Need to Know: July 9, 2018

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


You might have heard: Twitter ramps up fight against abuse and malicious bots (Bloomberg)

But did you know: Twitter is sweeping out fake accounts like never before, putting user growth at risk (The Washington Post)

Twitter has sharply escalated its battle against fake and suspicious accounts, suspending more than 1 million a day in recent months, a major shift to lessen the flow of disinformation on the platform, according to data obtained by The Washington Post. The rate of account suspensions, which Twitter confirmed to The Post, has more than doubled since October, when the company revealed under congressional pressure how Russia used fake accounts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June, and the pace has continued in July, according to the data. The changes reflect a philosophical shift for Twitter. Its executives long resisted policing misbehavior more aggressively, for a time even referring to themselves as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”

+ Noted: Myanmar court presses charges against Reuters reporters in landmark press freedom case (Reuters); Japanese journalist, missing in Syria since 2015, appears in new video (The New York Times); Univision aims to cut 15 percent of staff at Onion Inc., the network of storied satirical and cultural news sites the company oversees (The Daily Beast); Reddit — one of the world’s most popular websites — is trying to cash in through advertising (CNBC)


How an impact and reach scorecard helps Carolina Public Press gut-check its journalism (Better News)

Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit investigative news outlet in North Carolina, created a spreadsheet to “score” each of its news stories for reach and impact — giving it the data and insight needed to improve its reporting, identify skill and capability gaps, and help its reporting reach more people and make a bigger difference.


The Globe and Mail is slipping a little extra context into its stories (while explaining its editorial thinking along the way) (Nieman Lab)

The Canadian national daily The Globe and Mail is testing a new feature that could enhance readers’ understanding of its online stories — and of the mechanics of its journalism. The “Globe Primers” are in-article, expandable explainers that provide readers with more context on a certain topic within a story — or on a journalistic decision made by the paper — without them having to leave the article to find the answer. Susan Krashinsky Robertson, the Globe reporter who developed the tool, said this is a time when readers are asking more questions about the reliability of information than ever before. She hopes this tool can improve the relationship between audiences and journalists in a way that people feel they can use the Globe as a resource for the context they need.

+ Earlier: We have pushed for journalists to change the way they build stories to create organic news fluency, including examples of what readers want you to explain


Cambodia ‘fake news’ crackdown prompts fears over press freedom (The Guardian)

The Cambodian government is extending its crackdown on “fake news,” just weeks before the increasingly authoritarian government of prime minister Hun Sen heads to the polls. A new directive aimed at fake news posted on websites and social media platforms could see violators jailed for two years and fined US$1,000, according to a report in the Khmer Times. Websites will now also be required to register with Cambodia’s information ministry. Pos Sovann, an official from the ministry, said the directive was effective immediately. A joint statement published by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance in June expressed concerns over the heightened state surveillance, saying the news rules would give “authorities the power to silence individuals at the click of a button.”


Artificial intelligence could one day determine which films get made (Variety)

According to the founder of artificial intelligence outfit ScriptBook, Sony Pictures could have saved a fortune from 2015 to 2017 by using the company’s algorithms instead of human beings to reject or greenlight movies. ScriptBook says that when its system indicates a script should be greenlit, it has an 84 percent success rate — three times greater than the accuracy rate of humans. Many see in ScriptBook and similar AI systems the potential to destroy a major part of the film production and distribution ecosystem, displacing script readers and saving much of the money studios spend on test screenings, focus groups and market research.


The state of New Jersey wants to subsidize news. Uh-oh. (Politico)

New Jersey thinks it’s found the secret to making its news deserts bloom: A $5 million subsidy for a university-led consortium that will dispense grants for local news coverage, in a state where closures and layoffs have long plagued local journalism. Yet New Jersey ranks as one of the most corrupt states in the country, a state obviously in need of watchdogging, writes Jack Shafer. “But what confidence should we have that the state will happily fund investigations into its own malfeasance? Even if the consortium stays clean, won’t it avoid politically charged stories of great watchdogging potential because it will fear to bite the hand that feeds it?”

+ A journalist’s conscience leads her to reveal her source to the FBI. Here’s why. (The Washington Post)


‘No comment’: The death of business reporting (The Washington Post)

Today, the only way reporters can contact many companies is by sending an email not to a person but to an email drop-box, or by leaving a message with a “media hotline” that invariably is unmanned 24/7, writes Steven Pearlstein. Pearlstein marks a shift in many companies of purposely distancing themselves from the media: A survey of corporate communications departments in 2016 by the Corporate Executive Board found that only 17 percent of corporate communications workers’ time was devoted to media relations, with most companies expecting further declines. Corporate executives “live in an environment where they can’t tolerate a whole lot of risk,” one told Pearlstein. “A negative story, if it is picked up by social media, can be more damaging than ever. That’s why they have become so nervous about engaging the press.”

+ The World Cup sexism that won’t go away — and the female reporters on the front line (CNN); Meet the reporter who is making Trump pay $48,000 more in taxes (Poynter); For many journalists, the bonds formed in the newsroom remain long after they leave (Poynter)