Need to Know: Dec. 12, 2019


You might have heard: Earlier this year, Google changed its algorithm to prioritize original reporting in search results (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Google is adding more news content to ‘top stories’ in search results (Search Engine Land)

When people search for news, they typically see two top stories and a horizontal, scrolling carousel of other results. But as of yesterday, on mobile devices people will see multiple carousels of news stories on the same topic, as well as other types of content like “notable quotes and related opinion pieces,” according to a Google blog post. Google will group the search results into sub-topics, which it says will allow for more “high-quality content beyond the most recent coverage as well as more diverse sources.” The changes mean that publishers now have more opportunity to rank in the coveted “top stories” slots.

+ Noted: Hundreds of Tribune employees are protesting Alden Global Capital’s sudden interest in their newspapers (Nieman Lab); Despite a 4% drop in global TV ad sales (Bloomberg), local broadcast stations are making money “hand over fist” (Poynter); The Institute for Nonprofit News is conducting a compensation survey to provide members with information about average salaries and salary ranges across the nonprofit news industry (INN)


Trust Tip: Show how your staff covers big news (Trusting News)

Breaking news coverage for big events can be complex to outsiders, which gives newsrooms all the more reason to shine the light of transparency on how this works. Joy Mayer suggests newsrooms break down the components of their coverage to show all the ways that they’re working on behalf of the community. 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 Kansas City’s public radio station KCUR grows its audience by making a daily talk show readable online (Better News) 


Treat your audience like your public board (Institute for Nonprofit News)

This is one of the takeaways from INN’s case study on Mother Jones, which examines how the magazine’s radical transparency has helped build a loyal, paying audience. Mother Jones shares its financial reports and strategic plans with readers, which strengthens its brand identity and makes it easier to show why the organization needs reader support.

+ Earlier: How to talk to your audience about the cost of journalism (Trusting News)

+ Be a “trusted force for good”: Jill Geisler proves why managers should think and act like allies (RTDNA)


‘My paper reported the story of the boy on a hospital floor. Then online lies took over’ (The Guardian)

Less than a week before the U.K. general election, a reporter at the Yorkshire Evening Post received a call from a mother whose son was admitted to a Leeds hospital. An unusually high number of patients meant the boy had to wait 13 hours for a bed, the mother said. The story was duly fact-checked and published online. Soon after, it was picked up by national tabloid The Daily Mirror, used by Labor challenger Jeremy Corbyn as campaign fodder, and was quickly “sucked into a vortex of disinformation that would make Orwell blush,” writes YEP editor James Mitchinson. On social media, people sought to discredit the story and the source, including trusted media figures. Loyal YEP readers contacted the paper to say they were disappointed by the “fake” story. Mitchinson wrote to one of those readers to “politely and systematically” defend the story, but the episode illustrates how quickly claims of “fake news” can escalate online — and how directly they can impact local news orgs.

+ Related: Misinformation, polarization and media attacks all reinforce one another. But journalists can combat them all. Here are some key strategies.

+ China and Turkey are the world’s leading jailers of journalists, followed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia (Committee to Protect Journalists)


Leaders create the conditions for burnout — or prevent it (Harvard Business Review)

We tend to think of burnout as an individual problem, solvable with self-care tactics like meditation, “learning to say no,” and restricting our social media use. But as it becomes more common in workplaces (and is now officially recognized by the World Health Organization), the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organization, writes Jennifer Moss. Leaders can prevent burnout in their employees by regularly checking in to ask employees what they need and how they’re feeling about their workloads, says Moss. Then they can use those answers to make smarter decisions that support those needs.

+ New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz explains how she keeps her finger on the pulse of youth internet culture (New York Times)


Do journalists know less than they used to? (Poynter)

More news outlets competing for fewer stories has the ironic effect of shifting power away from journalists toward newsmakers, writes API’s executive director Tom Rosenstiel. Newsmakers are better able to set the terms of their interactions with journalists, and cherry-pick outlets they favor. The dawn of the digital era also keeps more reporters at their desks, trying to break news on multiple platforms, instead of out in their communities doing traditional shoe-leather reporting. “The ability of journalists to know the people they cover close up, to walk the crash site, or get human insight into the people in power in most cases is substantially reduced,” writes Rosenstiel. “This lack of understanding of the motivations and hearts of the people in the news is part of what polarizes us. The people we dislike seem inexplicable. And the changes in the way technology has changed journalism are part of why it feels that way.”


Why so much investigative journalism gets published in December (Quartz)

“News organizations will maintain that investigations are published only when they are ready,” writes John Keefe. “But editors and reporters know that if, ah, that story you’re working on can be ready in the next couple of weeks, that would be ideal, right?” It’s ideal because stories that will be submitted for the 2020 Pulitzer Prizes must be published by Dec. 31, 2019. According to the Pulitzer website, 23% of the winning or finalist stories over the last five years were published in December — and remarkably few in January. This year, keep an eye out for strong investigations from the usual suspects, but also local powerhouses like the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Times, and the Miami Herald, says Keefe. And be prepared for stories to drop the week between Christmas and New Year’s: “Journalists love a deadline.”