Need to Know: June 18, 2018

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


You might have heard: In April 30 percent of The Denver Post staff was laid off and the newspaper’s hedge-fund owners interfered in the editorial process (CityLab) and Civil promises that you don’t have to care about blockchain to care about what it’s doing (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Five former Denver Post reporters and three editors to launch The Colorado Sun by the end of the year, funded by blockchain-based media startup Civil (The New York Times)

Reporters and editors who left The Denver Post are creating their own news outlet, The Colorado Sun. They will be partnering with the Civil Media Company, an ambitious New York start-up that aims to use blockchain technology and crypto economics to start 1,000 publications nationwide by the end of the year. The new publication will have a conventional website whose data will be written permanently into the secure digital ledger known as the blockchain. Expenses for the fledgling outlet will be covered by a grant from Civil, whose sole investor, for now, is ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based blockchain software technology company founded by the Canadian entrepreneur Joseph Lubin.

+ Noted: Sale of the LA Times to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong to close on Monday (LA Times); Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen suspended after review finds fabrications about the Boston Marathon bombings (The New York Times); Nuzzel’s new ranking system scores news sources on “authority” (TechCrunch); Sun-Times sells Chicago Reader to African-American group (Robert Feder)


Micropayments bring in new readers, activate subscribers for Winnipeg Free Press (INMA)

A year after introducing its micropayment system, the Winnipeg Free Press has 35,000 subscribers to its digital content. It was the first Canadian newspaper to monetize its content via micropayments with impressive results. Christian Panson, vice president of digital and technology at Winnipeg Free Press issued a caution: “Micropayment isn’t that silver bullet that will suddenly save publishers and keep them alive — but it can help, and as a tool it’s quite effective.” The Winnipeg Free Press paywall is a hybrid system, with micropayments as a small but important part of that system.

+ Startup hopes to foster dialogue among commenters via a plugin that tracks how much of the article has been read and a homepage for debate (Nieman Lab); Publishers turn to Hollywood talent agencies for help breaking into TV (Digiday); The raccoon that climbed the MPR building in St. Paul is now helping to support public radio (MPR Radio)


Why local journalism makes a difference: Overseas news coverage requires reporters who speak local languages and understand local customs so that information is filtered in a culturally appropriate way (Nieman Reports)

When one culture sets the standard for truth (and implements that standard regardless of location), the narratives that culture culls from others are likely to be warped, writes Krista Kapralos. This is especially true in journalistic reporting and research, which is largely governed by Western media groups and major international agencies that collect and analyze data based on Western standards, Kapralos says. It’s natural for the person who collects information to filter that data through her own experiences. That’s one reason why every reporter at Global Press Journal is from the community on which she reports: When you speak the local language and understand local customs, the information you gather is filtered in a culturally appropriate way.

+ French media plan to meet with the government over Google-GDPR concerns (Digiday)


A computer program that learns to ‘imagine’ the world shows how AI can think more like us (MIT Technology Review)

Machines will need to get a lot better at making sense of the world on their own if they are ever going to become truly intelligent, writes Will Knight. DeepMind, the AI-focused subsidiary of Alphabet, has taken a step in that direction by making a computer program that builds a mental picture of the world all by itself. You might say that it learns to imagine the world around it. The system, which uses what DeepMind’s researchers call a generative query network, looks at a scene from several angles and can then describe what it would look like from another angle. This might seem trivial, but it requires a relatively sophisticated ability to learn about the physical world. In contrast to many AI vision systems, the DeepMind program makes sense of a scene more the way a person does.


‘How the conventions of political journalism help spread Trump’s lies’ (Washington Post)

“Trump’s allies have widely cited the inspector general’s findings about the now-infamous texts between an FBI agent and lawyer as not just proof of anti-Trump bias at the FBI during the Clinton investigation, but also to bolster Trump’s argument that the Mueller probe into Russia-Trump campaign collusion is suspect,” writes Greg Sargent. ”Many news accounts inadvertently grant these arguments credibility, not just by quoting them, but also by claiming as fact that the conduct in question actually does lend support to those arguments. Yes, they also convey that the inspector general’s overall conclusion undercuts the Trumpian narrative. But the straddle itself is the problem. It showcases a convention often relied upon in political journalism — the use of the ‘lends fodder’ formulation to float false claims alongside true ones — that has to go.”

+ “Facebook and Google must do more to support Wikipedia” (Wired); Instead of Trump’s propaganda, how about a nice “truth sandwich?” (Washington Post)


Facebook’s screening for political ads nabs news sites instead of politicians (ProPublica)

Facebook’s new screening policies to deter manipulation of political ads are creating problems. The company’s human reviewers and software algorithms are catching paid posts from legitimate news organizations that mention issues or candidates, while overlooking straightforwardly political posts from candidates and advocacy groups. Participants in ProPublica’s Facebook Political Ad Collector project submitted 40 ads that should have carried disclaimers under the social network’s policy, but didn’t. Facebook may have underestimated the difficulty of distinguishing between political messages and political news coverage — and the consternation that failing to do so would stir among news organizations.

+ Oregon’s dwindling statehouse reporters are “treading water” (Columbia Journalism Review); The rise, fall and possible rebirth of The Cannabist, once the darling of the cannabis media industry (Poynter)