Need to Know: January 31, 2022

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


You might have heard: Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against The New York Times spotlights a push to loosen libel laws (The New York Times)

But did you know: How to defuse conflict with sources and avoid lawsuits (Second Rough Draft)

Richard Tofel, who has spent more than 21 years as a full- or part-time newsroom attorney, says the main goal of the job isn’t to fight lawsuits but to prevent them from being filed in the first place. He recommends some best practices for working with sources to reduce errors, respond appropriately when they occur, and avoid conflict that could lead to lawsuits. Tofel reminds journalists to always give sources who are under scrutiny a fair opportunity to comment and to correct errors when they happen. Journalists should also respond to complaints, even if they’re “entirely off base,” he writes. “Frequently, just listening can lower the temperature of a potential plaintiff below the boiling (litigation-filing) point.”

+ Noted: Judge denies media ban ahead of officer’s trial over the deadly raid on Breonna Taylor’s home (The Associated Press)


How customer service can build trust and engagement with audiences 

Customer service representatives are on the front lines of audience engagement — audience members typically have far more contact with them than they do with journalists. In this report, we look at ways customer service can build audiences’ trust in your journalism, and how local news organizations can tackle common problems with their customer service departments.


Research suggests media should stay away from ‘elite’ sources when discussing COVID-19 (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

This analysis comes from University of Missouri researchers, who examined results from a survey on people’s attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines and politics. The researchers found that those with anti-elitist values were less likely to have favorable attitudes toward public health recommendations and vaccination. Monique Luisi, an assistant professor behind the research, suggests that local news avoid references to “partisan lightning rods” or national information sources, adding: “When people hear about the burden the virus is creating in their community or learn about what their local health department is doing, they are more receptive. And a more receptive audience could mean more lives saved.”

+ Why some public media newsrooms are rethinking the politics beat (Current)


Hungarian journalists targeted with Pegasus spyware plan lawsuit (The Guardian)

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union plans to take legal action on behalf of four journalists against the Hungarian government and Israel-based NSO Group, the company behind the invasive spyware that can take control of a target’s mobile device, access its data, and turn on audio or video recording. NSO Group has said the spyware was intended only to be used against terrorists or serious criminals, but Hungary is one of many countries where the tool was used to secretly surveil journalists and activists.

+ Related: The FBI bought Pegasus in 2019, when the abuses of Pegasus had already been well documented (The New York Times)


Will publishers bring games to the next level in 2022? (Twipe)

Games can play a key role in audience growth and habit formation, which has been exemplified by Wordle, a daily word game that had more than 2 million users by the beginning of the year. The puzzle, which is ad-free, fits into people’s routines and “is a perfect hook for the habit formation process,” Matthew Lynes writes. At The Wall Street Journal, puzzles helped reduce churn and build audience loyalty, and in the U.K., The Telegraph’s puzzles have driven retention, as readers turn to the next day’s edition for game solutions. Publishers like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Le Monde in France have subscription puzzle apps as well.


Without the perspectives of mothers and caregivers, coverage is left lacking (Poynter)

Last year, Christy DeSmith stepped away from her journalism career, which took time away from caring for her 9-year-old daughter and something else essential — sleep. During the pandemic, women have faced greater domestic workloads, sometimes while working from home, and Coalition for Women in Journalism director Kiran Nazish argues that women who leave journalism often do so because they are overwhelmed and can’t support their families. When newsrooms don’t have mothers and other caregivers on staff, there is a risk that coverage will become out of touch with the experiences of American families.

+ Earlier: Why every news outlet needs a childcare beat (Columbia Journalism Review)


What happened at The Root? (Gawker)

Several years ago, G/O Media acquired The Root, a Black news site that started as an offshoot of The Washington Post in 2008. Since April, 15 of the site’s 16 full-time staffers have left. “As a staff, we came to the conclusion that, basically, basically, The Root is over,” writer Michael Harriot said. Eight current and former Root staffers told Gawker that G/O management was interested in more “upbeat” content focused on entertainment. A company spokesperson disputed that, saying the publication has full editorial independence. 

+ Earlier: In 2019, the entire staff of G/O’s Deadspin quit after new management required the newsroom to “stick to sports” (NPR); About 75% of G/O’s Jezebel editorial staff quit last year, with some citing executive overreach and dwindling resources (Gawker)