Need to Know: December 17, 2018

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


You might have heardLast week New York Magazine staffers moved to unionize, adding to a pile of news and magazine organizations that have similarly unionized in recent years (WWD)

But did you know: In a chilly year for the news business, union organizing is smoking hot (Poynter)

Newspaper revenues are still sinking fast. Magazines are cutting, closing and changing hands. Nor are digital sites any longer up, up and away. The vagaries of publishing on Facebook and other platform giants are zapping them, too. And that’s not to mention Facebook, Google and Amazon’s cookie monster gobbling digital ad revenue. Cause and effect or not, the NewsGuild and Writers Guild, by contrast, are having a banner year for organizing and bargaining. But two major differences in the new wave of organization and bargaining stand out, writes Rick Edmonds: One, “Bitter management opposition to organizing, deploying union-busting lawyers and PR firms was more the norm for much of the 20th century. It hasn’t disappeared … but there is less of it.” Two, at many digital startups with no history of union representation, unionization efforts proceed from a “standing start” — launched by New York and Washington-centered workforces populated mainly by millennials.

+ Noted: Scandal-plagued CBS grants $20M to 18 women’s rights groups (AP), including the Freedom Forum Institute’s Power Shift Project, enabling free access for people from qualified media organizations to attend workshops (Freedom Forum Institute); The Reynolds Journalism Institute is taking applications for its 2019 Fellowship (Reynolds Journalism Institute); The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine critical of Trump, to shutter after 23 years (CNN)


How dedicated readers can aid your reporting (Membership Puzzle Project)

At the Membership Puzzle Project, “We’ve been thinking a great deal about participation design and examples of successful practices for community members to be involved in news reporting, production, and site growth,” write Emily Goligoski and Stephanie Ho. There are several ways members can “pay in participation” — from data records examinations, to technical proofreading, language translation, reader advisory groups and social media account takeovers. MPP is compiling a list of the ways newsrooms have put their readers to work, and it even has a cheat sheet of ideas. Just one word of warning: “We caution against treating contributors as free labor to be used and forgotten (that’s a short-term and ill-advised strategy when it comes to community building!). There needs to be mutual benefit on both sides and meaningful acknowledgement of collaborators’ efforts.”


Data journalism in Hungary: A new datavis project seeks to be both investigative and educational (Online Journalism Blog)

Átlátszó was created in 2011 as Hungary’s first crowd-funded independent investigative news site, with a stated goal of holding the powerful accountable. Last year it launched Átló, a project that takes its lead data journalist Attila Bátorfy on the road to educate other Hungarian journalists about accessing public information, using mobile tools and hunting fake news. As independent media outlets in Hungary are vanishing, Átlátszó’s data journalism projects have focused on exposing corruption within the government. Átlátszó’s biggest data story, published in late September, explored the use of a private jet and luxury yacht by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and others in the Hungarian political elite. At the bottom of the page, readers find a list of each data source used for the investigation. The data behind any story must always be shared, Attila said. Beyond watchdog journalism, Átló also aims to popularize “digital humanities” in Hungary, helping the public explore history, science and cultural studies through data projects.

+ Google and publishers edge closer to reaching common ground for GDPR standards (Digiday); An Australian court’s gag order is no match for the Internet, as word gets out about prominent cardinal’s conviction (The Washington Post)


Give your team the freedom to do the work they think matters most (Harvard Business Review)

Control, even a perception of it, can be comforting. Moreover, it feels like what a manager should be doing: Setting targets, monitoring adherence to procedures, directing, shaping the future of the business. Control feels essential — especially if you are the boss. Except it turns out that far from being vital, top-down control carries serious costs, many of which have been hiding in plain sight. What is more, there is an alternative: A “liberated” company allows employees complete freedom and responsibility to take actions that they — not their managers — decide are best for their company’s vision.


What fact checkers think of their relationship with Facebook (Poynter)

While some fact checkers working in official partnerships with Facebook have registered their discontent with the project, a Poynter survey of just over half of Facebook fact checkers found that they agreed that the effort has been a net positive — with room for improvement. “Responses indicate that fact-checkers have flagged tens of thousands of links to false or misleading content, are discreetly satisfied with the relationship as a whole — but don’t think it has been a game-changer,” writes Daniel Funke. Those surveyed rated their satisfaction with the partnership a 3.5 out of 5. They were not, however, certain that it has helped them reduce the reach of viral hoaxes, which is a central plank of the social network’s communication about what the partnership should achieve. Survey participants rated their confidence on this point as only a 2.9 out of 5.

+ McClatchy’s bid has been rejected. So what’s next for Tribune? (Nieman Lab)


A local TV station dedicated three years to investigating hospital bills (Poynter)

The “Show Us Your Bills” investigation at KUSA-TV Denver started with a story about a man who received a $2,100 hospital bill for having a splinter removed from his thumb. After that, the station set up an email address,, to capture what became a “treasure trove of stories.” “People were willing to send us their medical bills,” said investigative reporter Chris Vanderveen. “I knew they were mad but I didn’t know they were that mad.” The public response to the series was such that the station has dedicated significant resources to helping viewers navigate the healthcare system, including making primer videos and breaking the investigation into small, digestible, narrowly focused stories. “I sincerely wish more journalists would do these stories,” Vanderveen said. “They think it is too complicated or they don’t think it would be good TV. If you ever want — I will take a call from any journalist around the county, I will help them get going on this.”  

+ “I truly worry my brain chemistry has been permanently altered for the worse by constant stimulus”: MSNBC host Chris Hayes’s work diary gives a glimpse into the journalist’s exhausting daily routine (The New York Times)