Need to Know: January 17, 2019

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


You might have editor in chief says the outlet needs to get better at showing its work, and “Dial up the efforts to be transparent about when we get things wrong or when we change things” (Recode)

But did you know: The New York Times politics editor is building trust by tweeting context around political stories (Nieman Lab)

Patrick Healy, the Times’ politics editor and previously a reporter covering the 2004, 2008 and 2016 campaigns, is starting a Twitter project to give readers insight into the decision-making that shapes The New York Times’ political coverage. His goal is to explain why stories are chosen, why they’re framed a certain way, and what kinds of conversations go on between reporters and editors behind the scenes — ultimately, Healy hopes, shoring up trust in the Times’ motives. He plans to do a Twitter thread for any major political story he thinks would benefit from context and clarity about intent, “and also when I think I can provide some behind-the-scenes insight or illumination that readers might like.” Healy also ends each thread with his direct email address, asking readers to write to him with comments and feedback.

+ Earlier: Journalists can change the way they build stories to increase trust in their coverage

+ Noted: Mic quietly comes back to life with new writers, fresh content (The Wrap); Facebook brings stricter ads rules to countries with big 2019 votes (Reuters); Alexa gets a professional “newscaster” voice for reading the day’s news (TechCrunch); Steve Lacy, executive chairman of Iowa’s Meredith Corp., to retire in March (Des Moines Register); Fake editions of The Washington Post handed out at multiple locations in D.C. (The Washington Post)


Covering viral research: Tips from Harvard’s ‘6 french fries’ guy (Journalist’s Resource)

You might remember him: Eric Rimm, the epidemiology and nutrition professor who drew the ire of the internet after commenting on a study that connected fried potato consumption with increased premature mortality risk. Rimm’s suggestion that restaurants should serve a much smaller portion of french fries got most of the attention in the media onslaught that followed the study’s release, receiving coverage in outlets including Vox, the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Boston Globe, the New York Post and Fox News. “[The conversation] clearly went from covering science to more about people’s opinions and people’s individual habits,” Rimm said. After his brief but poignant experience with internet virality, Rimm has pointers for journalists covering research that’s already getting a lot of media attention: First, know what the story actually is. Then ask yourself, is it worth a story? Then, if you must engage, add some value. Understand that not all studies are created equal (particularly with the recent increase in “pay-to-play” academic journals), ask an outside expert about the findings, and beware of false balance.  

+ 12 principles journalists should follow to make sure they’re protecting their source (Nieman Lab)


How the Financial Times is building brand loyalty among young readers (Digiday)

For publishers like the Financial Times, cultivating reading habits with younger generations is essential to securing future customers. That’s why the publisher has established a long-term program to get school kids and teachers regularly reading FT content. The publisher lifts the paywall for participating schools and students can create their own online accounts. Those that do are sent weekly email newsletters, curated by the FT’s global education editor Andrew Jack. The attraction for teachers is that it helps students contextualize their school curriculum with relevant news articles written by FT journalists, says Jack. For the FT, it’s also about attracting future customers.


Managing when the future is unclear (Harvard Business Review)

The best managers find ways to provide steady, realistic direction and to lead with excellence, even when the strategy isn’t clear, writes Lisa Lai. Leaders in uncertain times take pragmatic action, focusing on what they can control. They place intelligent bets and embrace short-term strategies. Just as important, they know how to steady emotions on their team when stress is running high. They think about what their employees will want to know and do their best to find the answers for them. And whatever may be their own feelings, the best managers maintain a sense of calm during anxious times. “Your role is to be calm, transparent, and steady, all while painting a vision for the future,” writes Lai. “The ability to thrive during periods of strategic uncertainty separates the great managers who go on to become exceptional leaders from the rest.”


No, tech companies shouldn’t fund journalism (Columbia Journalism Review)

On Tuesday, Facebook announced it would spend $300 million over three years on journalistic content, partnerships and programs. “The announcement commits the social network to match the funding rival tech giant Google said it would spend on such programs — but more importantly increases the already-dangerous co-dependency between big tech and newsrooms,” writes James Ball. There’s no easy fix to be found in making tech companies — largely responsible for journalism’s current financial crisis — fund the news, argues Ball. For one thing, journalism is far from being the only industry tech has disrupted. “This is one of the fundamental weaknesses of proposing a levy between big tech and journalism: it treats the media as an exception, a rare case of interplay between disrupted and disruptor. If we focus on our own industry, we risk … creating the impression we are advocating for ourselves while everyone else just has to deal with it.” It also potentially compromises journalism in the eyes of readers, whose trust in big tech has been rapidly evaporating over the last few years.


Veterans of the news business are now fighting fakes (The New York Times)

NewsGuard, small start-up led by former media executives Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, is fighting fake news by labeling news sources on the internet. The organization, made up of roughly 50 journalists and analysts, has created the equivalent of nutrition labels for news organizations, rating more than 2,000 news and information sites with tags: red for unreliable, green for trustworthy. The service, free to readers, offers a browser extension that shows a news operation’s rating when a reader lands on its site. “The point is to make this ubiquitous,” part of a regular reading experience on the web, said Brill. The company has pitched major technology companies to license its software and incorporate its ratings into their services. The first major tech player to sign on is Microsoft, which has agreed to install the system onto its mobile browser, NewsGuard said.

+ Earlier: The Freedom Forum Institute released “Newstrition” — similar to NewsGuard, it’s a free browser extension that provides background information about news publishers (Freedom Forum Institute)