Need to Know: February 23, 2021


You might have heard: Americans are largely skeptical of the news media (Pew Research Center) 

But did you know: Study of 2020 news habits finds that many Americans think they saw ‘made-up news’ about the election and COVID-19 (Pew Research Center) 

From November 2019 to December 2020, the Pew Research Center’s American News Pathways project looked at how Americans’ news habits and attitudes affected how they thought about the 2020 presidential election and COVID-19. One key takeaway was that most Americans (72%) said that they had seen at least some news about the 2020 election “that seemed completely made up” but only 18% said that this made-up news was aimed at them. After the election, 60% of Americans felt that “made-up news” had a major impact on the election’s outcome. But what Americans classified as “made up” varied greatly by their partisan outlook; for instance, Republicans were more likely to say that made-up news overinflated the dangers of COVID-19, while Democrats were more likely to say that it downplayed the dangers.

+ Noted: Pocket Outdoor Media raises $150 million from Sequoia Heritage (Axios); Patrick Soon-Shiong affirms commitment to the Los Angeles Times after news reports that the owner was considering a sale (The Los Angeles Times); Report for America sustainability report shows that its newsroom partners  raised 61% more per reporter in 2020 than in 2019 (Report for America); Los Angeles Times launches Spanish-language edition of its Coronavirus in California tracker (The Los Angeles Times); House Democrats press cable providers on election fraud claims (The New York Times) 


How can photojournalists build trust through their work?

There are several things photojournalists can and should be doing to provide more context and transparency around their work. We spoke with Dr. T.J. Thomson, a visual communications and media scholar at Queensland University of Technology, about the questions journalists should ask themselves to be sure they’re composing an honest, accurate image.


How callouts make you a better journalist (Twitter, @bobbycblanchard) 

In a Twitter thread, Bobby Blanchard of the Texas Tribune writes that callouts help journalists find the people who are impacted by the stories they’re covering. As much of Texas was devastated by a major winter storm last week, the Tribune asked readers, “What immediate help do you need most?” Hundreds responded, said Blanchard, and their answers informed how the news outlet updated its resources guide. The Tribune then sent this resource to everyone who had answered the callout. Blanchard calls this “the fundamental loop of Audience Engagement Journalism”: Ask your readers for help, let their answers guide your reporting, report back to the audience on what you’ve found, then repeat.   

+ Earlier: How to do callouts that meet people where they are (ProPublica)


Investigative journalism is flourishing in Russia with the help of some unsavory tools (The New York Times) 

Independent journalism is thriving in Russia, enjoying a growing audience for internet news that balances the state-controlled television networks. Investigative journalists use a mix of traditional journalism techniques and new, less-respectable methods like “probiv,” which allows anyone with a few hundred dollars to purchase the call records, geolocation data and flight records of any person in Russia. Probiv was used to uncover the story of the Russian agents involved in the poisoning of dissident Alexei Navalny, and probiv and other methods have exposed corruption in President Vladimir Putin’s family and at all levels of the Russian government, as well as the political machinery that is behind internet troll farms that targeted U.S. elections. 


Facebook to reverse news ban on Australian sites, government to make amendments to media bargaining code (ABC News)

Last week, Facebook stopped users in Australia from sharing news links on the platform, a reaction to the country’s proposed media code that would make tech giants pay for the news their users engage with. Now Facebook says it will walk back its block after the government agreed to make amendments to the bargaining agreement in the new code. The changes will give tech companies more time to make deals with news outlets about payment for content. Under the current rules, if companies like Facebook and Google fail to sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets, they can be forced by the government to pay the outlets. 


‘The Knight Foundation’s ties to far-right extremists undermine journalism’s future’ (Substack, The Objective) 

The Knight Foundation touches almost every area of journalism in the United States, but Simon Galperin argues that the organization’s decision to invite members of President Trump’s communications team to speak at its annual gathering is part of larger, problematic connections for the group. Galperin writes that the organization has invited speakers like Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy as well as a director from the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute. Galperin also criticizes the Foundation’s endowment, which is invested in hedge funds — including, for a time, Alden Global Capital — as well as big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, and its decision to give grants to conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation. 


The Defector’s journalistic experiment began with a staff walkout. It might actually be working. (The Washington Post) 

After leadership changes at the sports site Deadspin led to a full staff walkout in October 2019, some of those staffers left the company completely to start Defector Media. Now less than six months old, Defector is financially self-sustaining, owned entirely by its staff, and bringing in high-profile writers. Margaret Sullivan writes that the site’s success is “a bright spot and maybe a small miracle” in the world of media. The Deadspin writers had developed a strong following: 10,000 people signed up as subscribers the day the site was announced. So far, that is the site’s only source of revenue; there have been no ads or fundraising drives.