Need to Know: July 26, 2019

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

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Trump thrives in areas that lack traditional news outlets (Politico) 

But did you know: Democrats are launching ‘news’ outlets to turn swing state voters against Trump (Vice)

Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA is planning to flood swing states — many of which have lost their local papers — with stories favorable to the Democratic agenda, reports David Uberti. They’ll deploy part of a $100 million budget to establish four “news” outposts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin, where two-person teams will “collect and capture stories from real people” in part to produce “original content for social platforms.” The strategy is designed to fight the increasing influence that “Trump’s media footprint” Fox News has in places where local media outlets have shuttered, said Priorities USA Communication Director Josh Schwerin. “Our hope is that we can help fill that hole a bit with paid media.”

+ Noted: The ad tool that Facebook built to fight disinformation is so flawed, researchers say, that it can’t be used to track political messaging (New York Times); YouTube videos aimed at kids are the most popular, Pew Research Center study finds (AdAge); Applications for newsrooms to host a Report for America corps member are now open (Report for America)

API UPDATE

In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

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 Factually: teaching fact-checking in Bolivia; counterfeit Libra is already circulating online; and domestic misinformation could be a bigger threat in 2020 than Russian meddling.

+ How newsroom leaders can retain diverse voices: Get email tips from API’s summer fellow Marlee Baldridge

TRY THIS AT HOME

The LA Times made a simple game to help readers understand a complicated issue (Poynter)

“The sea is rising. Can you save your town?” That’s the challenge in a new game from the LA Times that helps readers understand the hard decisions involved in confronting sea level rise. The complexity of the issue has paralyzed many coastal California towns from taking meaningful action, says Rosanna Xia, an environment reporter at the LA Times. So Xia worked with graphics reporter Swetha Kannan and engineer Terry Castleman to clearly lay out the options for stakeholders in a decision-based game. “We were lucky enough to have a robust team to do work like this, with talented folks from graphics, design and software engineering,” says Xia. “But, at its core, this story and interactive game were powered by a fundamental understanding of the issue — understanding the stakes and nuances to a point where we could break it down simply and provide an alternative form of explanatory reporting.”

OFFSHORE

These Dutch publishers found that long-term subscriptions result in less churn and lower acquisition cost (Twipe) 

When Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad realized that long-term subscriptions were more profitable than short-term, it stopped offering trials and any subscriptions shorter than one year. Dutch media group De Telegraaf followed suit after its data showed that short-term subscriptions not only failed to lead to longer-lasting relationships, they also incurred a higher acquisition cost. With a 24% decrease in their marketing and acquisition budget, the team at De Telegraaf has seen a year-on-year subscriptions growth of 66%. 

+ How Bureau Local runs its “open newsroom” Slack discussions for members (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)

OFFBEAT

How social media impacts mental health in journalists (Journalism.co.uk)

The pressure on journalists to maintain a professional presence on social media, promote their work, and deal with negative comments and trolls can lead to fatigue and burnout, says psychologist Jelena Kecmanovic. The live performance monitoring that social media makes possible can be another source of stress. “All of us face competition and pressure to excel at work. Journalists, however, are receiving almost constant live feedback about how they are doing based on the number of clicks their posts are getting and number of followers they have.” With news constantly breaking on social media, and audiences increasingly gathering there to engage with the news, journalists have little choice but to remain online. Mental health experts like Kecmanovic say training on how to manage harassment on social media is critical for journalists’ wellbeing; as well as workplace cultures that encourage boundaries on social media use.

UP FOR DEBATE

Should Facebook have a ‘quiet period’ of no algorithm changes before a major election? (Nieman Lab)

In the run-up to the 2020 election, we should be talking more about the effect that Facebook’s algorithm has on access to quality news sources, writes Jennifer Grygiel. Grygiel argues that the major algorithm change Facebook made in 2015, which pivoted users away from the news to focus on updates from friends and family, suppressed user engagement with reputable news sites and allowed Russian misinformation to gain a better foothold. “Some international legal scholars have begun to call for laws to protect democracies against the possibility that algorithmic manipulation could deliver electoral gain,” she writes. “There’s no proof that Facebook’s changes had political intentions, but it’s not hard to imagine that the company could tweak its algorithms in the future if it wanted to. To guard against that potential, new laws could bar changes to the algorithm in the run-up periods before elections.” 

+ “I have zero time for romanticism about US rural life,” tweeted Vox climate reporter David Roberts Wednesday, after he said he spent his vacation in the South. The tweet did not sit well with journalists who criticize “coastal media elites” for looking down on the rest of America. “[R]e-upping the case for letting local (!) journalists cover climate and energy for national media outlets rather than disdainful folks like this,” responded journalist Sarah Baird. (Twitter, @drvox; @scbaird)

SHAREABLE

How The Washington Post’s new computational journalism lab will tackle 2020 (Nieman Lab)

This week The Washington Post launched a new R&D lab that will develop tools to help reporters keep an eye on all 11,250 elections happening across the U.S. in 2020. Director of engineering Jeremy Bowers said the lab will be working on gathering data from every county, congressional district, and — if they can manage it — every precinct to get an understanding of the voters, how they voted in the past and how they might vote in the future. “The next level is using that to get insights about changes in the voter population and get that closer to our reporters and editors making decisions about where they’d like to go in the run-up to 2020,” he said. “We’re not super-interested in telling a story about one Iowa county using this infrastructure. But we’re making sure our reporters know which county in Iowa to go if they’re looking for one that has particular characteristics.”

FOR THE WEEKEND

+ How the retweet ruined the internet: Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. And he regrets what he did to this day. “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon,” Wetherell recalled thinking as he watched the first Twitter mob use the tool he created. “That’s what I think we actually did.” (BuzzFeed News)

+ ESPN backs itself into a corner: Late last week, the ESPN host Dan Le Batard veered outside the sports network’s hard-line stance on avoiding politics on the air when he criticized Trump’s tweets targeting four congresswoman of color. The incident is the latest proof that ESPN’s strategy to ban politics from its network is completely untenable, writes Jemele Hill. (The Atlantic)