Need to Know: July 16, 2018

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


You might have heard: Where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stands on key issues (CNN)

But did you know: Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s press freedom record is lighter when it comes to issues like libel and privacy torts, but heavier on national security and access to government information (RCFP)

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press released a special report analyzing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s record on press freedom issues. Of particular note for the news media, Judge Kavanaugh has written favorably with respect to the “actual malice” standard for defamation as articulated in New York Times v. Sullivan, which sets him apart from the late Justice Scalia, who famously disagreed with the unanimous decision in that 1964 case. But he has also taken a number of positions that may put him at odds with journalists, particularly in cases surrounding national security, government transparency, and the “anti-SLAPP” statute.

+ Noted: Audience and revenue remained steady for AM/FM radio, while online radio and podcasting continued to grow, and audience for local TV news fell by 15 percent in 2017 (Pew Research Center); CNN to launch new business website and expand technology coverage to focus on Silicon Valley (Bloomberg); Comcast to end hyperlocal news site EveryBlock, agrees to send users to rival Nextdoor (Chicago Tribune); LA Times to contest order from judge to remove details from a story about a sealed plea agreement (Los Angeles Times); Ousted Billboard CEO John Amato being probed for sexual misconduct (The Daily Beast)


How live video helped a local newspaper increase its digital ad revenue by 80 percent in one year (Nieman Lab)

From 2013 to 2017, digital advertising revenue for American newspapers rose only 8 percent — but in Alabama Piedmont, the Alexander City Outlook, with a staff of three full-time reporters and one managing editor, managed to boost its digital ad revenue by 80 percent in 2017. The staff attributes the growth to a busy news year, which it capitalized on with live video on Facebook, where its main audience is. With an app called Switcher Studio, for example, the paper was able to use multiple iPhones to film the same event on Facebook Live, while also throwing a sponsor’s logo over the broadcast. That helped The Outlook provide something that the local radio and TV station couldn’t: live and immediate coverage not limited by commercial breaks or highlight reels. The paper also uses live video as a teaser for its print edition. “Hopefully, we’re laying the blueprint for something that can be implemented throughout [Boone Newspapers],” said Scott Hardy, the Outlook’s digital marketing coordinator.


Three multi-billion-dollar companies dominate the Chinese internet landscape, from news media to AI (Nieman Lab)

Chinese behemoths Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (which owns the messaging service WeChat) control the online experience for China’s 772 million internet users. Tencent’s WeChat is the undisputed ruler among mobile apps in China, now with around 1.04 billion monthly active users, many of whom use the app to access the news. However, many of these companies are in a delicate position with the Chinese government over censorship of content on their platforms, writes Shan Wang. “Potentially politically charged content regularly disappears, searches for key terms are disabled, and influential users are blocked on WeChat and Weibo,” a Twitter-like platform with 411 million monthly active users.


Communities can grow too quickly (Hunter Walk)

When a digital community “grows too quickly, or when new members sharing a specific common characteristic swamp the existing user base, the existing norms can get disrupted,” writes Hunter Walk, sharing his recent experience in a Slack community for a newsletter he subscribed to. “Figuring out the carrying capacity of your current community, how to onboard new users and manage growth is a set of fascinating design decisions.” Walk has examined successful community/audience products from theSkimm and Winnie, among others, and their strategies for managing growth and moderating audience participation.


We’re asking Facebook the wrong question about InfoWars (Poynter)

In a recent event Facebook organized to explain its actions to combat misinformation, the company’s head of News Feed John Hegeman fumbled a question about why InfoWars, a leading conspiracy theory website, was allowed to remain on the platform. Hegeman answered that simply “being false” isn’t grounds for removal from Facebook — but described the company’s plans to downrank false content, annotate it with a fact check and demonetize the offending page. “So the question we should be asking Facebook is: How has this worked out with InfoWars?” writes Alexios Mantzarlis. “How often have fact-checkers flagged an InfoWars post as false? How many people fewer were reached because of it? And can InfoWars still advertise and monetize on the platform?”

+ Could news drones be collateral damage in a tussle over airspace? (Reynolds Journalism Institute); It’s time for cable-news outlets to put aside their tensions and resentments — and face down the bigger threat coming from the White House (The Washington Post)


With $3 million in grants and advice, Facebook finds favor from local newspapers (Digiday)

Facebook in June wrapped up a three-month-long Local News Subscriptions Accelerator program, which brought together people from 14 metro papers representing the country’s big newspaper chains to exchange best practices in growing subscriptions at local papers. The program was designed for resource-poor publishers, who have been hit harder by audiences’ shift to digital than national outlets. In contrast with past efforts, the accelerator program wasn’t focused on teaching publishers to use Facebook tools. Instead, the outlets received coaching on marketing and product development, and the information gleaned from the program will be used to inform Facebook’s subscription test, which it’s relying on publishers to shape.

+ How waitressing, lifeguarding and debt collecting prepared us for journalism (Poynter)