Need to Know: January 20, 2021


You might have heard: Covering pro-Trump mobs, the news media became a target (The New York Times)

But did you know: Journalists prepare for a potentially dangerous Inauguration Day (CNN)

In the run-up to a very unusual Inauguration Day, newsrooms like the Los Angeles Times have been ensuring that their reporters have access to gas masks, helmets and body armor. The Radio Television Digital News Association launched a training and resource center for journalists covering civil unrest, and Gannett hosted several panels last week where reporters who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 recounted the experience. Newsrooms are sending teams of reporters out to make sure no one is alone, and some are even hiring security to protect their staffers.

+ Related: Media barred from bringing bulletproof vests, gas masks and helmets through any screening checkpoint at inauguration (The Hill); Reporters Committee urges the Secret Service to allow journalists to bring in protective equipment (RCFP); Secret Service clarifies that body armor is not allowed in “magnetometer-screened secure areas” (Twitter, @sarahfreepress); Resources for covering the inauguration and related violence (Trusting News); Here are a few AP Stylebook reminders before the Biden/Harris inauguration (Poynter); Front pages from the last 100 years of presidential inaugurations (Poynter)

+ Noted: Forbes is launching a newsletter platform that will allow journalists to start their own paid newsletters and split the revenue with the company (Axios); Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to drop Friday print edition, expand its Sunday paper (Post-Gazette); News Media Alliance is now accepting nominations for the 2020 John P. Murray Award for Excellence in Audience Development (News Media Alliance); The Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund will host two more Share + Learns about community engagement (Twitter, @StefanieMurray)


Trust Tip: Add explanations to breaking news coverage (Trusting News)

When covering breaking news, writes Lynn Walsh, it is important for a news organization to remind the audience what makes breaking news different from regular news. Be clear that the story is developing, and that you’re reporting based on the most accurate information available at the moment. For instance, when television network WUSA received a 911 audio recording shortly before going on air, the network added an addendum to the end of the news story about it saying that the staff was still reviewing the phone call and would update viewers with any new information during its next broadcast. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


How automation helped this journalist quench a news desert (Zapier)

When Simon Galperin launched the Bloomfield Information Project in Bloomfield, New Jersey, he wanted to create a way to collect news and information from around the community and share it in one place. Galperin uses automated tools from the platform Zapier to scan press releases and upload stories in WordPress, as well as to produce email newsletters. After he adds headlines, summaries and links to a Google Sheet, Zapier’s Digest function aggregates those entries, which are then drafted into an email for human review. With some of the manual elements of publishing taken care of, he says he can focus more on audience engagement and community development.


How loyal readers saved New Zealand’s magazine industry  (The Guardian)

Last year, when the coronavirus pandemic hit New Zealand, the German-owned Bauer Media New Zealand announced that it was shutting down and selling all of its magazine titles. The company’s chief executive said that a drop in advertising during the pandemic would make the titles “untenable.” It looked like a death knell for the industry, but less than a year later, those magazines have been brought back to life and new ones have launched. New magazine owners say that the magazines are viable due to loyal readers alone, who purchase the same magazines year after year. That loyalty comes with some drawbacks; for many publications, there is little enthusiasm for changes.


Investors are pushing corporations to ensure that ads don’t spread misinformation (The New York Times)

Shareholders at two companies have filed resolutions asking the companies to look into whether any money spent on advertising helped spread misinformation. Investors at Home Depot and the marketing firm Omnicom are insisting that the corporations explore whether ads helped push “hate speech, disinformation, white supremacist activity, or voter suppression efforts.” Most companies now spend more than half of their marketing budget on digital ads, but due to algorithms used by third-party vendors, the corporations often don’t know where their ads are appearing. A report last week from NewsGuard found that more than 1,500 brands ran ads on sites that pushed misinformation about the 2020 election.


Ethical practices are changing as a result of the increase in threats to journalists (Poynter)

With threats to journalists on the rise, especially during political demonstrations, many in the field are rethinking ethical best practices. For instance, writes Kelly McBride, keep proof that you are in the media close by but not on public display, and do not feel obligated to answer if someone asks if you are part of the press. When conducting man on the street interviews, don’t go alone, and don’t hesitate to disengage with an interviewee if you sense hostility from them toward the news media. For photographers, it’s acceptable to use consumer gear and attempt to disguise oneself as part of a crowd, so long as you don’t wear anything that would imply that you support the protests. And for freelancers, be careful about any gear that you bring; you may need to leave it behind in an emergency.


Survey shows most news industry workers believe polls are overused and unreliable (Medill Local News Initiative)

In the first-ever Medill Media Industry Survey at Northwestern University, a majority of journalists (63 percent) said that there was too much coverage of political polls in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. And most journalists (56 percent) felt that polls were an unreliable measure of public opinion. Tim Franklin of Medill said that the media must confront two questions about polling: “Have polls become sort of the crack cocaine of election years for journalists? And have polls become a substitute for journalists actually going out and talking to real people?” The vast majority of journalists (84 percent) say that polls drive media coverage, and 64 percent said that polling can influence voting behavior. Experts in polling say that it’s important to separate horse-race polling, which is often used to fuel simplistic “winner versus loser” storylines, from polling about public policy, which gauges the electorate’s opinions on issues and still holds value.