Need to Know: January 3, 2019

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


You might have heard: Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said the paper is making “horrible mistakes” and needs a “course correction” (The Daily Beast)

But did you know: In her new book Merchants of Truth, former NYT executive editor Jill Abramson says the paper has become ‘unmistakably anti-Trump’ (Fox News)

Jill Abramson, the veteran journalist who led The New York Times from 2011 to 2014, says the Times has a financial incentive to bash the president and that the imbalance is helping to erode its credibility. In a soon-to-be published book, “Merchants of Truth,” that casts a skeptical eye on the news business, Abramson defends the Times in some ways but offers some harsh words for her successor, Dean Baquet. And Abramson, who was the paper’s only female executive editor until her firing, invoked Steve Bannon’s slam that in the Trump era the mainstream media have become the “opposition party.” Abramson describes a generational split at the Times, with younger staffers, many of them in digital jobs, favoring an unrestrained assault on the presidency. “The more ‘woke’ staff thought that urgent times called for urgent measures; the dangers of Trump’s presidency obviated the old standards,” she writes.

+ “I like and respect @JillAbramson but I disagree with this,” tweeted Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan. “As Jeff Zucker (whom I have criticized for other things) put it, being pro-truth should not be mistaken for being anti-Trump.” (Twitter, @Sulliview)

+ Noted: NBC News veteran warns of media’s “Trump circus” in 2,228-word farewell (CNN); Gray Television completes its Raycom Media merger, making it the No. 2 broadcast company in the U.S. (Radio + Television Business Report); Tribune TV stations, including KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles, have been blacked out on Charter Spectrum service (Los Angeles Times)


Looking to do more audience-centered journalism in 2019? Thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, API is now offering subsidized access to its Metrics for News software and services for up to 10 newsrooms. Metrics for News is a customizable analytics dashboard created specifically for newsrooms and journalists. It centralizes data from your current analytics services — Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Chartbeat — as well as social media and commenting platforms to show patterns in how your audiences engage with your journalism, all on a user-friendly interface. Get in touch with us by Jan. 18 to be considered for the subsidy, which will cover half the cost of a one-year subscription to the platform.  


How this investigative news site shows its work to build trust with readers (Lenfest Institute)

Faced with claims of inaccurate reporting after publishing its investigation into a local college’s finances, San Diego nonprofit “inewsource” created a tool called Transparify to show all the source documents used in its reporting. “This has helped thwart the pushback we used to get before we did this thing,” said reporter Brad Racino. “We don’t get all that many retraction demands any more and we have been doing more and more hard-hitting investigations.” Not only does the tool save the newsroom time in responding to claims of inaccuracies and other reader complaints, it also helps streamline fact checking. “In the writing process, it makes you think differently because not only are you going to have to prove this line to your editor, but you’re going to have to show readers where this came from,” said Racino.

Related: Journalists can change the way they build stories to help audiences understand the differences between good reporting and bad; Journalists using DocumentCloud, a platform that allows source documents to be embedded as PDFs in articles, should briefly explain how they obtained and verified the documents


Censoring China’s internet, for stability and profit (The New York Times)

For Chinese companies, staying on the safe side of government censors is a matter of life and death. Adding to the burden, the authorities demand that companies censor themselves, spurring them to hire thousands of people to police content. That in turn has created a growing and lucrative new industry: censorship factories. Once circumspect about its controls, China now preaches a vision of a government-supervised internet that has surprising resonance in other countries. Even traditional bastions of free expression like Western Europe and the United States are considering their own digital limits.

+ Recipes for success around newsroom transformation, leadership and community engagement, from 15 media leaders across the EU (Twitter, @ejcnet)


Making your workplace more democratic (Medium, Simon Galperin)

Many of us find ourselves in workplaces today where power is purposefully unequal and where we have little formal say in how we work and why. Although the traditional corporate structure is inherently authoritarian, there are ways to cultivate more democratic processes in our workplaces. One of the best ways is to hold feedback sessions after projects are completed, evaluating not only the work that was done, but how it was done, writes Simon Galperin. A built-in feedback routine like this also carves out an official channel for communication, another key to a democratic workplace.   

+ 18 striking research findings from 2018 (Pew Research Center)


When a star reporter is faking it: Der Spiegel crisis is disturbing for journalism (Salon)

While everything about the story of Claas Relotius, the award-winning Der Spiegel journalist who turned out to have been faking everything from quotes to geographic details for years, should alarm anyone who cares about responsible journalism, possibly the most disturbing was a line in the German magazine’s mea culpa: “As an editor and section head, your first reaction when receiving stories like this is to be pleased, not suspicious,” editors wrote. “You are more interested in evaluating the story based on criteria such as craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images than on whether it’s actually true.” That statement shows extremely dangerous thinking, writes Neil Demause. “To say that editors (and even fact-checkers) are fallible is one thing; to say that editors’ job is to look for good stories, not true stories, is another … In using the defense that you can’t look a good story in the mouth, Der Spiegel is admitting that it was more interested in telling readers what it thought they wanted to hear than in telling them uncomfortable truths.”


Warren’s bid for president, and how the media can do better ahead of 2020 (Columbia Journalism Review)

With 2020 coverage cranking up, the media should reflect on what it did wrong last time: principally, its tendency to skew the balance between perceived scandal and substantive policy talk, writes Jon Allsop. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, in particular, recalls some familiar pitfalls for the press: for “Hillary’s emails” see “DNA test,” for “crooked Hillary” see “Pocahontas,” for “cold and unlikable” see “cold and unlikable.” Early coverage of Warren’s bid foreshadowed these tropes. But none of them is set in stone. To the optimist’s eye, Warren is a welcome opportunity for the media to do better.

+ Connections with readers build trust, and in the process, distinguish local papers from national outlets that some readers have been “trained to hate”: How the trickle-down effect of anti-press rhetoric at the national level increases the urgency of deepening connections with readers (Northwestern Local News Initiative)