Need to Know: March 12, 2019

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


You might have heardThe Corporation for Public Broadcasting is on a White House hit list for elimination (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Trump wants to kill federal funding for PBS and NPR (again); it won’t happen, but it’s still damaging (Nieman Lab)

In a new federal budget proposal, the Trump administration is expected to recommend, for the third time, eliminating all federal funding for public broadcasting. While the proposal is even more likely to fail this time, the focus on killing funding for public broadcasting is a risky one, writes Josh Benton. In a time of intense political polarization and general skepticism toward the media, public broadcasting remains a highly trusted American institution. A 2014 Pew study found that, among 36 national news organizations, NPR and PBS finished No. 3 and No. 4 in a ranking of the most trusted; a 2017 Mizzou study ranked them No. 5 and No. 6 of 28 major news outlets. A Knight-Gallup survey last year found that, of 17 news organizations, PBS and NPR ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the number of people who said they are “not biased at all.” The Trump budget proposal threatens that trust, writes Benton, by framing public media as a partisan issue and encouraging people to think of it through a political lens, instead of as users and consumers of a public utility.

+ Noted: CNN expands Twitter partnership around viral moments (Axios); Journalists cash in on Trump’s Washington (Axios); Fox News host Tucker Carlson uses racist, homophobic language in second set of recordings (Washington Post)


Stanford initiative collects and cleans data to aid local reporting (Medium, Global Editors Network)

The Big Local News, a new initiative from Stanford University, aims to boost local accountability journalism by gathering and analyzing government data to share with local newsrooms. The initiative is also offering data journalism training and partnering with newsrooms to work on specific reporting projects — an increasingly common type of collaboration in an age where local newsrooms don’t have the resources to tackle long-term investigations on their own. “A key sticking point is that data comes in messy formats and cleaning and processing the data is time-prohibitive,” writes Caroline Brizard. “Big Local News works to help take care of that step  —  cleaning and normalising data as much as possible.”  

+ Earlier: How the AP’s database gets localized data to newsrooms and helps them make the best use of it (Poynter)

+ This Friday, the Reynolds Journalism Institute will offer a live demo on Facebook of its TweetstoText Twitter bot (still in beta), which gathers up tweets into a text file so they can be easily compiled into a story (Facebook, Reynolds Journalism Institute)


How Tortoise Media crowdfunded half a million pounds by promising to be more inclusive (Engaged Journalism Lab)

Independent British media outlet Tortoise wanted to cultivate a young, dedicated audience to fund its journalism, meant to serve as an antidote to the daily hectic news cycle and to showcase diverse perspectives. The newsroom finds diverse stories partly through its “ThinkIns,” a series of editorial conferences that are open to the public — an initiative that it emphasized in its crowdfunding campaign to appeal to the under-30 crowd. But it also created a cheaper membership package just for that audience. Sure enough, the under-30 package was the most popular, with 40 percent of members taking up the one-year or five-year offer. However, the under-30 price point was also divisive and they received feedback from backers asking why the step-up was so steep. The team responded by explaining that there had to be a cut-off somewhere and that other organizations do similar packaging. They also offered an “early bird” package at a similar price point.


Will Bibles designed for the Instagram generation get millennials into religion? (Vox)

When Brian Chung was working as a campus minister at the University of Southern California, he would frequently note the underwhelmed expressions of students receiving copies of the New Testament. They’d take the book and flip through the pages. Faced with small fonts and outdated language, they’d snap it shut, hand it back, or toss it, disinterestedly, in their backpack. “I thought there must be a better way,” said Chung. Working with another graphic designer, Chung created a version of the Bible to appeal to visually-oriented millennials: The pages are clean and spacious, and the religious texts are placed next to original photography that’s solemn yet alluring — emitting a “Kinfolk-inspired, vaguely Scandinavian vibe” that would not be out of place in a coffee shop or a fashion boutique, writes Chavie Lieber. Chung’s new company, Alabaster, expects to sell nearly $1 million worth of the Bibles this year. “We are all on our iPhones, but we also respond really well to visual imagery, and so it has to really grasp our attention,” said Chung. “If it does, it can change the way we think.”


Behind the behind-the-story stories (Columbia Journalism Review)

Noting the growing trend of “behind the scenes” or “how we did it” stories, Alex Pareene set out to learn the reasons news outlets have recently been at such pains to do them. He found they’re often written from a defensive standpoint, to protect against accusations of bias or worse, or as an act of “reader education” — an attempt “to teach media literacy to people deeply hostile to the media.” Unfortunately, Pareene argues, that audience is likely so steeped in their own “alternative media” that they will “only ever encounter your reporting through its treatment in that parallel media; they won’t just disbelieve that your reporters were diligent and fair in their reporting, they’ll never even see you make the claim … It’s like trying to explain how you derived heliocentrism from your telescopic observations of the phases of Venus — to the Inquisition.”

+ Related: Our study shows that the public is largely receptive to “how we did it” stories: 68 percent of news consumers think the media should offer more information about sources, and 48 percent think journalists should explain how a story was reported


‘The Daily Show’ as a news source? (Poynter)

At South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah acknowledged in a session with CNN’s Jake Tapper that his Comedy Central show is a primary news source for many of its viewers. For some, that knowledge may elicit groans, but Noah says his mission goes beyond getting laughs. As a native of South Africa, he said he’d like Americans to be as engaged and as informed as he was growing up. “In South Africa, we know what was happening in the world,” he said. “I would like to create a show and I strive to create a show that informs you about what’s happening in your world.” To that end, Noah wants more international news on the show and to detail what’s happening with the Democratic Party going into the 2020 presidential election. But he said he’d keep humor as a central element: “I’m not trying to create a straight-up news show. If you can’t laugh at what’s going on, you’ll go crazy; you’ll be crying all the time.”

+ In honor of Sunshine Week (March 10-16), a look at how public records have been behind some of the biggest headlines of the year, and how those stories can inspire a whole new crop of reporting (MuckRock)