Need to Know: March 14, 2019

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


You might have heardTwitter is wondering whether Twitter is bad for society — and Jack Dorsey is starting new research to find out (Recode)

But did you know: Twitter reveals big changes to conversations and new camera features (NBC News)

Twitter is teasing some of the biggest changes to its social media service since it first launched in 2006, aiming to make good on the company’s promise to promote “healthy conversation,” reports Chiara Sottile. One of those changes moves the engagement counts for replies behind a tap. This change is designed to make Twitter a little friendlier, said Keith Coleman, Twitter’s head of consumer product. The company is also introducing new features to enhance pictures and video on the app in an effort to encourage users to make more use of the cameras on their smartphones. “We’ve really intentionally tried to make the images and footage that are captured on the ground at an event look different than other images and videos that you might attach to a tweet,” said Coleman. The updates will make the app more camera-centric, allowing users to add colors, captions, locations and hashtags in an overlay onto their photos, videos or live broadcasts.

+ Noted: Facebook’s data deals are under criminal investigation (New York Times); offers a new tool to hunt for topics readers want (Poynter); The Lenfest Institute for Journalism’s Solution Set is starting a news book club (Twitter, @ylichterman)


How the Seattle Times used a breaking news approach on enterprise reporting (Better News)

To better engage its audience, The Seattle Times blended the best of its Pulitzer-winning breaking news practices into the reporting of a major enterprise project on orca whales. The result was a mix of short breaking news updates and in-depth explanatory stories, as well as interactive elements like reader Q&As and a Facebook Live interview. During one week, the Times’ orca reporting accounted for nearly 20 percent of the site’s page views. The coverage also led to hundreds of new digital subscriptions, which is a major focus of the Times’ business strategy. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

+ Related: “I really think that what you need to do as a publication is serve the need for frequency and depth. Now, that doesn’t mean that every story has to be long. In fact, there’s something of a bell curve in the data that we’ve seen. Which means stories should be either quite short or quite long. It’s the mushy middle that hurts you.” (Local News Initiative)


Helping corrections catch up to mistakes in a social media world (News Co/Lab)

In February, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy made a cringing discovery: He’d based his harshly critical commentary about a Texas politician on what turned out to be incorrect government data. Hoping to maximize damage control, Kennedy worked with the News Co/Lab and another McClatchy property, the Kansas City Star, to chase down the error as it began to spread on social media. Using the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, they reached out directly to people with large followings who had shared the incorrect column, asking them to share the corrected version. The experiment showed that it’s possible to use social networks to spread corrections along the same paths as the original errors, but Kennedy and his colleagues realized their process may be too time-consuming for most newsrooms. “We need the help of the platforms where so much of the news spreads in the first place,” writes Dan Gillmor. “The platforms have everything they need to help corrections catch up with mistakes, and it would be to everyone’s benefit if they’d deploy the tools to make it happen.”

+ Decluttering for deliverability: the life-changing magic of tidying up your email list (M+R)


BBC Local News Partnerships: how breaking out of the London bubble can strengthen the news agenda (

Journalism — and life — very much happens outside of the world’s capitals. The mission of the BBC’s Local News Partnership is to connect with the stories developing outside the “London bubble.” Since the partnership’s launch in 2017, 102 organizations have signed up as local news partners, accounting for more than 850 regional titles, and more than 150 reporters have been hired to cover local government bodies for those publications. The local stories produced under the partnership have also informed the national agenda, particularly in cases when the reporting has revealed regional patterns or trends. “Because the BBC had access to this enormous stream of stories we were able to illustrate it much more effectively with examples from across England,” said Matthew Barraclough, head of the Local News Partnership, referring to a national story on social worker vacancies. “People can now not only see the overall picture but also dive into how it is appropriate and relevant to the area where they live.”

+ How Narendra Modi has almost killed the Indian media (Quartz)


Using mobile ‘microlearning’ for journalist training (Reynolds Journalism Institute)

For many — or even most — journalists, the biggest obstacle to training is lack of time. When resources are dwindling and work is piling up, the last thing journalists have time for is a daylong workshop or even an hourlong webinar. But what if they could take digital training in 5-minute chunks, delivered in a mobile-friendly format? While the idea of mobile microlearning has taken off in other industries, it hasn’t yet gotten traction in journalism, writes Linda Austin, project director of the Associated Press Media Editors’ NewsTrain and an RJI Fellow. Austin recently developed a training session, divided into 5-minute modules, on news writing for mobile audiences. Journalists can sign up for a sample of the lesson here, and Austin would deeply appreciate feedback on pricing. “Armed with that information, the next step is to seek funding to bring you a library of mobile microlearning courses in digital journalism,” she writes.


BuzzFeed and the digital media meltdown (Columbia Journalism Review)

We’ve arrived at new media’s latest sky-is-falling moment, writes David Uberti. As national newspapers push ahead with subscriptions, cable news goes all-in on politics, and the video-streaming wars heat up, venture-backed startups like Vice and Vox (and BuzzFeed) have tried to rebrand themselves as something other than digital-centric businesses. In the wake of doomsday proclamations across many corners of the media industry, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti on Friday published a new memo to staff that was no less grandiose in its billing: “How To Save The Internet.” He’s now evangelizing to a leery crowd, telling employees that, after a very recent round of layoffs, there will soon be “a period of long, sustained growth as a profitable establishment business.” Except many of them aren’t buying it: Interviews with a dozen current and former employees reveal a workforce increasingly skeptical of BuzzFeed’s business model, and cognizant that the line between a nimble strategy and unemployment is thin.


Kentucky State Police must hand over crime database to Courier Journal, judge rules (Louisville Courier Journal)

In a victory for the Louisville Courier Journal (and for Sunshine Week), a Franklin Circuit Court judge ruled that Kentucky State Police must provide the publisher with its entire database of 8 million citations and arrests since 2003. The state police agency had said it would be too time-consuming to manually redact Social Security numbers and other confidential information from its existing system and too expensive to create a new one that would allow it to be done electronically. But that was no excuse for Judge Thomas Wingate, who held that “case law is clear that an agency should not be able to rely on any inefficiency in its own internal record-keeping system to thwart an otherwise proper open records request.”