Need to Know: June 4, 2018

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


You might have heard: Canadian newsprint tariffs have started to take a toll on the US newspaper industry (LA Times) and Maine’s senators have introduced a bill to suspend the newsprint tariff (The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues)

But did you know: Times are getting tougher for rural newspapers (The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues)

For a decade or more, community newspapers — mostly in rural areas  — have been the strongest part of the traditional news business because they are usually the only reliable source of news about their communities, writes Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered as audiences move to digital and social media. Now community publishers are having to deal with perhaps the greatest collective threat they have ever faced, a newsprint tariff that has raised their printing costs by about 20 percent, says Cross. There are efforts in Congress to suspend or overturn the tariff on Canadian newsprint. The outcome is unclear. But what has become clear is that there is more worry among rural newspapers than ever before about their future.

+ Noted: UNC to launch a searchable database of newspapers and online news sites in late June to track the spread of news deserts (Poynter); Facebook is getting rid of its highly controversial Trending module (Facebook); Facebook and publishers are nearing deals on news shows for Watch (Wall Street Journal); White House press briefings got shorter in May for the fourth straight month (The Washington Post)


To make beat writing more compelling, let’s rescue the offbeat story (Poynter)

“We all know what is going on in the news business: fewer reporters and editors, shrinking news holes, many corners that have been cut,” writes Roy Peter Clark. “With a smaller staff, editors are challenged to cover the essential beats, with little time or room for something lighter, weirder, or more surprising … The more pressure on news staff, the more valuable is the offbeat story.” Clark says the value of the offbeat story is that it surprises the reader, invigorates the writer and more.


WhatsApp is a black box for fake news, but Verificado 2018 is making real progress fixing that (Nieman Lab)

Fake news on WhatsApp is a really hard problem to solve, writes Laura Hazard Owen. News is spread in private exchanges and messages are encrypted, making it impossible to know how what’s being spread or how many people are seeing it. WhatsApp is also by far the most popular social platform in many countries — including Mexico, which holds its general election July 1 (with more than 10,000 candidates for general and local office). Verificado 2018, a collaborative election reporting and fact-checking initiative led by Animal Político, AJ+ Español, and Pop-Up Newsroom, is trying to intervene in the spread of fake news on WhatsApp.

+ How Zimbabwe’s Magamba TV produces political satire for a new social media-connected generation (Nieman Lab)


Automation will make lifelong learning a necessary part of work (Harvard Business Review)

Shifts in skills are not new: we have seen such a shift from physical to cognitive tasks, and more recently to digital skills. But the coming shift in workforce skills could be massive in scale. To give a sense of magnitude: more than one in three workers may need to adapt their skills’ mix by 2030, which is more than double the number who could be displaced by automation — and lifelong learning of new skills will be essential for all, according to research from Jacques Bughin, Susan Lund and Eric Hazan.

+ Facebook gave device makers deep access to data on users and friends (The New York Times); Microsoft is said to have agreed to acquire GitHub (Bloomberg)


The case for quarantining extremist ideas (The Guardian)

“Newsrooms must understand that even with the best of intentions, they can find themselves being used by extremists. By contrast, they must also understand they have the power to defy the goals of hate groups by optimizing for core American values of equality, respect and civil discourse,” argue Joan Donovan and Danah Boyd.” All Americans have the right to speak their minds, but not every person deserves to have their opinions amplified, particularly when their goals are to sow violence, hatred and chaos … In this era of increasing violence and extremism, we appeal to editors to choose strategic silence over publishing stories that fuel the radicalization of their readers.”


Why The New York Times collected ISIS’ internal documents, and what happens next (The New York Times)

The recent publication of “The ISIS Files,” an investigation by The Times’ Rukmini Callimachi into thousands of internal Islamic State documents, led to a thought-provoking conversation among readers on the ethical and legal considerations journalists make when reporting in a war zone. The Times invited readers to submit questions for its journalists and Callimachi and international editor Michael Slackman respond.

+ Earlier: A U.S. journalist took thousands of ISIS files out of Iraq, reigniting a bitter dispute over the theft of Iraqi history (The Intercept)

+ Do journalists make good entrepreneurs? Q&A with four current and former journalists on how business and editorial skills overlap (Columbia Journalism Review); 10,000 Trump false statements by the end of his term? Washington Post fact-checker says it’s possible (Poynter); Puerto Rico’s devastation takes a backseat to Roseanne coverage (Columbia Journalism Review)