a real wake-up call. This information is increasing, but it’s moving into spaces that we simply cannot monitor.”

+ Noted: USA Today headquarters evacuated yesterday after unconfirmed report of person with a weapon (USA Today); The New York Times and The Guardian are celebrating good digital revenue news (Nieman Lab); Pacific Standard is shutting down, cut off from its major foundation funder (Nieman Lab); Governing magazine, which covers news from state and local government, is also shutting down (


Trust Tip: Explain how you cover breaking news (Trusting News)

In breaking news situations, when mistakes are most likely to happen, journalists need to explain to audiences how they’re gathering information, how they’re verifying it and which pieces of information are still missing. “Work with your newsroom to develop language you can add to breaking news stories (online, in print and on-air) to explain how quickly information flows in these situations and what your approach is to changing situations,” writes Trusting News Assistant Director Lynn Walsh. She offers a few examples from WITF and WUSA that can be adapted for your own newsroom. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


How Piano built a propensity paywall for publishers — and what it’s learned so far (Nieman Lab)

Propensity paywalls use dozens of signals to measure a visitor’s likelihood of subscribing, and then offer customized nudges to get them closer to taking that action each time they interact with the site. The Wall Street Journal, Schibsted and other publishers have built their own propensity paywalls; now with Piano’s product, publishers can get one ready-made (though it still takes time to gather enough meaningful data to start having an impact). Piano’s machine learning framework also examines factors that reduce churn, so it’s not only about acquiring subscribers, but keeping them around. “Even with subscription websites, the page metrics [tend to be] metrics that have driven short-term value, as opposed to long-term value,” said Michael Silberman, Piano’s SVP of strategy. “That starts to transform the way you think about operating a media business, from pageview to customer lifetime value.”


How First News helps kids understand the world around them (

A recent survey on news consumption in the U.K. found that 60% of 12 to 15-year-olds are interested in news. (Those who aren’t say it’s because they find it too boring or irrelevant.) First News, the only news publication in Britain that’s specifically for preteens and teenagers, engages its younger audiences with stories that break down complex topics and take a human-interest angle. Explainers resonate particularly well, says editor Ian Eddy. Overall, Eddy says, reporting for a younger audience is like reporting for adults; often the best indicator for how well a story captures young attention spans is how well it simplifies the issues of the day and puts them in the context of their lives.

+ Canada develops its own nonprofit journalism policy framework (Nonprofit Quarterly)


How’s your SEO? That depends a lot on how your site content is designed (UX Booth)

User-centered SEO depends on content design elements like navigation labels, internal-linking structures, content hierarchy and structured data. All of those elements impact how a user finds information on your site, which in turn impacts SEO. Sites that are easier to navigate and have higher engagement rates tend to do better in search results. “SEO isn’t just some magic you sprinkle on finished web copy right before hitting publish,” write Rebekah Baggs and Chris Corak. To understand how SEO and content design overlap, it’s important to understand how users are finding your site — something the Google Search Console can help with. It’s also a good idea to look at how people are searching within your site, using your in-site search log.


Old Gannett may have a surprisingly big role in running ‘new Gannett’ (Poynter)

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is rethinking his earlier prediction that the Gannett executive team will be replaced with GateHouse leadership in the merger of the two companies. Two of the top three executives of the merged company (to be called Gannett rather than GateHouse) are from Gannett, including a new operating CEO from outside the industry. And several of the executives Edmonds spoke with expressed optimism around the still-forming leadership team. “They’re saying the right things in a way that makes sense,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor George Stanley told Edmonds. “They’re emphasizing the unique combination of national with local markets. They’re looking for growth and see consumer revenue — reader revenue — as a key growth area.”


How Hearken is experimenting with the journalism conference experience (Medium, We Are Hearken)

The team at Hearken is tinkering with the typical industry conference format for its Engagement Innovation Summit, and the approach it’s adopting could be useful for almost any meeting or industry event. Each session will be designed entirely around an actionable insight or takeaway — no “sage on the stage” or panel discussions. And attendees will learn how to pitch new ideas from the summit to their bosses, to help remove barriers to implementation, writes Jennifer Brandel. “We’ve all gone to conferences and then spent time combing through unintelligible notes a week later, and struggled to answer: was that worth my time? We want to ensure the answer to that question is an emphatic ‘heck yes!’”