Need to Know: July 5, 2018

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


You might have heardCanceling newspaper subscriptions can be hard (Twitter, @laurahazardowen)

But did you know: Thanks to California, a news site (or other business) now has to let you cancel your subscription online (Nieman Lab)

A California law that went into effect July 1 aims to stop companies from blockading customers looking to cancel their services — along with the practice of sneakily sliding them into another month’s subscription without much clarity on the real, full cost of the service. Among the changes: It bans companies from forcing you to, say, call a hard-to-find telephone number to cancel a subscription that you purchased online. And while it’s just a California law, it also applies to any company (or publisher) with paying customers in the state — so, pretty much everybody, GDPR-style.

+ Related: On some news sites, subscribing is the hard part (Twitter, @brianboyer)

+ Noted: “Alexa, donate to KUOW”: NPR, Seattle’s KUOW explore potential of fundraising through Alexa (Current); Profits at the Telegraph Media Group fell by half last year (BBC); European MEPs vote to reopen copyright debate over ‘censorship’ controversy (TechCrunch); Half of Telemundo’s live digital viewers for the World Cup are watching on mobile devices (Digiday)


How CEO Gary Liu transformed the South China Morning Post in less than two years (Splice)

Gary Liu has been in the CEO’s seat at the South China Morning Post for about 18 months. In that time, he’s turned the stiff (and distressed) Hong Kong-focused media company into a tech-led one with global ambitions. In many ways, Liu didn’t seem like a natural fit for a big transformational role. He’s young (34 years old when he joined the SCMP). He doesn’t come from the region. And he’s never worked in a newsroom. But that’s why his insights are fascinating. “When I first arrived, I knew that there was going to be some hard conversations, but I didn’t expect the kind of pushback that I would receive in my first few months,” Liu said in a recent interview at the East-West Center’s International Media Conference in Singapore. He spent the first six months “keeping my mouth almost completely shut.” After that, he began to address what he saw as the company’s number-one problem: “the complete, almost irrational, lack of transparency.”


Platform uses crowdsourcing to fund journalism where press freedom is weak (Columbia Journalism Review)

Honduran journalist Wendy Funes is used to threats brought on by her investigative reporting. But what halted her recent investigation into sexual violence against young indigenous women was not threats from local authorities — it was lack of funding. That’s when Press Start, a nonprofit, crowdfunding platform, stepped in. Launched in 2016, Press Start takes a targeted approach to crowdfunding, soliciting small amounts for specific projects from diaspora communities, from those for whom particular journalist investigations resonate, and from those within the network of the journalists themselves. “While we can’t solve the big financial question mark hanging over independent media in all of these countries,” said founder Jeremy Druker, “we can at least…create another income stream to fund some of the stories where the talent is there to do an in-depth inquiry or a proper investigation, but the money isn’t.”

+ On WeChat, rogue fact-checkers are tackling the app’s fake news problem (Poynter); How WhatsApp could slow the spread of fake news in India (Medianama)


If you say something is ‘likely,’ how likely do people think it is? (Harvard Business Review)

Probabilistic terms can have widely different interpretations. “One person’s ‘pretty likely’ is another’s ‘far from certain,’” write Andrew and Michael J. Mauboussin. Their research shows just how broad these gaps in understanding can be and the types of problems that can flow from these differences in interpretation. To steer clear of poor communication, they suggest: avoiding nonnumerical words or phrases and turning directly to probabilities; using structured approaches to set probabilities; and making precise forecasts that can be directly measured. (For example, “There is a 95 percent probability that Facebook will have more than 2.5 billion monthly users one year from now,” can later be tested for accuracy, versus “Facebook will likely remain the dominant social network for years to come.”)


Mainstream media grapples with a left-wing wave (Columbia Journalism Review)

Large sections of the U.S. press lack the language to discuss left-wing candidates and issues, writes Jon Allsop. “Having spent years carefully parsing distinct ideological currents on the right (like ‘white supremacy’ and ‘white nationalism’), much coverage of the left still leans on disputed labels like ‘liberal,’ ‘progressive,’ and ‘the Resistance.’ Thanks to thoughtful reporting, Americans generally have a substantive understanding of what divides mainstream Republicans and more radical groups like the Tea Party. The divisions between the left and mainstream liberals are just as sharp — and just as consequential — but are not as well understood.”

+ Why the New York Times’ public shaming of Ali Watkins reeks of sexism (Fast Company); The Times reassigned Watkins after internal review relating to leak case (New York Times)


Digital literacy project will create 1,000 Wikipedia pages for local newspapers (Poynter)

When readers search for a publication on Google, an “info box” populated by Wikipedia pops up on the right side of the search results with basic information like the publication’s founding date, circulation size and editor. But that’s not the case for thousands of smaller local papers that don’t have Wikipedia pages. Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver, plans to work with students around the U.S. to create pages and info boxes for the local newspapers lacking them. Making this fundamental information more visible will help readers verify the legitimacy of news organizations, Caulfield said, or find out if a paper has a partisan “axe to grind.”

+ Earlier: Gallup/Knight Foundation survey found that source cues and neutrally written descriptions of websites helped survey respondents assess reliability of news sites (Knight Foundation)

+ She started a newspaper that helps Ohio’s inmates rebuild their lives (CNN)