Need to Know: March 18, 2019

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


You might have heard: In 2018 Facebook drastically changed News Feed to make it “good for people” (and bad for most publishers) (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated — and very engaged! — News Feed (Nieman Lab)

It’s been a little over a year since Facebook announced major algorithm changes that would decrease the amount of news in News Feed, instead prioritizing non-publisher content that spurs engagement and provokes comments. A new report from social media tracking company NewsWhip shows that the turn toward what Facebook deemed more “meaningful interactions” has pushed up articles on divisive topics like abortion, religion, and guns; increased political chatter; and spurred significantly more “angry” reactions to posts, with “Fox News driving the most angry reactions of anyone, with nearly double that of anyone else.” The content that dominates the platform now might have risen even without an algorithmic boost, writes Laura Hazard Owen. But it’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s January 2018 exhortation that the time spent on Facebook be “time well spent” has not come to pass. “Instead, it’s often an angry, reactive place where people go to get worked up and to get scared.”

+ Noted: Nonprofit news site the Intercept, funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, cuts back (Columbia Journalism Review); Saudi Crown prince’s brutal drive to crush dissenters began before killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (New York Times); Slack says it removed dozens of accounts affiliated with hate groups (The Verge); News organizations, including The Associated Press, The Financial Times and Reuters, to form new coalition to spotlight world’s most threatened journalists (AP)


The case for an ‘About’ page on news websites (Poynter)

“Most news sites do not have a place online where they tell the public who they are, what they do and what they promise,” writes Kelly McBride. “For most newsrooms this is an oversight that has been neglected for too long.” Particularly in a time when journalists are hyper-focused on building trust, an About page is a critical opportunity to explain to audiences who you are and why your journalism is valuable. McBride likes NPR’s About section, which includes information about the organization’s finances as well as how to submit a correction; the Texas Tribune’s, which is pretty robust as well; and ProPublica’s, which is located in the main navigation bar, where most readers have been trained to look for it. She also includes a step-by-step guide to creating a decent About page — and if you’re looking for hands-on help, Poynter is making it available to three newsrooms.


BBC News shows that hard-hitting solutions journalism stories can thrive on social media (

Recent solutions-focused journalism projects at BBC aim to put a twist on how national and global topics can be reported, particularly when it comes to connecting with younger audiences. BBC has found success reaching young demographics by combining solutions journalism and social media-oriented content, said Jonathan Paterson, editor of digital video at BBC. Speaking at a recent conference, Paterson cited examples of high-performing videos that tackled long-standing issues from a solutions standpoint — “They don’t deny the problem, the problem is the starting point for those films,” he said, adding that the approach can be refreshing — and intriguing — for an audience weary of scrolling past endless negative takes on deeply entrenched problems.


Why the Pew Research Center created a two-week newsletter course on U.S. immigration (Lenfest Institute)

Last year, inspired by projects from other digital publishers, Pew created an email course on U.S. immigration. Over the course of two weeks, subscribers receive a series of seven emails explaining different topics related to immigration. The effort was part of an overall strategy to create a more accessible and reader-friendly path into its research so it could grow its audience. About 9,000 people signed up and the whole series averaged a 60 percent unique open rate. “The idea of boiling down what we know on a big, complicated, complex topic like that into a series of digestible, easily understandable emails seemed like it would be something worth experimenting with,” said Andrea Caumont, Pew’s senior social media editor. Pew is now planning to try this approach with other topics.


New Zealand massacre: Journalists divided on how to cover hate (Columbia Journalism Review)

Last week’s mass shooting at a New Zealand mosque appeared to be designed for internet virality — the shooter not only live-streamed the horrific killings on Facebook, he also posted his 74-page manifesto to multiple social media platforms. The act left journalists and misinformation experts divided over a question debated many times before: How much should journalists write about the details of the killings, and, in particular, about the killer’s delusional ideology? While almost everyone agreed that posting the actual video of the killings was beyond the pale, whether to report on the killer’s writing about his deed was another matter. Sociologists who study the way information spreads online — including Joan Donovan of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center and Whitney Phillips, who wrote a report for Data & Society last year titled, “The Oxygen of Amplification” — advised journalists not to quote from the killer’s writing.


Must newspapers die? A prescription for revitalizing local news (

There’s reason for great optimism that the business of local news can be reinvented, and the city of Philadelphia offers a model, writes Jim Friedlich. Four years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer was purchased by H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and rededicated to the people of Philadelphia. Lenfest likened this news enterprise to other civic treasures — a great orchestra, a renowned art museum, a world-class hospital or university — each supported by both earned revenue and philanthropy. He donated the Inquirer to the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and under this partnership the newspaper has been supported by Philadelphia donors large and small. “The newspaper is neither out of the woods financially nor ready to declare victory, but we believe we have put in place the building blocks of a sustainable local news operation,” writes Friedlich. “Our success will depend on the support of our community, just as our community’s success depends on a robust and free press. This reinvention of the business of local news has begun here in Philadelphia, but we suspect it will spread.”

+ The hottest chat app for teens is … Google Docs (The Atlantic); Sunshine Week shines: a journalism win that’s had a lasting impact (Poynter)