Need to Know: Jan. 14, 2020


You might have heard: Student journalists are increasingly clashing with image-sensitive school administrators (Poynter)

But did you know: A Virginia bill would prevent censorship of student journalists (Washington Post)

Last month a group of Virginia lawmakers introduced legislation that would limit administrators’ ability to censor student publications in public middle schools, high schools and colleges across the state. The legislation essentially grants First Amendment rights to student journalists in Virginia; stipulating that administrators can censor content only if it is libelous or slanderous, violates federal law, or is likely to spur dangerous or unlawful acts of violence. Roughly a dozen states have adopted similar laws since the late 1980s.

+ Noted: The Philadelphia Inquirer names Lisa Hughes Publisher and Chief Executive Officer, replacing Terry Eggers, who will retire after a 38-year career (Lenfest Institute); Applications are open for the Ida B. Wells Fellowship, which promotes diversity in investigative journalism (Type Investigations); After the Chicago Tribune shut down Hoy, its Spanish-language publication, students at DePaul University launch La DePaulia, a Spanish-language news site (Twitter, @MelissaGomez004); Tribune Publishing offers voluntary buyouts at NY Daily News, Chicago Tribune (New York Post); The Institute for Nonprofit News is seeking someone to direct its annual INN Index study of the state of the nonprofit news media (Twitter, @JKealing)


How might we reimagine opinion journalism for our digital, polarized age?

Newspaper opinion sections can be polarizing — and in an age of fragile trust in local news, many newsrooms are unwilling to risk driving away readers. We look at three newsrooms that are reinventing their opinion sections, turning them into venues for engaging, inclusive dialogue around local issues.


Iran coverage represents a high-stakes moment: Here’s how American newsrooms prevented ethical disasters (Poynter)

“Behind the scenes in U.S. newsrooms, standards editors have been wrestling down ethical challenges on an hourly basis since journalists began covering the escalating aggressions with Iran,” writes Kelly McBride. Editors have been extremely cautious in repeating reporting from other newsrooms without independently verifying the facts; photo editors are triple-checking the sourcing and veracity of every photo and video. Standards editors have also been making delicate judgment calls around freighted words like “assassination” (often replacing it with “targeted killing”), and refraining from too many or too-dramatic images of mourning in Iran. Journalists are also seeking the perspective of Iranian-Americans — which, as long as their views are accurately presented, can help build trust with underrepresented communities, says McBride.

+ Earlier: Iranian fact-checkers in Canada correct New York Times tweet claiming mourners for General Qassem Soleimani formed a line more than 30 kilometers long during his funeral procession. The actual line could not have stretched more than 3 kilometers. (Factnameh)


In India, news aggregator apps are struggling to find a path to sustainability (Nieman Lab)

Facing competition from social media apps like TikTok and Helo, as well as increasingly antagonistic relationships with publishers, news aggregator apps in India are trying — and failing — to validate their revenue models, writes Cyril Sam. With traffic and advertising dollars coming in at a trickle, publishers are beginning to yank their content from the apps. “Monetization has been slow in coming by,” said Sajith Pai, director of Blume Ventures, which invests in early-stage technology startups. “If [news aggregator apps] don’t begin monetizing in the next two-three years, they will be in trouble.”


Culture-killing phrases smart newsrooms will stop saying in 2020 (Cronkite News Lab)

We all know (don’t we?) not to say things like “That’s not how we do things around here” or “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” Phrases like that often squash innovation, not to mention employees’ motivation. But other phrases that are commonly heard in newsrooms may also be leading to problematic work, including “What’s everyone talking about today?” That question — which is typically answered by reporters looking to see what’s trending on social media — can lead to editorial decisions that don’t address community information needs, writes Frank Mungeam.

+ Not working, side hustles and crying: How the workplace will change in 2020 (Digiday)


The sentinel of the liberal media (Columbia Journalism Review)

NewsBusters, a nonprofit that seeks to expose liberal bias in mainstream media, is regularly cited by right-wing influencers Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sean Hannity, and Donald Trump Jr. The organization employs 10 staffers who are expected to produce, in total, about 15 stories a day that call out specific instances in which news stories carry an allegedly liberal slant. The stories NewsBusters publishes, claims Editor at Large Brent Baker, prove to a wide variety of opinion leaders “that the media are biased today. We’re just giving them the ammo to make the case.”


The Arkansas gamble: can a tablet and a print replica rescue local news? (Medill Local News Initiative)

It’s not an experiment for the faint of heart: Seeking to wean its loyal (and mostly elderly) subscribers off the unsustainable print paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is giving away free iPads loaded with the e-edition. The tablet project is make-or-break for the Democrat-Gazette, says publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. “You know what’s going to happen if it doesn’t work? We’re going to eventually go out of business,” he told Medill’s Mark Jacobs. “Newspapers are not going to make it.” Hussman’s theory is that asking loyal print subscribers to switch suddenly to reading the paper online is too big of a leap; a carefully reproduced digital replica helps acclimate them gradually to a new format.

+ Earlier: The biggest mistakes to avoid with your e-paper (Twipe); Our strategy study looks at ways publishers can take gradual steps away from print