Need to Know: June 11, 2021


You might have heard: Memes became a major vehicle for COVID-19 vaccine misinformation (Axios)

But did you know: Vaccine fact-checks struggle to compete with disinformation on major social media networks (Nieman Lab)

As vaccines have rolled out across the U.S., anti-vaccine conspiracies have continued spreading on the web. Narratives include the idea that the vaccines are dangerous to women’s reproduction and that the shots are part of a plot to force endless vaccines. Many misinformation providers have seized on the fact that mainstream outlets sometimes referred to the vaccines as “experimental” when they were in clinical trials, and have pushed the idea that these vaccines are part of mass experiment on the populace. Many websites dedicated to science misinformation syndicate and recycle each other’s content, generating traffic on social media even though the anti-vaccine influencers who run them have been banned from the platforms. Meanwhile, websites that attempt to debunk these claims don’t achieve anywhere near the social media reach as the conspiracy sites. 

+ Noted: The Pulitzer Prize winners will be announced at 1 p.m. ET today (The Pulitzer Prizes) 


What news publishers do to retain subscribers

API surveyed news publishers across the United States to find out what they are — and aren’t — doing to retain subscribers and decrease churn. Nine key retention strategies emerged, as well as several areas where many publishers say they need help. From our conversations with publishers, we also put together a list of 31 effective subscriber-retention ideas to use.


How a story originally reported for print was transformed for audio (Nieman Storyboard) 

In 2016, reporters from The Marshall Project and ProPublica collaborated on a story about a rape case that had been wildly mishandled. But they also teamed up with This American Life, who produced an audio version of the story that explored different questions based on the same reporting. This annotation features an interview with This American Life producer Robyn Semien, about the decisions that were made in the process of producing the audio story, including how to structure the narrative, why she included reporter questions, and her careful decision to include descriptive audio while making sure it didn’t feel exploitative. 

+ The New York Times allows subscribers to gift articles without counting towards recipients’ free-to-read limit (Twitter, @justinph) 


Canadian media outlets write joint open letter to address monopoly practices of Google and Facebook (The Toronto Star) 

A coalition of Canadian news publishers, under the name News Media Canada, have written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The letter calls on the Canadian government to “rein in the predatory monopoly practices of Google and Facebook against Canadian news media.” The two companies control 80% of online advertising revenue in Canada. The letter cites recent legislation in Australia, which requires that the companies negotiate collectively with the country’s media. The letter accuses Trudeau and Steven Guilbeault, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, of failing to address the issue, and calls for legislation to be introduced before Parliament’s summer recess. 


Google seeks to break vicious cycle of online slander (The New York Times) 

After reporting from The New York Times about online scammers who charge thousands of dollars to remove slanderous websites from search results, Google says it plans to change its algorithm to remove these sites from search results. These websites accuse people of cheating on their partners or being sexual predators, and these pages then often appear high in search results for a person’s name. Google now says these “known victims” can request that such search results for their names be suppressed. The same will go for victims who have had nude photos published online against their consent. Historically, Google was hesitant to deliberately alter the algorithm to affect results, but the platform has become increasingly willing to alter results to fight abuse and misinformation. 

+ Twitter to add a newsletter “subscribe” button to profiles for simple sign-ups (Mashable) 


Can state governments save local newspapers? (Washington Monthly) 

With local publishers suffering from decreased revenue or risk of takeover by hedge funds, more news outlets are turning to state governments for help. Reporters at The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass., are petitioning the state government to help support local publishers. In Connecticut, a bill was passed before Alden Global Capital purchased The Hartford Courant, which restricts the amount of debt that the Courant’s owner can take out against the paper. Anna Brugmann writes that, while some in the media are concerned about government interference affecting editorial independence, others feel that corporate greed is a much greater threat. 


The head of the Committee to Protect Journalists offers a warning as he prepares to step down (The New York Times) 

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, announced he will step down after 15 years in the role. In an interview with The New York Times, he said that he is less optimistic than he used to be about the safety of journalists around the world. He says governments are increasingly aggressive towards journalists, imprisoning and even “brazenly” using violence against members of the media. He also says that the arrest of journalists at protests in the U.S. make government abuse of journalists in places like Russia and Myanmar seem less shocking. With the rise in autocrats and digital monitoring, Simon said that his successor at CPJ “needs to be able to think ahead about where new threats will be coming from.” 


+ “We’re going to publish”: An oral history of the Pentagon Papers (The New York Times) 

+ Ted Williams proved local news can be profitable at The Charlotte Agenda. Now, he’ll try to replicate the success for Axios. (Nieman Lab) 

+ “Our reporter’s work on COVID-19 has saved lives. She’s getting death threats.” (The Center for Public Integrity) 

+ Gina Chua is returning to the Reuters offices post-pandemic as one of the most senior transgender journalists in the country (The New York Times)