Need to Know: January 25, 2019

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


You might have heardIf you let commenters go after your reporters, it hurts your credibility with other readers (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: How online comments can damage readers’ perceptions of your entire newsroom (Center for Media Engagement)

Uncivil comments can not only weaken readers’ trust in a news story or the individual reporter, it can also taint their perceptions of the entire news site, researchers at the Center for Media Engagement found. That’s even if the first few comments on a particular article have a positive tone — a strategy many newsrooms have tried, by dint of having a reporter kick off the comments with a thoughtful question or illuminating remark. The research suggests that many readers will judge a news organization by the predominant tone of its comment section, not the order in which civil and uncivil comments appear. “To protect their brand, news organizations should focus on the overall tone of the comment section,” said Gina Masullo Chen, assistant director of CME. “If incivility dominates, perceived value of and loyalty to the site takes a hit.”

+ Earlier: “I’m of the opinion that every reporter should spend some time as comments editor/community lead in their newsroom”: Lessons from The Washington Post’s former comments editor (Twitter, @TeddyAmen)

+ Noted: Facebook cracks down on networks of fake pages and groups (Wired); Twitter testing “Original Tweeter” tag to distinguish who started a thread (TechCrunch); Layoffs underway at HuffPost a day after parent company Verizon announced cuts (CNN); Arkansas lawmaker wants to bring back journalism class requirement in public schools (KATV)


The week in fact-checking

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of “The Week in Fact-Checking” newsletter, trolls are already targeting 2020 presidential candidates; now we’ve got fake news on Facebook that doesn’t actually link to anything (but is still being shared); and what it was like for two Cameroonian journalists to be imprisoned on fake news charges.


How a local public radio station covered the devastating fire in Paradise, Calif. (Lenfest Institute)

In the aftermath of the Camp Fire that devastated Paradise, Calif., last November, North State Public Radio worked with volunteer journalists to produce “After Paradise,” a daily show covering the recovery. “We really just decided that this was a pure public service play,” said Tess Vigeland, a public radio reporter and one of the volunteers. “We wanted to be the center of information for the people who were in the middle of a mass catastrophe.” NSPR realized it didn’t need to sound perfect — the information just needed to be accurate and helpful. Even with a streamlined approach and narrow focus, however, NSPR could not have covered the Camp Fire and the aftermath without the help from volunteers and other news outlets, general manager Phil Wilke said. “That level of professional support from your colleagues across media, I cannot stress how helpful and supportive that is. So the next time a call goes out, I’m going to answer regardless of the situation I find myself in. It really is a pay-it-forward situation.”

+ How one news manager’s mentors helped him recover his confidence and get back into a leadership position after losing his job (RTDNA)


How Revista 5W lets readers decide what it writes about (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)

Revista 5W, an independent magazine based in Spain, wanted to experiment with letting its subscribers take a more active role in its reporting. Using a grant from the Google Digital News Initiative, the team developed a platform that allowed readers to vote for and financially support one of 15 story pitches from across five continents, as a way of funding quality reporting in other countries as well as teaching readers about the costs of reporting abroad. “We rely on subscribers so it’s right that we ask them what they want us to cover,” said Revista 5W co-founder Marta Arias. “We don’t want to stay still and we want to continue to find new ways of telling stories. We owe that to subscribers.”

+ The Engaged Journalism Accelerator introduces its eight newest grantees, taking the total number of funded news organizations to 12 across nine different European countries (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)


Make way for Generation Z in the workplace (Knowledge@Wharton)

Generation Z is arriving, and they are different than previous generations — or at least that’s how this young cohort is being portrayed as it begins to enter the workforce. After the traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y/millennials, we have Generation Z — that group born after 1995 now starting to graduate college. But is Generation Z really different, and if so, how? Employees should be cautious when ascribing characteristics and accepting advice about a particular generation, warns Wharton professor Stephanie Creary. Over-generalizing about any group is a slippery business. “We have to be careful that we are seeing people for the complex beings that they are … People are also going to behave in ways that are consistent with their multiple other identities. We want to make sure we are not creating biases.”


Never tweet (The New York Times)

“The Covington story made one thing clear: Twitter is ruining American journalism,” writes Farhad Manjoo. The saga illustrates how the social network lures journalists into sensationalism and groupthink, in the process “bolstering the most damaging stereotypes of our profession.” Manjoo doesn’t actually recommend never tweeting, but he does suggest “posting less, lurking more” in order to avoid the premature hot takes that lead us further away from journalistic inquiry, reasoned debate and truth. “Fear of missing out, which is Twitter’s primary sensibility, requires that everyone offer an opinion before much is known — because by the time more is known, Twitter will already have moved on to something else.”


The Correspondent became the largest journalism crowdfunding project in history without one story on its site. Here’s how. (Membership Puzzle Project)

Over 30 days in November and December 2018, the Dutch member-funded journalism site raised $2.6 million for its ad-free, inclusive English language platform The Correspondent. The Correspondent doesn’t have a top-notch data team or a social media team of 10, write Emily Goligoski and Aron Pilhofer. It pulled the campaign off with a team that is smaller than most American newsrooms. Its success “reflects three years of diligent preparation; cohesive design elements; and putting people at the center. While people have frequently congratulated the team on its good luck, noting ‘ambassador #1’ Jay Rosen’s high-profile December appearance on The Daily Show, The Correspondent did not get lucky in crowdfunding $2.6MM.” Instead, its strategy relied on a steady drumbeat of communications, a commitment to solutions-oriented storytelling, a well-designed website and newsletter, and a clear value proposition.  

+ What would make the advertising business model work better for local online news? “IMO what would really help is seeing advertising in local outlets as a positive civic good, a form of corporate social responsibility,” wrote reporter Scott Brodbeck. “But to get there, it’s going to take a big change on the part of consumers. They’re going to have to stop seeing that kind of advertising as annoying and inauthentic, and instead see it as a signal that a company is contributing to the community.” (Twitter, @scottbrodbeck)

For the Weekend

+ In the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, residents were given disposable cameras at the local public library and told to use them to answer a simple question: What does Kensington look like to you? The question was posed in November by members of Kensington Voice, a community-driven news project without, as of yet, a physical office. The neighborhood — its libraries, parks, storefronts, and corners — plays host to their writing sessions, workshops, and editorial meetings. The Voice’s mission is simple: At a time when the country is watching Kensington, and often reducing it to nothing more than a staging ground for a crisis, they want to help Kensington tell its story. The whole story. (

+ How a Vermont social network became a model for online communities: The Front Porch Forum, connecting every town in Vermont as well as a handful of communities in New York and New Hampshire, has thrived despite competition from Facebook, which gobbled up most local listservs when it came to prominence in the 2000s. The Front Porch Forum boasts nearly 160,000 members, or just under a quarter of the population of the state. (The Verge)

+ What being an EMT taught me about journalism: “Communicating intention eases suffering. She just needed to know what was going on. And I needed to be more intentional about communicating with her. In some ways, journalists are always being asked similar questions: ‘Why don’t you cover my community?’ … ‘Why are you ignoring my needs?’ Listening for those questions and honestly responding to them is critical if journalists are to build trust with the public.” (Medium, Simon Galperin)