Need to Know: January 24, 2022

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


You might have heard: Libel lawsuits are costly and can wreak havoc on newsrooms (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: Sarah Palin v. New York Times spotlights push to loosen libel law (The New York Times)

In 2017, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin sued the Times, alleging an editorial had defamed her by incorrectly suggesting a link between her political rhetoric and a mass shooting. Unlike most libel lawsuits against the Times, which hasn’t lost an American libel suit in 50 years, the case is heading to trial today. The trial begins as some First Amendment scholars and judges have argued a landmark 1964 Supreme Court ruling, which set a high bar for proving defamation, was too far-reaching. Media advocates, on the other hand, say that defamation lawsuits against journalists have been filed more aggressively in recent years, and without robust protections, journalists could be held liable for genuine mistakes or self-censor.

+ Noted: Due to COVID-19 concerns, ESPN won’t staff the Winter Olympics in China (ESPN Front Row); Journalists covering the Olympics will use burner phones and computers to avoid tracking software (The Washington Post); NBC streaming service Peacock has launched 24/7 local news channels for its network-owned stations in Chicago, Boston, and other cities (Broadcasting + Cable)


What news publishers do to retain subscribers

API surveyed news publishers across the United States to find out what they are — and aren’t — doing to retain subscribers and decrease churn. Nine key retention strategies emerged, as well as several areas where many publishers say they need help. From our conversations with publishers, we also put together a list of 31 effective subscriber-retention ideas to use.


What students learned in a University of Montana class on writing about trauma (Nieman Storyboard)

Narrative editor Jan Winburn, who now teaches at the University of Georgia, started the class last semester to help prepare students for covering trauma and understand the impact of news coverage on victims. Her students learned how trauma affects brain chemistry and memory, how journalists should care for themselves after being exposed to violence or tragedy during reporting, and grappled with how to ethically report on survivors’ experiences. Winburn suggests that journalists consider their purpose before starting a story, writing: “If you can answer that question, if you can describe what you hope to achieve, then you’ll know why, and whether, to pursue a story.”

+ Earlier: Another question to consider: Is a story yours to tell? (J-Source)

+ Why building relationships with LGBTQ students takes time and other tips on how education reporters cover them (Poynter)


BBC News has the largest news account on Instagram but has stayed away from TikTok (Press Gazette)

In December, BBC News became the first news organization to surpass 20 million Instagram followers, with its closest competition being CNN, which has 16.3 million. In 2018, the news outlet shifted its strategy from focusing on video to posting a mix of photos, Instagram stories, and images with text. Jeremy Skeet, head of social for BBC News, attributed its growth to a “laser-like” audience focus, regular posting, using text, and creating more explainers, especially those related to the pandemic. At the same time, unlike the BBC network, BBC News doesn’t have a TikTok account, with Skeet saying the outlet doesn’t have resources to create videos specifically for TikTok.

+ Earlier: A 2019 report from U.K. media regulator Ofcom raised concerns about BBC’s ability to connect with younger audiences (Press Gazette)


How The Markup is investigating Facebook’s data tracking (The Markup)

To track people outside its platform, Facebook uses a tool called a pixel, a line of code that websites can install to send data to the social media company as people visit. After someone views certain content or buys something, sites with Facebook’s pixel send the information to the company, which can use it to develop targeted ads. The Markup is researching this technology and asked its readers to help by installing a Mozilla browser add-on called Rally to contribute anonymized data to the project.

+ Earlier: This project adds to The Markup’s research on Facebook, including its Citizen Browser project that uses reader data to study the platform’s algorithm (The Markup)


John F. Harris led the revolution against journalistic institutions. Now he thinks we should build them back up. (Politico)

On the 15th anniversary of Politico, its founding editor argues for a return to a media landscape dominated by institutions, as opposed to one where individual journalists are able to set a news agenda. Harris says the power to set that agenda should move back to institutions because the alternative has allowed public officials to avoid accountability. Powerful media institutions, he writes, also can bring sustained public attention to deserving topics, afford defense against lawsuits, and “revive the notion of a public square, in which people have shared acceptance of hard facts even as they argue about the proper response to these facts.”

+ Related: A shift toward a new era for equity and other predictions on the future of journalism (Politico)


A TV reporter was hit by a car while on the air in severe weather, highlighting risks of do-it-all journalism (The Washington Post)

Last week, WSAZ News correspondent Tori Yorgey was hit by a car while reporting live, prompting concerns about the safety of the solo shots common in local television journalism. Many TV journalists film, light and edit themselves alone in the field, a practice that a 2019 Committee to Protect Journalists report described as one of the biggest risks to female journalists in the United States. Lucy Westcott, emergencies director for the committee, said pairing a reporter with a photographer would have given Yorgey “another pair of eyes” to prevent the incident. “When you are reporting alone, your situational awareness is down,” she said. “Ideally, the journalist would not have been sent out alone in the first place.”

+ A new report shows that after racial justice protests in 2020, crime reporting at three major dailies included less dehumanizing language (Nieman Lab)