Need to Know: January 5, 2023


You might have heard: Maggie Haberman says George Santos coverage is a ‘death of local media’ story (CNN)

But did you know: A tiny paper broke the George Santos scandal but no one paid attention (The Washington Post)

Months before The New York Times published an article detailing how elected representative George Santos may have fabricated many aspects of his life, the North Shore Leader wrote about inconsistencies in the candidate’s net worth and finances. The hyperlocal weekly used local connections and niche political experience to notice something was off with Santos’ claims. And while it’s not unusual for a local publication to notice a problem, regional outlets to verify the story and national press to then pick it up, that system didn’t happen here, even after the Leader reluctantly endorsed Santos’ Democratic opponent. 

“This experience has shown me just how important it is for everyone to support local media.”

-Robert Zimmerman, Democratic opponent

+ Noted: Measuring the unique impact of BIPOC media (URL Media); Media Impact Funders is hiring a Communications & Program Associate (Media Impact Funders); Axios Cleveland to join a local media landscape in flux (Axios); Visa hurdles dash international students’ dreams of being journalists in the US (Poynter)


How one local news outlet created a topic-specific hotline for readers to call

Reporters at the nonprofit news site Block Club Chicago had written thousands of stories about the coronavirus in Chicago and live-tweeted countless press conferences about it. They were sharing all they knew on the usual channels. But they wanted a more direct way to match readers with the information they needed. So with funding from the Facebook Journalism Project, they launched a free hotline that readers could call, text or email, and get their questions resolved by the editorial staff. They fielded hundreds of questions from Chicagoans about testing, vaccinations, housing, unemployment and more.


It’s time for PR for journalism (Nieman Lab)

As anti-media rhetoric polarizes public prescription of the media — a trend driven by the populist right — it also undermines the press’s ability to hold those in power accountable. Ayala Panievsky argues that it’s time for journalists to campaign for journalism to regain public trust in the news media. Instead of vague statements about saving democracy, journalists and newsrooms need to educate the public about the role of journalism in society. Consider explicitly outlining how your work has contributed to people’s everyday lives, what work has exposed corruption or discrimination or how your work has fought against voter suppression or disinformation. 


Zelensky signs media law criticized by journalist groups as authoritarian (The Kyiv Independent)

Ukraine’s president expanded the government’s power to regulate news organizations and journalists, a move that drew objections from press freedom organizations and media unions. The new law gives more power to Ukraine’s National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, including the ability to shut down any news sites not officially registered as media. Ukraine’s leaders claim the law aims to align with EU policy and fight Russian propaganda, but critics said the law is one of the biggest threats to free speech in the country’s history.


Vox Media ‘formalizes’ ban on fossil-fuel ads (Marketing Brew)

Vox Media announced Wednesday that it will no longer run ads from fossil fuel companies, organizations that mine nonrenewable resources or lobbyist groups that support fossil fuel policies. The policy had been in place since early 2021 but is now formalized in the publisher’s advertising policies. Vox also announced a plan for carbon-neutral advertising, which offsets the costs of emissions used to reach audiences. 

+ Earlier: Semafor’s climate editor quit after controversial Chevron sponsorship (Twitter, @BillSpindle)


Far-right, far-left media offer easier-to-read political news coverage than mainstream outlets, study suggests (The Journalist’s Resource)

An analysis of almost 6,000 political news stories from both partisan and nonpartisan news organizations in 2021 offer insights into how readability is used to reach audiences. Researchers noted that media outlets with extreme biases used shorter sentences and less formal language than nonpartisan outlets. Mainstream news organizations such as Reuters wrote at the level of someone who had completed over a year of college, while far-right and far-left news sites wrote at high school levels. Partisan outlets also tend to use more negative language. 

“When we read simplified text — especially text that frames things as us-versus-them — it’s easier to process that than [news reports that examine] the complex goings-on of Washington.”

– Jessica F. Sparks, University of Florida