Need to Know: June 17, 2021


You might have heard: What a costly lawsuit against investigative reporting looks like (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: A national pro-bono media law network, meant to protect local news publishers and journalists, is in the works (RCFP)

Microsoft, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are partnering to form a pro-bono network that would provide free legal support to small publishers and journalists who otherwise could not afford it. Several nonprofit groups have expanded their free legal services in recent years to help financially strapped local news organizations, but are struggling to keep up with demand. This new partnership, funded by a $245,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will expand on a pilot program launched last year by Microsoft and Davis Wright Tremaine, which offered free services like pre-publication review, access to public records, and subpoena defense.

+ Noted: Report for America is partnering with Microsoft to “build capacity, provide technology and training in local newsrooms covering rural communities” (Twitter, @report4america); Podcasts will start coming to Facebook next week (The Verge); Spotify launches its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom (TechCrunch)


How customer service can build trust and engagement with audiences

Customer service representatives are on the front lines of audience engagement — audience members typically have far more contact with them than they do with journalists. In this report, we look at ways customer service can build audiences’ trust in your journalism, as well as how to tackle common problems with customer service departments at local news organizations. 

+ Today at 1 p.m. ET: API is hosting a free webinar about how to improve local government and accountability reporting by making it more audience-centered. The webinar kicks off our Local News Ideas-to-Action series, which will provide coaching and an opportunity to apply for funding.


BuzzFeed seeks editorial guidance from readers through its Summer Writers’ Challenge (Digiday)

In an effort to uncover new trends and potential coverage areas, BuzzFeed is launching a Summer Writers’ Challenge that would award participants up to $10,000 for content that goes viral. The challenge will play out in BuzzFeed Community, a hub that houses user-generated content like lists and quizzes. Content that rises to the top (as measured by page views) will be considered in BuzzFeed’s editorial planning. BuzzFeed Community contributors “can influence the direction of the site and kind of highlight trends” that BuzzFeed’s staff might be missing, said Peggy Wang, BuzzFeed’s executive director of growth and trends.

+ Earlier: WFAE’s community podcast competition sparked hundreds of new podcast ideas, revealed issues important to the community, and empowered residents of all ethnicities and backgrounds to share their stories (Better News)


Election fraud claims proliferate in Germany, Peru and Brazil (Poynter)

Fact-checkers in Germany, Brazil and Peru are contending with falsehoods that are eerily similar to those that spread in the United States during the 2020 presidential election; claims that mail-in voting is not secure, for example, or that elections officials were tampering with ballots. In Brazil, the fact-checking organization Agência Lupa partnered with Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court to train election officials how to spot and rebut claims of election fraud; recognizing that its work alone wouldn’t reach far enough.


Nextdoor is a major battlefield in the Covid vaccine wars (Nieman Lab)

Nextdoor, which Axios called the “next big social network” and is reportedly used by one in three American households, has flown under the radar when it comes to the misinformation that is so frequently called out on other social platforms. But the misinformation is there, particularly around the COVID-19 vaccine. “To address ‘vaccine hesitancy’ in America, you might want to start at the neighborhood level, where hesitancy has grown into militancy,” writes Jane Elizabeth. Elizabeth had used Nextdoor to offer information she had found about available vaccines nearby, but was quickly overwhelmed by users posting conspiracy theories about the vaccine, as well personal attacks and spam.


We need to complicate the ‘save local news’ mantra (Columbia Journalism Review)

Conversations about the demise of local news often focus too heavily on the question of supply and demand, writes Lauren Harris. Yes, there is both diminishing demand and diminishing supply — but rather than trying unsuccessfully to reverse both while keeping the product much the same, news professionals should be experimenting more with reimagining local news. “At present, a lot of local reporting suffers from a feedback loop in which margins shrink, coverage declines, and margins shrink some more,” Harris writes. “Something must change in order to connect readers to the democratic value that robust, localized reporting can offer, and that’s a challenge worthy of extra attention.”


Google tests article carousel for some author knowledge panels (Search Engine Land)

Google is experimenting with showing a carousel of journalists’ and authors’ recent articles below the “knowledge panels” that provide basic information about them. The feature, which is still in beta mode, will “help people learn more about an individual journalist or author by more prominently highlighting their recent work,” Google has said. It could also drive more traffic to publishers’ websites and articles, particularly in the case of well-known journalists.