Need to Know: July 6, 2021


You might have heard: Where is election misinformation coming from? It’s not Russia (WBUR) 

But did you know: How pro-Trump local news sites keep pushing 2020 election misinformation (NPR) 

The Georgia Star News, founded just after November’s presidential election, is part of the Star News Network, a web of pro-Trump websites that mimic the look of local news websites. Eight Star News sites are distributed among swing states, churning out false content that claims former President Trump won in November and that proof of massive voter fraud will be uncovered. These stories are then picked up in the conservative media ecosystem, ricocheting through radio, podcasts, and television. Sometimes, Republican politicians will launch investigations based on these “stories,” leading to coverage in mainstream news publications. The publisher of the Georgia Star News says that the website is profitable “thanks to a crush of advertising” from Republicans and conservative groups.   

+ Earlier: The Tow Center for Digital Journalism is tracking more than 1,200 politically-backed websites purporting to be local news organizations (Columbia Journalism Review) [news align=right]

+ Noted: PEN America is asking journalists to take a short survey that will help it better understand the impact of disinformation on journalists (PEN America); Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates to join Howard University faculty (The Washington Post) 


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The New York Times is using Instagram slides and Twitter cards to make stories more digestible (Nieman Lab) 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the New York Times’ social media teams have been experimenting with cards and slides to make serious news stories more accessible and digestible. Deputy off-platform editor Jake Grovum said the amount of information conveyed is similar to the first three to four paragraphs of a news story. This style of reporting became more prominent early in the pandemic to make use of the maps and data visualizations that were being produced to show the spread of COVID-19. Single, text-heavy cards work better on Facebook and Twitter, while Instagram’s carousel feature allows for a series of slides, with a more visual presentation. 


How the Austrian publisher Kronen Zeitung uses machine learning to moderate user comments and grow engagement ( 

Kronen Zeitung, one of Austria’s largest news publishers, focuses heavily on audience engagement. The site receives 500,000 comments each month, and extensive engagement on social media. But with that much interaction, human moderation was untenable, and the rise of online abuse and spam was taking a toll on the user-generated content team. The team began using artificial intelligence to filter through the content, with the robot flagging words or expressions that potentially violate community guidelines. Since the new AI tool was put in place, engagement has increased by 25%. 


Two justices say Supreme Court should reconsider landmark libel decision (The New York Times) 

Last week, Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas called for the court to reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan, a landmark case that made it difficult for public figures to sue for libel. The ruling found that, in order for a public official (which later became a public figure) to sue a news organization for libel, the outlet must have published a false claim with “actual malice” — i.e., knowing that the claim was almost certainly or definitely false. The justices wrote that the spread of misinformation online has made it easier for public figures to be severely harmed by rumors, and that the loss of reliable news sources has led to a spiral of lies spreading online. 


Naomi Osaka’s handling of the sports press may have implications for the future of media (The New York Times) 

In May, tennis player Naomi Osaka decided to sit out the French Open rather than participate in a pre-game press conference. The choice, Ben Smith, writes “touched a raw nerve in the intertwined businesses of sports and media” and opened up a conversation about the role of the sports press in a time when athletes can build personal brands on social media. Sports media has often been a leading indicator of the direction of the media industry overall, with athlete-owned media outlets and league-produced content attempting to compete with journalism. Smith writes that the future of sports media may lie in independent, long-form journalism such as Racquet, a tennis quarterly that’s a mix of investigative journalism and contributions from athletes, which Osaka is guest-editing next month. 


FBI launches flurry of arrests over attacks on journalists during Capitol riot (The Washington Post) 

Six months after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department has begun arresting people who targeted journalists or damaged journalists’ equipment during the riot. Five people were arrested in connection with attacks on the media, with the DOJ focusing on people who allegedly surrounded a group of reporters, forced them away, and attempted to destroy tens of thousands of dollars of equipment. While attacking a journalist is not a specific federal crime, the charges against these rioters — committing violence and property destruction on the restricted grounds of the Capitol — hold these incidents as separate from the general acts of rioting on the day.