Need to Know: January 4, 2019

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


You might have heard: Slow-news membership outlet Tortoise, founded by former BBC head of news James Harding, will exchange breaking news for thoughtful, long-form journalism (The Guardian)

But did you know: Tortoise wants members to inform its slow-news coverage via live events (Digiday)

One criticism leveled at reader-funded journalism is that it can mean only the elite have access to quality information. But slow-news membership outlet Tortoise, which will go live Jan. 14 to its 2,530 members, has ambitions to be as inclusive as possible, offering lower-priced tiers and inviting members to help shape its coverage through member events and conferences. “We’re creating a different type of newsroom, for and with our members,” said publisher and co-founder Katie Vanneck-Smith. “Members will inform our thinking and our product and how we expand. They are core to our approach. In-person and personal is a real differentiator. We want to build the most diverse and inclusive membership base of a paid-for-journalism business today.” According to Vanneck-Smith, 42 percent of its founding members are under 30 years old, much younger than some news organizations that rely on print subscribers.

+ Noted: Forbes is testing an AI tool that drafts articles for contributors (Digiday); Channels starting to get cut as cable TV struggles for life (Axios) Axios acquires Sports Internet, a newsletter by former ESPN staffer and Bleacher Report writer, and will relaunch it as Axios Sports (Axios)


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, how some journalists assume causality in stories about misinformation, why much of the Internet is fake, and you can now purchase a fake news board game.

College journalism students: Apply by Jan. 6 to be the American Press Institute Summer Fellow for 2019

The American Press Institute offers a paid summer fellowship for college students or recent graduates who have a strong desire to advance innovation in news organizations. Unlike a summer internship, a core component of the program is a self-proposed fellowship project. We’re looking for a student or recent grad who can envision building something from start to finish — such as a tool, resource, or guide — that would help news organizations make decisions in critical areas of their work.


Why ProPublica Illinois takes reader questions about journalism (Lenfest Institute)

ProPublica Illinois wanted to help its readers better understand how journalism actually functions while also being more transparent in its work. Last year, the site created a new series: Ask ProPublica Illinois, which invited readers to ask whatever questions they have about journalism. ProPublica Illinois staffers then answered the questions in posts on the site. About 50 questions have been submitted, and ProPublica Illinois staffers have answered 13 thus far. ProPublica Illinois has involved its entire staff in the project, which has enabled it to build a culture of transparency and community-focused journalism. “It has become an opportunity that I had not anticipated to have more public discussions and dialogues about how these fundamentals of journalism stack up and how they’re evolving,” says ProPublica Illinois engagement reporter Logan Jaffe.


Drone photojournalist finds truth flying above his subjects (Poynter)

Photojournalist Johnny Miller uses drone photography to document housing inequality across the globe. The aerial viewpoint allows him to capture the stark separation between the world’s rich and poor neighborhoods, often built right next to each other. “Looking down, I could see the clear dividing lines,” he said in an interview with the Poynter Institute. “That one look captures people’s imagination in ways tilting to the horizon would not do.” Miller said his intent is to spark conversations “on what my photos represent.” And they have done that. The United Nations featured his images on a report about housing inequality, and the South African national government uses his images as examples of what it wants to fix. But the harsh realities sometimes exposed by drone photography can irritate powers-that-be, Miller says. Some governments are making it increasingly difficult to fly drones, restricting access to those who can afford to shell out for costly licences.

+ Related: Apps to make your drone journalism safer and better (Reynolds Journalism Institute)


The growing business of helping customers slow down (Harvard Business Review)

Our increasingly “on-demand” lifestyles, where everything from takeout to exercise classes to dates can be procured online in a matter of minutes, still leave many people feeling time-poor, not to mention overwhelmed. Companies are beginning to provide spaces where consumers can enjoy “slow” experiences, from shopping to WiFi-free vacations to “slow food” dining. “We see the facilitation of deceleration … as beneficial for individual well-being, the environment and businesses alike,” write Giana Eckhardt and Katharina Husemann. “And we expect interest in such experiences to rise exponentially in coming years. Recognizing our existential need to occasionally slow down can be the basis for winning consumer strategies.”


Can student journalists teach the media a lesson about neutrality? (Columbia Journalism Review)

In his Journalism 101 class at the University of Tampa, David Wheeler has observed an increasing divide between his students and the professional political journalists they often discuss. “In my class, at least, student journalists are disappointed by what they see as a lack of neutrality in political reporting, particularly on social media and particularly from some of the reporters who cover Trump for the biggest news organizations in the country,” Wheeler writes. While students demonstrate enthusiasm for the traditional watchdog role of the press and support tenacious reporting on the Trump administration, many think journalists too often “take the digital bait” when it comes to social media taunts by the commander-in-chief. “I would not take to Twitter or any social media platform to poke at the president,” said first-year student Malaysia Alford. “With Trump in office, I hold the media to a higher standard. We have to be the bigger people.”


The biggest fake news hits on Facebook in 2018 (BuzzFeed News)

After spending two years launching third-party fact-checking programs, rolling out News Feed updates, and investing in other anti-misinformation initiatives, Facebook is still the home of viral fake news. And in spite of its prediction that fake news would see a decline in engagement in 2018, this year’s top-performing hoaxes generated almost as many shares, reactions, and comments as last year’s — roughly 22 million altogether, compared to 23.5 million total engagements in 2017. A new tactic that emerged in 2018, called domain-hopping, has helped some fake news purveyors avoid detection by Facebook’s fact-checkers. “Operators are being forced to move to new domain names as filters and bans kick in faster and faster,” said Maarten Schenk, editor of the fact-checking site Lead Stories. “On the other hand, website domain names are now so cheap it is almost economical to use a new one for each story.”

+ Related: In 2019, will the tide turn against Facebook and social media? (Columbia Journalism Review)

For the Weekend

+ Women’s magazines are dying. Will we miss them when they’re gone? (The Washington Post)

+ Why cultural criticism matters: Media companies have cut back on culture writing. Todd VanDerWerff explores the cost: “We need cultural criticism not just to tell us which movies to go see and which ones to avoid, but to tell us things we already knew but didn’t know how to express. If reporting can explain the world to us, cultural criticism can explain us to us.” (Vox)

+ Students dream up ideas for making news more accessible for smart homes, including interactive smart mirrors and the ability to ask basic questions about what one is watching on TV news (Reynolds Journalism Institute)