Need to Know: March 25, 2021

OFF THE TOP

You might have heard: Negativity is a top reason why audiences experience “news fatigue” (Time)

But did you know: The U.S. media has a ‘bad news bias’ (The New York Times)

Pandemic coverage from U.S. media outlets with national audiences is overwhelmingly negative — more so than scientific journals, major international publications orand regional U.S. media, a new study has found. For example, when COVID-19 cases were rising in the U.S., the news coverage emphasized the increase. When cases were falling, the coverage instead focused on those places where cases were still rising. It’s not that journalists are reporting falsehoods, says Bruce Sacerdote, one of the researchers — but they’re being selective about which facts to emphasize. One of the reasons journalists so often select negative facts is because “doom and gloom” stories simply bring in more readers, writes David Leonhardt. But, he adds, this “bad news bias” is doing a disservice to audiences by not giving them the complete story.

+ Noted: The Committee to Protect Journalists and the News Leaders Association have launched the U.S. Press Freedom Accountability Project, which offers small grants to journalists reporting on threats to press freedom within the U.S. (NLA); Inside the “confounding” search for Marty Baron’s successor at The Washington Post (Vanity Fair)

API UPDATE

How KXLY-TV reaches a busy audience with a handcrafted newsletter (Better News)

Looking to grow its digital audience, local news station KXLY-TV in Spokane, Wash., created a newsletter tailored to “Chelsea” — a fictional busy mom in her late 30s or early 40s who represents part of KXLY-TV’s target audience. Working with its digital sales department, the editorial team built a product that was successful in quickly attracting sign-ups and driving pageviews. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from Table Stakes, the newsroom training program; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.

TRY THIS AT HOME

Try acknowledging commenters’ emotions (Center for Media Engagement)

Journalists are often expected to engage with readers online — and if their job duties involve audience engagement, required to do so — but the experience can be exhausting, unpleasant and worse, as incivility, hostility and even threats can quickly take over. But short of disbanding comment sections or social media groups (which many news organizations have done), one tip for disarming angry commenters is to acknowledge their emotion with a simple statement like, “I recognize that you’re angry, but let’s try to keep an open mind.” A recent study from the Center for Media Engagement found that doing this led to more positive attitudes toward the news outlet and its handling of the comment thread.

OFFSHORE

How Ethiopian news media have become dangerously divided along ethnic fault lines (Reuters Institute)

Ethiopian media outlets are increasingly framing stories around ethnic belonging and identity politics, a new report from Addis Ababa University and NLA University College found. Journalists at the Ethiopian outlets studied are also starting to form alliances along regional and ethnic fault lines, and are more inclined to use sources that support their own ideological interests and to avoid quoting sources from other ethnicities, which could balance the story. Researchers worry that a media divided along ethnic fault lines could lead to an “us versus them” mentality, setting off a “vicious cycle of polarisation” in the country.

OFFBEAT

‘Slack now lets you DM anyone. So long, work-life balance’ (Wired)

Slack Connect, a new feature that lets anyone send anyone a direct message, officially launched yesterday, to the extreme disgruntlement of Media Twitter. Aside from its privacy flaws that the company is now scrambling to fix, it’s worth asking how useful the new feature really is, writes Lauren Goode. Slack is already viewed by many as more of a distraction and hindrance to productive work; the platform is also blamed for further blurring the boundaries between work and personal life. Slack Connect will exacerbate both problems, writes Goode: “Slack Connect is probably great for enabling more work. That part seems clear. It’s more work. And if you missed the memo on that, don’t worry; I’ll send it through another channel.”

UP FOR DEBATE

Substack is only a ‘scam’ in the same way that all media is (New York Magazine)

The revelation last week that Substack was secretly paying a handful of its most popular writers a salary caused many of its writers to leave the platform in protest and others to call its business model a scam. But the same dynamic occurs in traditional media, Eric Levitz argues. There is an oversupply of young journalists entering the field, who are willing to intern for free or be paid poverty-level wages. Most of those journalists will never attain the financial security of their publications’ big-name writers — but like those on Substack who are attempting to build large followings from scratch, it doesn’t stop them from trying. “There may be something distasteful about the fact that Substack benefits from journalists’ financial desperation,” writes Levitz. But the core problem, he says, is that the media industry at large sets up star pundits with cultivated social media followings for success, while talented investigative and state-level political reporters go unemployed.

+ The mess at Medium: 14 current and former staffers on what went wrong (Casey Newton, Platformer)

SHAREABLE

Journalists in small Vermont town raise ethical questions over local reporter’s resignation (VTDigger)

The Charlotte News is a nonprofit newspaper that has attracted several nationally renowned journalists to serve on its board of directors. But those journalists resigned in protest last week, alleging that other members of the board interfered inappropriately with reporting decisions and caused one reporter to walk off the job. As nonprofit newsrooms proliferate in smaller communities, ethical issues around volunteer board members trying to influence coverage could become more prevalent, says media ethicist Kelly McBride. McBride said she has heard from a growing number of journalists in nonprofit newsrooms who have described powerful people with conflicts of interest seeking to influence their reporting.