Need to Know: July 19, 2018

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


You might have heard: How teens in the Balkans duped Trump supporters with fake news during the 2016 campaign (BuzzFeed News)

But did you know: American conservatives played a secret role in the Macedonian fake news boom ahead of 2016 (BuzzFeed News)

A week before Election Day in 2016, BuzzFeed News revealed that young men and teens in the Macedonian town of Veles were running over a hundred websites that pumped out often false viral stories that supported Donald Trump. But a joint investigation by BuzzFeed and partners has uncovered evidence that the misinformation effort was not merely a money-making scheme coordinated by apolitical teenagers. Instead, it was engineered by a well-known Macedonian media attorney and two high-profile American partners — one of whom is now running for office in Nevada.

+ Noted: U.S. lawmakers testify against Canadian newsprint tariffs (The Portland Press Herald); FCC votes to send Sinclair-Tribune merger to judge (Poynter); BuzzFeed launches a new website for its journalism content (TechCrunch); Funding pledged for monument honoring investigative journalist Ida B. Wells in Chicago (The Washington Post)


New podcast app takes cues from print design and aesthetics (Nieman Lab)

Wilson FM, launched last week, bills itself as a “podcast magazine,” delivering listeners a weekly curated playlist of podcast episodes that focus on a certain theme. The app’s visual sensibility “evokes the new media section of an art school exhibit (or a moderately-sized modern art museum),” writes Nicholas Quah. Creator Allan Yu says the inspiration for Wilson FM is “anti-tech, anti-convention, anti-UI/UX design.” He also wanted to have better aesthetics than the minimalist look traditionally used by other podcast apps. “I don’t understand why a content form with such richness sonically is watered down visually,” he said. The playlists are generally built ad hoc, with Yu’s friends, and the copy uses a conversational style, similar to way Yu speaks. Yu plans to grow Wilson FM slowly. “We’re focusing more in the magazine model as we want to mainly be a voice for podcasts within the podcast community.”


One-story-per-day subscription news site in India raises $1.5 million in venture money (The Ken)

Bucking conventional wisdom that Indian readers would never pay a premium to read any kind of journalism, much less from a site that only delivers one (albeit deeply-reported) story per day, 2-year-old Indian news site The Ken announced that it has raised $1.5 million in an investment round led by Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm. The publication’s founders also report that its revenues are up 100 percent over the last quarter. The Ken’s subscriber base has grown mostly by word-of-mouth. “Why do our subscribers pay us a premium (an annual subscription to The Ken costs as much as subscribing to two of India’s leading business newspapers, The Economic Times and Mint) for fewer stories?” writes co-founder Rohin Dharmakumar. “I’ve had enough conversations and email exchanges with hundreds of them to know the answer — because they value depth, analysis and an informed point of view over mere quantity.”


How economics affects the information lives of low-income individuals (International Journal of Communication)

A new study from the University of Southern California, Annenberg found that the low value placed on the decisions and buying power of low-income individuals translates to lower quantities and qualities of content created for their benefit. It can also mean that less accountability journalism is conducted in poor communities. The study also found that, in government policies aimed at improving the information accessible to low-income individuals, subsidies often flow to intermediary groups rather than the intended beneficiaries.  


Startup thinks blockchain can help fix the media’s business woes (The Wall Street Journal)

A new media company is proposing an unlikely remedy for the business challenges facing the media industry: cryptocurrency. The Civil Media Company, a New York for-profit software firm, on Wednesday announced plans to sell cryptocurrency valued at millions of dollars to help cultivate a global network of newsrooms and news consumers. Earlier this year, Civil awarded a grant to former employees of the Denver Post to help start a new publication called the Colorado Sun. The company has also backed Block Club Chicago, a digital publication started by former editors and reporters at the shuttered outlet DNAInfo. All told, the company has awarded grants to 13 news organizations, with plans to fund more after the launch.

+ The Google News algorithm is incapable of separating factual reporting from commentary, and balancing left- and right-leaning sources (Medium, Rich Gordon)


Meet the digital sleuth exposing fake news (Wired)

Many of the biggest revelations around fake news and misinformation over the last two years are due to media scholar Jonathan Albright, writes Issie Lapowsky. “He’s the one who tipped off The Washington Post last October to the fact that Russian trolls at the Internet Research Agency reached millions more people on Facebook than the social media giant initially let on. He helped build a bruising story in The New York Times on how the Russians used fake identities to stoke American rage. He discovered a trove of exposed Cambridge Analytica tools in the online code repository Github, long before most people knew the shady, defunct data firm’s name.” Lapowsky’s interview with Albright tells the story of how he became the nation’s “first responder for propaganda.”

+ A tech reporter’s constrained approach to using tech helps him take a big-picture view (The New York Times)