Need to Know: June 17, 2019

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


You might have heard: Through a two-question survey, Facebook relied on users to help it rate the credibility of news organizations (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Facebook will rate the credibility of individual journalists as well as news orgs (

At the GEN Summit in Athens, Greece, Facebook’s Jasper Doub laid out a series of actions the company plans to take to help news publishers monetize content on the platform, including a dedicated space for news, a subscription tool, and a curated-by-hand “news index” emphasizing trustworthy news sources. “We look to treat trustworthy reporters and news organisations differently,” said Doub. “It’s not only about the New York Times or Der Spiegel, we also look at individual journalists.” The announcement sparked instant distrust among journalists on Twitter, who cast doubt on Facebook’s role as a curator of trustworthy news providers. “Attributing trust through human curation may well be better than attributing trust through links…but do we trust Facebook’s trust?” tweeted Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

+ Noted: “Frontline,” PBS’s acclaimed investigative documentary series, launches new local journalism project (PR Newswire); University of Florida allocates $200k to its student newspaper (The Independent Florida Alligator); Vox ratifies landmark first contract with union (Writers Guild of America, East)


Writing a privacy policy that isn’t an ‘incomprehensible disaster’ (New York Times)

A New York Times investigation found that most privacy policies are so full of jargon and legalese that they exceed the standard college reading level. But it commended the BBC’s, which reporter Kevin Litman-Navarro described as “unusually readable … written in short, declarative sentences, using plain language.” Litman-Navarro used the Lexile test to measure the complexity of privacy policies from a variety of organizations, based on factors like sentence length and vocabulary. The test can be a useful tool for writing a policy that is easily understood by readers.


As the Christchurch massacre trial begins, New Zealand news orgs vow to keep white supremacist ideology out of their coverage (Nieman Lab)

The New Zealand media, preparing for a lengthy trial of the man accused of the Christchurch mosque massacres, have published a set of ground rules for limiting the spread of the white supremacist and terrorist ideologies. They won’t cover, broadcast or print messages, including images, symbols or gestures, made by the accused and his supporters, including his manifesto (which has been banned in New Zealand). Many have also downplayed placement of stories about the trial, or framed them from the perspective of survivors. “What was interesting was how quickly we were able to agree,” said Paul Thompson, CEO and editor-in-chief of RNZ, New Zealand’s public broadcaster. “Normally getting [New Zealand’s major publishers] to agree is like herding cats, but this was a special case where we quite quickly got onto the same page. We’re going to do our job — we won’t chill our coverage in any way — but we’re not going to spread hate or misinformation.”

+ News app offers Financial Times, Economist and Bloomberg content under one paywall (PressGazette)


Bad science writing sometimes starts with press releases (Vox)

What scientists report in studies and what journalists report in their articles can look like a game of broken telephone. But exaggerated or misrepresented claims about scientific findings can often be traced back to university press releases, says Chris Chambers, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cardiff University and co-author of a recent study on the topic. Chambers and his colleagues found that when university press releases are made clearer, more accurate, and free of hype, science news reported by journalists gets better as well. “I think what we need is to establish that the responsibility [to be accurate] lies with everyone,” Chambers says. “The responsibility lies with the scientists to ensure that the press release is as accurate as possible. The responsibility lies with the press officer to ensure that they listen to the scientist. And then the science journalists need to be responsible for making sure they read the original article to the best of their ability and deflate exaggeration as much as possible.”

+ Last week in this column we included a story by Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News, on creating better training and support for journalists. Except we linked to the wrong article. Here’s the right link (and if you’re involved in the professional development of journalists, it’s definitely worth a read). (Medium, Engaged Journalism Lab)


Joe Biden and the ‘electability’ delusion — and why the media keep making the same mistake (Washington Post)

“For months now, I’ve heard network news chiefs, and political editors and reporters of all stripes, insist — often as they sat on soul-searching journalism panels — that it would be different this time: less horse race, more listening to the American people’s concerns,” writes Margaret Sullivan. But the media coverage depicting Joe Biden as almost a shoo-in for a nomination that’s more than a year away suggests that the media is making the same mistake it did in 2016 — depending too much on early polling (although some outlets, including The Washington Post) have refrained from describing Biden as a “front-runner” at this early stage). While there does seem to be more effort from news outlets to get out and speak to voters across the country, the excitement over the latest polls is beginning to drive the same self-perpetuating effect as in 2016, Sullivan says, in which the candidate leading the early polls commands the lion’s share of media coverage.


The two new bills in Congress that propose a helping hand for the news industry (Columbia Journalism Review)

After witnessing the quantity and quality of local journalism decline over his career in local and state politics, in 2018 California Congressman Mark DeSaulnier formed The Working Group on Saving Local News. The congressional group is behind the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which would give news organizations more negotiating power with platforms like Google and Facebook; as well as The Saving Local News Act, which would make it easier for news organizations to achieve nonprofit status. However, the bills take a somewhat oblique approach to the news industry’s woes, writes Andrew McCormick, and the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in particular has earned criticism as well as praise from the media industry. DeSaulnier says that in the coming months his working group will reach out to journalism schools and industry stakeholders across the country to solicit more ideas that might prove a boost.