Need to Know: March 19, 2021


You might have heard: Social media was already filling up with misinformation about a COVID-19 vaccine in May (The New York Times)

But did you know: Headlines lacking context are exploited by anti-vaccine activists to wrongly suggest danger (CNN)

A new study from the nonpartisan nonprofit Advance Democracy has found that headlines that suggest links between COVID-19 vaccines and other health problems are being weaponized by anti-vaccine groups online. News headlines that are technically accurate but lack sufficient context — such as a headline stating that someone has died after receiving the vaccine — are used by activists to create false connections. These articles can amass significant engagement online; the study found that three local news articles with these types of headlines gained 800,000 interactions on Facebook. Vaccine hesitancy has been falling, but polls show that 65% of people who do not plan to be vaccinated say it is due to concerns over side effects. 

+ Noted: Axios launches weekly Axios Latino newsletter in collaboration with Noticias Telemundo (Axios); Teen Vogue’s new top editor is out after backlash over old racist tweets (The Daily Beast); A journalist accused the LAPD of assault. Then police tried to have him prosecuted (The Los Angeles Times); AAJA encourages newsrooms to empower AAPI journalists and their expertise (AAJA) 


These newsrooms are finding out what conservatives think of their local journalism (Trusting News) 

Trusting News has announced the 28 newsrooms that will participate in its project to examine how conservatives feel about local news. The outlets are diverse in terms of geography, community size and platform, which will allow for analysis on the difference between conservatives in urban and rural environments, and between TV viewers, radio listeners and newspaper readers. Journalists from the newsrooms will be given an interview guide (which Trusting News has made available for anyone to use) and training to have conversations with conservatives in their community. Questions include “Do you see concerns and issues from your own life reflected in the news?” and “What do you think journalists/news organizations get wrong about conservatives?” 


How KPCC designed a new education beat in the middle of a pandemic (Medium, Engagement at KPCC) 

In 2020, KPCC/LAist launched a new education beat, covering pathways to college and equity in higher education. To determine the focus of the new beat, the outlet used human-centered design, a technique that relies on listening and understanding stakeholders in a given issue. For this project, that meant focusing on anyone who was considering higher education, which included both high school students from a variety of backgrounds and adults interested in going back to school. The team also interviewed current college students about their path and experiences getting into school. After some analysis, KPCC had four main takeaways — potential students need a way to feel more confident about their choices; many are navigating this process with little support; information in the early stages of decision-making is often unclear; and “higher education” encompasses more than traditional universities. 


What COVID-19 has shown about the divide between mainstream and multilingual media in Canada (J-Source) 

In a new research series, New Canadian Media explores the gaps in COVID-19 coverage and representation between mainstream and ethnic media, or media made for specific communities in a language other than English or French. The study showed that mainstream outlets had the resources to devote to more in-depth reporting and analysis around COVID-19 and vaccines, while ethnic media focused more on combating racist undertones in coverage of things like multi-generational households and essential workers. The research also found, while a small group of ethnic media outlets pushed vaccine hesitancy, ethnic media overall had been crucial to conveying public health messaging to multilingual audiences. 


Disinformation goes to Hollywood: Four lessons from journalism (First Draft News) 

In recent years, the journalism industry has become more cautious about spreading disinformation, and now the nonprofit Pathos Labs is helping apply these same practices to show business. Movies and television serve a different purpose than news stories, but they risk running into the same problems of legitimizing conspiracy theories and extremists. One key is to remember not to focus just on the perpetrators of extreme actions — such as the insurrectionists at the Capitol — but on the wider context that allows for such events to happen. Other tips include not humanizing bad actors such as white supremacists; being careful that your production can’t be used as propaganda by anyone who disagrees; and not dwelling too much on tragic personal narratives. 


‘Not racially motivated’?: The Atlanta spa shootings show why the media should be wary of initial police statements (The Washington Post) 

At a press conference on Wednesday, Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia said that the recent fatal shooting in Atlanta of eight people, including six Asian women, was not racially motivated because the suspect had said so. The initial round of reporting on the press conference repeated this assertion, giving authority to the idea that these attacks were not part of the rise in anti-Asian violence across the country. Margaret Sullivan writes that, even on tight deadlines, journalists need to be careful to not take everything from official sources at face value, but interrogate all statements with equal skepticism. And reporters need to be versed, before a crisis, on how to use careful language and look for diverse sources, especially when covering issues surrounding race. 


The New York Times is so done with its 77,000-member Facebook cooking group. What happens now? (Nieman Lab) 

Two years ago, The New York Times launched a cooking Facebook group, an offshoot of its popular NYT Cooking brand. Now, with 77,000 members, the newspaper has decided to step away from the group, telling members that they seek 10 to 20 volunteers to take over as moderators. Sam Sifton, the editor of NYT Cooking, told Times columnist Ben Smith that the group had become something distinct from the Times’s brand, and that it wasn’t viable for a staffer to spend time moderating Facebook comments when the group was no longer shown to be converting members into subscribers. Members of the group say that it had become increasingly contentious during the pandemic and 2020 presidential election, and speculated that “non-food-related arguments” had made moderating exhausting and unproductive. 


+ The Listening Post Collective’s Jesse Hardman on why collaborating with community members is the future of local news (Medium, Center for Cooperative Media)  

+ “Florida will always be wonderfully, unrelentingly weird”: Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen retires column after 36 years (Miami Herald) 

+ California State University’s student journalists launched a wire service, via Substack, to share their work with each other (Nieman lab) 

+ How STAT and The Atlantic “excelled at guiding readers through an unprecedented and scary pandemic” (CNN)