Need to Know: January 14, 2021


You might have heard: YouTube suspends President Trump, days after Twitter and Facebook (The Washington Post)

But did you know: Google to pause political ads again ahead of Biden inauguration (CNBC)

Beginning today, Google is suspending political ads as well as any reference to “impeachment, inauguration or protests at the U.S. Capitol,” in an effort to prevent further violence. Google’s announcement to its advertisers said the ban would remain in place until at least a day after the Biden inauguration. The company also said there would not be any exceptions in the policy for news organizations. Google had also temporarily paused elections-related advertising following the election, which it lifted about a month later in December, to limit the spread of election misinformation; and in March and early April it paused COVID-19-related ads that could be used to hawk fake goods or enable price gouging.

+ Noted: Former NABJ President and long-time journalist Bryan Monroe passed away yesterday at 55 (Twitter, PABJ); Local Media Association, Crosstown and Facebook Journalism Project announce pilot project to bring data journalism training and tools to local newsrooms (Local Media Association); MIT launches Center for Constructive Communication, which will build systems for improving communication across divides (MIT News); RTDNA launches SAFE Journalist Training & Resource Center, to provide newsroom managers and field teams essential safety information while reporting on unrest (RTDNA)


How used subscriber-exclusive stories to drive digital subscriptions (Better News)

To prioritize digital subscriptions, abandoned overall page views as its top metric and started looking at which stories got the most page views by subscribers and the number of times they were viewed on a visit where a reader bought a digital subscription. They also created a flow chart for deciding — not at the last minute — whether a story should be exclusive to subscribers. 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.


Preparing reporters before they’re targeted by disinformation and online harassment campaigns (Center for Journalism Ethics)

Online harassment of journalists is often linked to disinformation. In a UNESCO report that found that 73% of women journalists had experiencedsome form of online violence, two-fifths said their attacks were linked to orchestrated disinformation campaigns. The disinformers’ goal, say experts, is to undermine credible sources. But reporters can prevent online attacks by taking steps like tightening privacy settings on their social media accounts, setting up Google alerts to know if their personal information is circulating online, and practicing good password hygiene. They should also focus on building a good support network on social media. That way, if they find they are being doxxed or impersonated, their supporters can back up their report to the tech platform, which can help it get resolved faster.

+ A webinar on Jan. 21, hosted by media consultant Penny Riordan, will walk attendees through choosing the right digital products for their newsrooms and getting the most from them. (Online Media Campus)


The impact of COVID-19 on media freedom (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

During the coronavirus pandemic, 17 countries introduced “fake news” legislation to limit what journalists can report, according to a new study examining the impact of the pandemic on developing economies and the Global South. Widespread travel restrictions and — in some cases — bans on independent media from attending government press conferences also hampered journalists’ ability to document the pandemic. Aside from restricting access to accurate information, write the study’s authors, “a major risk to journalism is that this pandemic-era landscape becomes the norm.”


How social media’s obsession with scale supercharged disinformation (Harvard Business Review)

“When a platform’s growth depends on openness, it’s more vulnerable to malicious use,” writes Joan Donovan. Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol are examples of how social media’s business model allows it to become a disinformation machine. “In every instance leading up to January 6, the moral duty was to reduce the scale and pay more attention to the quality of viral content,” writes Donovan. “We saw the cost of failing to do so.” The Capitol attacks seems to have been a turning point, she adds, where social media companies became willing to do just that.

+ A team of researchers from Columbia University, which has been developing a tool to help journalists identify political symbols, explains unfamiliar imagery seen during the Jan. 6 protests and attack on the Capitol (Vice)


Researchers say Facebook should allow fact-checkers to fact-check politicians (Poynter)

According to Facebook’s policy, politicians are exempt from its Third-Party Fact-Checking program out of a reluctance to police their speech. But many disinformation experts are urging Facebook to reconsider, arguing that politicians are some of the biggest disseminators of disinformation. Fact-checking could strike the balance between the public’s right to hear from their leaders and efforts to combat harmful disinformation, says Lucas Graves, associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The good thing about fact-checking as a solution is that it doesn’t actually suppress speech,” Graves said. “It annotates speech, it qualifies speech.”


Finding local investors willing — and able — to rescue local news (Columbia Journalism Review)

With Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund notorious for gutting newspapers around the country, poised to take over Tribune Publishing, many local news advocates are hoping for an intervention. In cities like Denver and Baltimore, civic-minded local buyers have attempted to band together to save their papers from hedge-fund or news-conglomerate ownership. But the approach has never been successful, writes Jim Friedlich, CEO of the Lenfest Institute. What has rescued newspapers from nefarious owners in the past “has invariably been a single, moneyed individual offering an aggressive price and certainty of closing the deal, rather than a community group passing the hat.” That happened with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and more recently, with the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Times-Union.