Need to Know: July 8, 2020


You might have heard: The New York Times is counting every coronavirus case in the country (The New York Times)

But did you know: Journalists must continue to press the government for accurate COVID-19 data (CJR)

This past weekend, The New York Times published an analysis showing just how much more likely people of color are to contract COVID-19 – three times more likely in the case of Black and Latino Americans. The Centers for Disease Control only released the data after the Times sued for it, and even then it was incomplete. The lawsuit is the latest in a string of actions taken by newsrooms to force governments to release data, a trend that must continue if the American public has any chance of staying informed about the spread of COVID-19.

+ Noted: FX and Hulu set New York Times documentary series, first episode to tackle COVID-19 pandemic (Variety); British publisher Reach cuts 550 jobs (The Guardian); Charo Henríquez named head of Newsroom Development and Support at The New York Times (New York TImes Co.)


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Newsrooms ramp up audience engagement tactics for coronavirus coverage (Current)

News outlets around the country have been experimenting with new audience engagement practices to better serve their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. KOSU, a public radio station in Oklahoma, has used the texting platform GroundSource to inquire how people are feeling about mask wearing and whether there is societal judgement around mask-wearing choices. In the Twin Cities, Next Avenue, a digital publication focused on older adults, took questions from readers that led to one of their most popular pieces, about the benefits and risks of being on a ventilator.

+ Introducing a systems thinking toolkit for journalists (Journalism + Design)


Istinomer fact-checked COVID-19 and the Serbian national election at the same time by developing a new tool (Poynter)

Istinomer, a seven-person fact-checking outlet in Serbia, has spent 2020 contending with both the coronavirus pandemic and a national election. The organization, whose name means “truth-o-meter” in Serbian, began purely as a fact-checking group, but as independent media has floundered in the region, the site has become a more general news outlet. But when misinformation surrounding COVID-19 began to spread, including from official sources, the team doubled down on debunking the claims. They also developed a browser extension that lets a reader on a different news site highlight text and send it to the Istinomer team, who will assess it and give a color-coded mark for its veracity that can then be seen by anyone using the extension.


Conservatives hunt for their own social network (Axios)

With social media platforms increasing moderation against right-wing groups and fact-checking President Trump’s content, conservatives are looking to establish separate platforms. As a result, conservative networks like Parler, and Gab have seen an uptick in traffic over the past few months. These spikes still pale in comparison to mainstream platforms, with visit highs in the low millions compared to the more than a billion visits that Facebook receives daily.

+ Instagram expands pinned comments feature to help posters control and moderate threads (The Verge)


Dozens of prominent writers sign letter calling for ‘open debate’ (Harper’s Magazine)

The past month has seen massive shifts in media and American society more broadly around systemic racism and social injustices. An open letter signed by dozens of prominent writers and other prominent figures, including Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Matthew Yglesias and Olivia Nuzzi, argues that while these changes are a “needed reckoning,” the movement surrounding these changes has constricted the free exchange of ideas. The letter accuses the new cultural moment of breeding intolerance towards differing opinions, encouraging public shaming, and reducing “complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.”

+ The backstory: How the letter came to be and gained the support of 153 prominent artists and intellectuals (The New York Times); “The Harper’s letter … falls into a weird middle ground between letter and op-ed — but I have three issues as a person who edits an opinion section,” Philadelphia Inquirer opinion editor Erica Palan explains in a thoughtful reaction thread (Twitter, @errrica)


After coronavirus shuttered presses, Seattle’s Real Change street newspaper is printing again (The Seattle Times)

As the pandemic devastated newsrooms across the country, street papers — which are sold by homeless or low-income vendors to earn money that they can keep — stopped production. But now 90% of street papers in America, including Seattle’s Real Change, are back printing. Real Change managed to help their vendors during the pandemic by raising money from the community and opening a food pantry in the newspaper’s office. They also pulled vendors out of the downtown area, which is now very quiet, and redeployed them into busier neighborhoods.

+ Earlier: “You either stand up, or you fold”: How a U.K. street paper faced the coronavirus crisis by rolling out a subscription option and selling in supermarket chains (What’s New in Publishing)