Need to Know: January 2, 2019

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


You might have heard: President Trump averaged 15 false claims a day in 2018 (The Washington Post)

But did you know: How to decipher the patterns in Trump’s falsehoods (The New York Times)

After nearly two years of assessing Trump’s inaccurate statements, fact-checkers are beginning to see patterns in how the president uses false claims to advance his agenda, criticize the news media and celebrate his achievements. Repetition and inflation is a favored strategy: Trump refuses to correct most of his inaccurate claims, instead asserting them over and over again. They become, by sheer force of repetition, “alternative facts” and staples of his campaign rallies and speeches. He also uses tactical restraint, employing misleading vagueness and fanciful details that are often impossible to verify. Another particular strain of Trump’s falsehoods relies on the news media, which he blames for purposely undermining or misinterpreting his progress; a strategy that is popular with many of his followers and generates mistrust in journalism at large.

+ Noted: Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop celebrated journalists and press freedom (The Guardian); Financial Times names Peter Spiegel next US managing editor (Financial Times); Cleveland Plain Dealer plans to lay off a third of unionized news staff (Idea Stream)


Reporting in an age of disinformation (Medium, First Draft)

Agents of disinformation consider coverage by established news outlets as their end-goal. So how can journalists protect themselves from being manipulated? Newsrooms should start by training their reporters on disinformation tactics and techniques, including digital verification and tracking digital provenance, writes Claire Wardle. Journalists should also recognize the “tipping point” when it comes to reporting on disinformation — not reporting too early, which gives unnecessary oxygen to rumors or misleading content that might otherwise fade away; yet not reporting too late, which allows falsehoods to take hold. The tipping point varies for each story, which is why it’s a good idea for newsrooms to compare concerns about coverage decisions, Wardle suggests. “Too often newsrooms report on rumors or campaigns, for fear that they will be ‘scooped’ by other newsrooms, when again, this is exactly what the agents of disinformation are hoping for.”


How BBC World Service engages readers by fulfilling six needs (

BBC World Service now categorizes articles according to what its research team identified as the six readers needs: update me, give me perspective, educate me, keep me on trend, amuse me and inspire me. “The majority of newsrooms still think that ‘update me’ is the most important need, but through data we have seen if you start addressing the other needs on a regular basis, you grow,” said Dmitry Shishkin, digital development editor for BBC World Service. The research team found, for example, that 70 percent of the stories produced by BBC Russia were “update me” stories, but those articles only accounted for 7 percent of page views. The overabundance of news sources means that news outlets need to start considering other editorial angles to engage readers, said Shishkin. “It is useful to get a bunch of editors in a room, and ask them for three headlines for each user need on a particular topic — you suddenly have loads of interesting ideas you didn’t have before.”


The bipartisan group that’s not afraid of partisanship (The Atlantic)

Even more than the standard understanding of polarization — the widening chasm between preferred political outcomes — the U.S. is riven by negative polarization, a loathing for the other side. Intolerance and incivility has become so much a part of American politics that it’s spawned a cottage industry of groups peddling ideas for compromise. But one such group named Better Angels eschews compromise and meeting in the middle, and its mission isn’t to seek centrist solutions. Its premise is not that everyone needs to agree, but simply that they need to be able to talk to one another, and that such a skill has been lost.  


The media’s post-advertising future is also its past (The Atlantic)

It’s tempting to think that 2019 is the inevitable end game of Google and Facebook’s duopoly, writes Derek Thompson. The two companies already receive more than half of all the dollars spent on digital advertising, and they commanded 90 percent of the growth in digital ad sales last year. But what’s happening in media right now is more complex. We’re seeing the convergence of four trends: too many players in the competition for ad revenue; not enough saviors; no clear industry playbook; and overdependence on the fickle patronage of wealthy investors. “The business of news has always been unsteady. It seems safe to say that, going forward, media organizations will get by on some combination of subscription, patronage, and auxiliary revenue from sources such as events and licensed content. Whatever happens, advertising will almost certainly play a lesser role.”


Resolutions for newsroom leaders (at all levels) (Columbia Journalism Review)

Leaders exist at all levels of the newsroom, from intern to CEO. “As I always teach, people are required to follow managers; they choose to follow leaders,” writes Jill Geisler. Here are a few resolutions for informal leaders in 2019: One, own a topic — No matter the size of your news organization, it’s possible for a team or individual journalist to grab hold of a subject and become the go-to resource for info and insights. Two, check your workplace culture — Is it healthy enough to have candid conversations about issues like harassment, discrimination and diversity? And three, improve communication to improve collaboration — As newsrooms work on multiple platforms, valuable information is often lost, resources aren’t shared, and work is unnecessarily replicated. Truly working across desks, teams and departments requires a user-friendly tool that lets everyone see who is working on what and how it aligns with newsroom priorities.  

+ 2018: The year in visual stories and graphics (The New York Times)