Need to Know: February 15, 2019

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


You might have heardMetrics like page views and time spent on articles — two commonly cited benchmarks — are not nearly as important as the number of readers who are frequent users (Local News Initiative)

But did you know: Clicks are an ‘unreliable seismograph’ for a news article’s value (Nieman Lab)

In a saturated media environment, news consumers most value news that is relevant to them — a factor that can’t be sussed out in a newsroom by measuring clicks, according to new research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “People frequently click on stories that are amusing, trivial, or weird, with no obvious civic focus. But they maintain a clear sense of what is trivial and what matters. On the whole people want to stay informed about what goes on around them, at the local, national, and international levels,” wrote Kim Christian Schrøder, a professor from Denmark who spent half of 2018 at Reuters. “To the extent that journalists prioritize news stories with civic value, they should trust their instincts rather than relying on the unreliable seismograph offered by ‘Most Read’ lists.” These findings are a good reminder that page views shouldn’t be the decisive metric and that personalization of news — still theoretical or a work in progress for most news organizations — has some merit in helping news consumers access the news that is actually relevant to them, writes Christine Schmidt.

+ Related: Use API’s Metrics for News to measure more robust forms of audience engagement and loyalty

+ Noted: Craig Newmark donates $250K to the International Journalism Festival (International Journalism Festival); Facebook Watch has a new program to fund publisher shows starring influencers (Digiday)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually (formerly “The Week in Fact-Checking”): Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network, bids farewell; Facebook expands fact-checking in India ahead of May elections; and President Trump calls fact-checkers “some of the most dishonest people in media.”


How Chalkbeat connected with people it didn’t know to listen to the unheard narrative (Medium, Groundsource)

When Erin Einhorn and her tiny team at Chalkbeat, a nonprofit covering K-12 education, was conducting an investigation into Detroit’s public schools, Einhorn was certain she was missing big parts of the story. “You do your best to make your networks as broad and diverse as possible, but you’re always sort of limited, and you can end up trapped in an echo chamber,” she said. Eventually Einhorn found her way to GroundSource, an SMS-based texting platform that enables news outlets to connect directly with people on their phones. “This was my ‘ah ha’ moment. I was like, ‘oh my God, I can get a message directly into the hands of parents and communicate with them one-on-one.” Using a list of Detroit phone numbers purchased from a marketing agency and divided among all city zip codes, journalist Sarah Alvarez was able to encourage 100 Detroit public school parents to take a survey that sussed out the complex reasons behind some of the school system’s problems. The breadth of voices and perspectives elevated the power and the credibility of the project, Einhorn said. “When you want to get out of that ‘how do I find the people who don’t know the people I know,’” she said, “this is a way to do that.”

+ With new tools, podcast publishers are exploring consumer revenue models (Digiday)


BuzzFeed News and the Toronto Star team up to report on misinformation around the Canadian election (Nieman Lab)

2019 is a general election year in Canada (as it is in many countries around the world), and the Toronto Star wanted to be on top of the misinformation and disinformation efforts that will almost inevitably arise as voting day draws closer. Star editors didn’t have to start from scratch in getting a handle on the Canadian media environment. They had a good resource not too far away: Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko, the misinformation/​disinformation/​fake news/​hoax reporting duo of BuzzFeed News, who are both based in Toronto. The Star and BuzzFeed have officially partnered to cover “the ways political parties, third-party pressure groups, foreign powers, and individuals are influencing Canada’s political debate in the run-up to this fall’s federal election.”

+ Journalists have been banned from a powerful database that lets you search people’s phone numbers and addresses (BuzzFeed News); In the Philippines, journalists confront fake news and a crackdown on press freedom (Nieman Reports)


To get companies to take action on social issues, emphasize morals, not the business case (Harvard Business Review)

If you are an employee who wants to create social change from within your organization, what is the best approach? Conventional wisdom is clear on this one: make the business case. Convince management that addressing the issue will help the company’s bottom line. But research shows that the business case can activate a leader’s “economic schema,” or a tendency to make decisions solely from an economic viewpoint, which can lead to less compassionate behavior. Setting out to discover whether the business case or the moral case for combatting social problems was most persuasive to managers, a group of researchers found that managers were less likely to devote time, attention, money, or other resources to address the social issue when the employee made a business case. “We found that when employees used moral language and framed the social issue as part of the organization’s values and mission, they were far more successful. By tailoring the moral message to also fit with something perceived as legitimate — what the company stood for — it provided cover, license, and an impetus for the manager to put energy into working on the social problem.”


Apple could save online journalism — or strangle it (Slate)

Apple is reportedly planning a new service that could help to solve one of the biggest problems in online journalism — if it’s done right, writes Will Oremus. But a new Wall Street Journal report suggests the company may be treating it more like a land grab. The service would let Apple users pay a single monthly fee — perhaps $10 — to read articles from a range of news outlets and magazines that would otherwise require separate subscriptions. “In an ideal world, a solution to what ails the news industry might look a lot like this … Of course, this isn’t an ideal world.” Oremus argues that Apple’s proposed 50 percent of the revenue from news subscriptions bought through its platform is an exploitative move. “Apple, of course, has the right to wring as much money from a paid news product as it can get. It’s not obligated to be charitable to its media partners (although rivals Google and Facebook are increasingly treating journalism as a charity in a literal sense). Its own experience with iTunes and record labels has taught it that playing hardball with content owners can pay off handsomely.”


How YouTube reactionaries are breaking the news media (Columbia Journalism Review)

Paranoid theories and deliberately misleading narratives have thrived on far-right message boards for years, writes Zoë Beery. But YouTube’s sprawling ecosystem of reactionary commentators has created a passageway between these dusty corners and the world at large. YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which is notorious for delivering increasingly extremist content to viewers, is the main driver in helping their ideas reach escape velocity. And a recent adjustment to YouTube’s algorithm to prevent conspiracy theories from gaining such traction is not likely to be effective, writes Beery. Even if YouTube’s tweak temporarily placates critics, the flow of hateful — highly lucrative — videos is likely to continue. “It takes a YouTube influencer covering these ideas for them to go beyond those communities, to Fox News commentators or hosts,” Becca Lewis, a researcher at Data & Society, a nonprofit research institute, says. Lewis calls the community the “alternative influence network.” In a 2018 report on its metastatic spread and deepening sway, she traced connections between commentators — guests on a YouTuber’s show, people appearing in live-streamed debates, hosts with pointedly different views — to map YouTube’s reactionary right.

For the Weekend

+ The night artists: Nashville’s loyal pressmen face their final deadline (Tennessean)

+ From a church in Philadelphia, Sports Reference informs the world (New York Times)

+ ❤ An advice column for newsrooms seeking a long-term relationship with the public ❤ (Medium, Hearken)