Need to Know: February 11, 2021


You might have heard: Facebook is said to be building a product to compete with Clubhouse (The New York Times)

But did you know: What will fact-checkers find on Clubhouse? (Poynter)

The new social media platform is trying to preserve exclusivity by requiring users to be invited to join. Once they’re in, users can join various chat rooms and share live audio — but not text or images — with other users. Testing out the app for the first time, fact-checker Cris Tardáguila didn’t encounter any misinformation in chat rooms centered on the COVID-19 vaccine or even former President Donald Trump (there were no rooms dedicated to him). Besides the relative newness of the app, one reason misinformation doesn’t seem to be a problem yet could be Clubhouse’s design: it doesn’t keep old posts or audio files and doesn’t allow users to record conversations. While preventing the spread of bad information, this could also hinder fact-checkers, writes Tardáguila.

+ Noted: Three Gannett New Jersey newsrooms announce joint union (Poynter); The Education Writers Association is launching an online reporting “caucus” to help reporters cover the education beat (EWA)


How COVID-19 is reshaping grantmaking and what news organizations should know

Funders in public health, community development and rural issues are beginning to see how their priorities align with those of local news organizations. News organizations should expand their grant searching to include funders who haven’t previously supported news, but whose focus on community impact and equity matches their own, Lizzy Hazeltine writes for API.

Editor’s note: Yesterday we featured in this section an edition of the Trust Tip newsletter, but we incorrectly stated that reporters at the San Diego Union-Tribune often link to the newspaper’s “Fairness Checklist” in their stories. Union-Tribune reporters do not typically do that, although it is a practice advised by Trusted News Director Joy Mayer.


The Boston Scope is piloting a news-by-text initiative to deliver essential COVID-19 information (The Boston Scope)

The Scope is using GroundSource, a texting platform used by news outlets, to deliver information to Boston residents about testing sites, food pantries and other COVID-19 related developments. “The pandemic has magnified our region’s many longstanding disparities, and we want to ensure that essential information is reaching more segments of the community, including those that may lack internet access,” writes reporter Lex Weaver. Weaver cited a 2018 study that showed that text messaging is a vital and increasingly-used form of communication for low-income residents. While some of the texts from The Scope will be automated, a team of reporters will respond personally to questions from readers.

+ Related: Texting can help news organizations build deeper relationships with audiences (Nieman Lab), but the trick is figuring out how to scale reporters’ personal replies (

+ One year ago this week, the coronavirus showed up in Chicago. Block Club Chicago marks the anniversary by publishing families’ stories of their loved ones who passed away from the virus. (Block Club Chicago)


Google News Showcase launches in more countries, including the UK and Argentina (Engadget)

After its launch in Australia last week, Google News Showcase — a news digest that features free and paywalled stories — is rolling out in other countries. Google has signed 450 publishers so far, paying them to feature their content in dedicated, ad-free news panels that appear on the Google News app, mobile web browsers, and in Discover on iOS. When users click on an article, they are taken to the publisher’s site.


No internet, no vaccine: How lack of internet access has limited vaccine availability for racial and ethnic minorities (The Conversation)

While there have been several studies and reporting on lack of internet access in rural areas, less attention has been paid to lack of internet access in major cities, and how that affects racial and ethnic minorities — especially when it comes to getting vaccinated. Sign-ups for vaccine appointments have primarily occurred online. Now, internet access is emerging as a new and troublesome determinant of health, say researchers. Some news organizations, like Outlier Media in Detroit and The Boston Scope, have targeted people without internet by launching news-by-text services, and Southern California Public Radio sent out mailers to get health news to thousands of families without internet in the early days of the pandemic. The Scope’s new texting service was funded by a grant focused on social justice from Northeastern University.


The Chicago Tribune announces change in how it handles mug shots (Chicago Tribune)

In a letter to readers, Chicago Tribune Editor-in-Chief Colin McMahon announced that the Tribune will take a “considered and restrained” approach to publishing mug shots, with the result that readers will be seeing far fewer of them. Mug shots will most likely not be published, except in cases that serve a public safety purpose, like helping crime victims come forward, or when the person is a public figure or the crime is high-profile, , writes McMahon. The Tribune is also encouraging readers to send in requests to have old booking photos removed from its site. While the new policy is part of the Tribune’s examination of how its coverage may disproportionately impact underprivileged groups, it is also “just plain fairness,” writes McMahon, pointing out that many of the people who are arrested will end up not being convicted, or will plead guilty to lesser charges.

+ Related: Boston Globe launches “Fresh Start” initiative, allowing people to request that past coverage about them be reviewed (The Boston Globe)

+ Can solutions-focused, “positive” reporting build people’s immunity to disinformation by making them less cynical? (Twitter, @JulianHayda)


The Atlantic introduces ‘Inheritance,’ a journalism and tech project examining Black history (The Atlantic)

The project will surface, through reporting and data, events and conversations in Black history that have been often left out of the American narrative. Writers and historians involved in the project will rely on local historical documents and other sources. The project’s launch is sponsored by Salesforce, whose technology will power a platform that will put data about Black ancestry into the hands of the public.