Need to Know: June 13, 2022


You might have heard: If American democracy is going to survive, the media must make this crucial shift (The Washington Post) 

But did you know: A new guide aims to help journalists cover threats to democracy (The New York Times) 

A new report from the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Protect Democracy provides guidance for reporters on how to navigate difficult issues when covering threats to democracy. The report aims to help journalists distinguish between “normal political jockeying” and conduct that could represent a systemic threat, its primary author, Jennifer Dresden, told Blake Hounshell. In research for the report, its authors assembled a panel of academic experts and consulted editors at selected news organizations, then outlined seven basic tactics that authoritarian leaders use, including spreading disinformation and politicizing independent institutions. Many journalists today are figuring out “how best to cover what the weight of evidence suggests is an authoritarian moment with few parallels in our lifetimes,” Hounshell writes.

+ Noted: Brexit campaigner loses libel suit against Carole Cadwalladr; At least 20 million watched Jan. 6 hearing (The New York Times); Vox and union reach agreement (Deadline); ONA kicks off video series this week on how journalists can protect themselves from online abuse (Online News Association) 


What local news organizations are learning by guiding audiences to practical information

API will host an open Zoom discussion on Monday, June 27, at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) to discuss what local news organizations are learning about modern service journalism, or stories aimed at conveying practical information on topics like voting in a pandemic, hurricane preparedness and how people can access housing and health services. Much of this work is rooted in deep listening to community needs through engagement on various venues or platforms — for example, in-person, or via messaging apps or text — and experiments that can build momentum for greater work. We’ll hear from four organizations that participated in API’s Local News Ideas to Action Fund (2021) or Trusted Elections Network Fund (2020). Participants are encouraged to share questions ahead of time. 


San Francisco Chronicle initiative SFNext aimed at finding solutions to historic problems (The San Francisco Chronicle) 

The San Francisco Chronicle last week unveiled SFNext, a new initiative aimed at finding and discussing solutions to problems that the city has faced for years. For several months, writes editor-in-chief Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, The Chronicle has brought together groups of residents to explore “why one of the richest, most innovative cities in the world struggles to solve its most pressing issues.” The initiative will involve conversations in public events and on multiple platforms such as moderated social media channels, and will include public opinion polling and other features. People can sign up to receive a weekly newsletter for updates and opportunities to get involved. The announcement coincided with publication of the project’s initial installment, a deep dive on the city’s troubled downtown. 


Ukraine fears western support will fade as media loses interest in the war (The Guardian) 

Ukrainians are concerned that dwindling media attention could cause a drop in western support, Dan Sabbagh writes from Kyiv. Lesia Vasylenko, a member of parliament, said waning international media coverage has prompted fears that people would “get tired psychologically.” Ukraine is dependent on the west for both arms and humanitarian aid, which are especially important as Russia slowly makes gains in the war. Those close to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, such as military adviser Oleksiy Arestovych, were philosophical about the media fatigue, Sabbagh writes. “People are getting weary and tired, but we couldn’t care less. You don’t have to talk about us at all. Just give us the weapons,” Arestovych said. 


The cafe that helps beat writer’s block — by fining you $22 (The Wall Street Journal)

There’s a place in Tokyo where writers can go to get some work done — with the threat of a fine if they don’t meet their goals, writes Suryatapa Bhattacharya. The Manuscript Writing Cafe, which opened in April, attracts students, authors and others. When customers get there, they tell the proprietor their writing goals for the session, and then pay a fine if they don’t meet it. The cafe, Bhattacharya writes, has 10 seats and costs about $2 an hour, “or $4.50 an hour for a premium seat facing a brick wall.” Joe Sasanuma, a technology company lawyer who’s writing a legal book, said that for him, the approach worked. “Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe because I’m paying, but I sit down and immediately start typing,” Sasanuma said.


How science helps fuel a culture of misinformation (Nieman Lab) 

Misinformation and disinformation are often fueled by scientific institutions themselves, writes Joelle Renstrom. Scientists seeking tenure are incentivized to emphasize quantity over quality, and scientific journals — which compete for clicks just like other media — are inclined to go for the articles most likely to be downloaded and shared. Contributing to the problem, Renstrom says, is the use of “preprints,” or papers that haven’t yet been peer-reviewed. Most reporters and casual readers cannot distinguish unvetted papers from formally published ones, and when people do try to dig into the science, they find it increasingly difficult to understand, as researchers “pack them with more jargon than ever,” she says.


‘They keep threatening to arrest us.’ The obstacles facing local news in Uvalde (Poynter)

In Uvalde, Texas, reporters have had to deal with harassment and stonewalling from law enforcement, and the police have even discouraged victims’ families from talking to the media. Nora Lopez, executive editor of the San Antonio Express-News, told Amaris Castillo in a Q&A that members of motorcycle clubs who are believed to be former police officers have physically blocked reporters, and authorities have used fire engines to obstruct reporters’ view of the church, funeral home and cemetery. The Express-News continues to report on the disruption, she said, to inform the public but also “let the Uvalde city officials know that we’re not going to be scared away. In fact, we’re going to report on this and we will continue to go back.”

+ Related: How media should cover gun violence (NPR)