Need to Know: December 18, 2020


You might have heard: Social media was already filling up with misinformation about a COVID-19 vaccine in May (The New York Times)

But did you know: Anti-vaccination groups are targeting local media after social media crackdowns (NBC News)

As COVID-19 vaccines begin rolling out across the country, anti-vaccination movements are turning to local news to spread disinformation about the vaccine. These theories once spread mostly on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, which have now cracked down on them. Now, anti-vaxxers are “information laundering” conspiracy theories via local television stations by protesting outside of hospitals and coordinating public protests, which helps them bring in believers and donations. Experts warn that any coverage of these groups that doesn’t explicitly debunk their theories could lead viewers to hesitate about receiving the vaccine.

+ Noted: Announcing the GNI Startups Lab, which aims to help independent digital news publishers become sustainable (Medium, LION Publishers); Vice becomes first media publisher to launch on subscription site OnlyFans (Axios); Axios buys Charlotte Agenda, a digital start-up, as part of its push into local news (The New York Times); American Journalism Project announces new nonprofit newsroom grantees, new funding partners (Medium, American Journalism Project); McClatchy’s four Washington state papers join forces in unionization effort (Poynter)


How The News Journal in Delaware reinvented the watchdog newsroom and grew subscriptions (Better News)

Delaware is a small state with many corporations; nearly 46% of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in the state. When The News Journal wanted to expand its base of digital subscribers, the paper realized that watchdog stories were a key factor in attracting new readers. In the summer of 2019, the outlet instituted a newsroom-wide culture shift, reimagining beats and training reporters to focus on watchdog journalism from a variety of angles. This meant less “commodity” reporting and more in-depth storytelling, whether on the government, sports, crime or health beats. The outlet also clearly explained this shift in focus to readers, including a “transparency box” with each watchdog story that explained why they covered this story and how it was reported. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from Table Stakes, the newsroom training program; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

+ Will Trump’s example change how politicians handle the truth? (Factually)


Elizabeth Green cloned her successful Chalkbeat model with Votebeat (Poynter)

Since Chalkbeat launched in 2013, the nonprofit news site has grown to cover education in nine states with a staff of 66. This fall, co-founder Elizabeth Green applied that model — a mix of local reporting with a national structure — to the pop-up newsroom Votebeat, which covered the election and will run until Inauguration Day. She felt that the mix of subject-matter expertise paired with on-the-ground reporting would work particularly well during this strange election, with the complications of emergency mail-in voting meeting concerns about the election’s integrity by followers of President Trump. She came away from it with confidence that this model could work in future elections, as well as for covering other issues like public health and criminal justice.


Pop-up reporting project La Converse is bridging divides in Quebec (JSource)

In May, Lela Savić launched La Converse as a pop-up reporting project that focused on the needs of Quebec residents. A member of the Roma community, she was focused on bringing transparency and audience participation into the publication so as to cover underrepresented communities with integrity. Her initial plan was to run the project for four weeks; thanks to reader support, it is still publishing six months later. She has prioritized featuring writers from different walks of life, and her team carefully considers the impact of their journalism on the community that they report on before publishing every article.

+ 11 laws and bills against disinformation in Latin America carry fines, prison and censorship (LatAm Journalism Review)


How a 1980s AIDS support group shaped the way we share health information online (Medium, OneZero)

As AIDS swept through the gay community of San Francisco in the 1980s, activist Ben Gardiner turned to the nascent internet to spread information. He founded the AIDS Info bulletin board system, which allowed those impacted by the crisis to swap stories, symptoms and treatment options at a time when the government and media were not taking the issue seriously. Within a few years, hundreds were posting on the boards, attracting activists and medical professionals alike. Gardiner added a feature to the code that would translate acronyms for people who were unfamiliar with the disease, and he was quick to delete misinformation when it sprang up. The board ended up influencing queer and AIDS-related media for media into the 2000s.


Why is speed good? Tensions in newsroom product development (Nick Petrie)

Tech developers and journalists are both guilty of loving, and prioritizing, speed in their work, writes Nick Petrie. But when it comes to newsroom products, that instinct can be self-defeating. While it can be good to launch a product quickly to start receiving feedback, he writes that developers shouldn’t release a product until they have a clear understanding of the type of feedback that they’re looking for, or how this specific product will generate data that they couldn’t derive anywhere else. He also writes that many newsrooms are tempted to create “too small a slice” of an idea because it is lean and quick, meaning big, complicated projects are never attempted.


Platforms and publishers: The great pandemic funding push (Columbia Journalism Review) 

With the journalism industry suffering during the coronavirus pandemic, Facebook and Google became top providers of emergency funding for news outlets. Many have viewed funding from these companies with suspicion, due to worries that they will become too reliant on the platforms and that the tech companies motives’ are more selfish than philanthropic. A new report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism looks into the limitations of curation and fact-checking on social media, and urges news publishers to “remain vigilant” about working closely with these platforms.


+ After a journalist in Malta was assassinated, her sons found clues in her unfinished work that identified her killers and brought down the government (The New Yorker)

+ “‘Nothing but cotton candy”: Allison Hantschel and Lyz Lenz discuss the reasons local newspapers are dying (Nieman Lab)

+ Restoring the Voice of America after a Trump “wrecking ball” won’t be easy. But it’s worth saving. (The Washington Post)

+ What journalists need to know when covering climate change (NPR Training)

+ The pop-culture portrayal of reporters in movies and TV mirrors and shapes public perception of the press (Nieman Storyboard)