Need to Know: March 26, 2021


You might have heard: Headlines lacking context are exploited by anti-vaccine activists (CNN) 

But did you know: Articles connecting vaccines and death are gaining traction online (NPR) 

While there has been no scientific link between any COVID-19 vaccine and death, articles that connect the two — covering someone who happens to die shortly after receiving the vaccine, for example — have become some of the most viral stories online, according to an analysis by NPR. In an attempt to get past moderators, those looking to push an anti-vaccine narrative are cherry-picking such isolated incidents to promote and spread. On March 11, for instance, six of the 20 most popular social media stories were all about a woman in Utah who died several days after receiving her second vaccine. Researchers have dubbed this method “lying through truth.” 

+ Noted: HuffPost taps The Root’s Danielle Belton as new editor-in-chief (The Daily Beast); Journalists at the medical news site Stat will join The Boston Globe’s union (The New York Times); ProPublica selects three new partners for its Local Reporting Network (ProPublica); Media startups Axios and the Athletic discuss merger (Wall Street Journal) 


How the press and public can find common purpose

Journalism’s future depends on how Americans view its contribution to democracy and their communities. Our survey, conducted in collaboration with NORC at the University of Chicago, examined several data points around this issue, including how Americans feel about the accountability role of the press and their own ability to question political leaders and improve their communities.  


How Poynter’s new newsletter is amplifying the voices we need the most (Poynter) 

Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at Poynter, has launched The Collective, a monthly newsletter by and for journalists of color. The goal is to amplify voices that are not already being heard; in her introduction, Truong asked writers for their stories of being “The Only” or about their emotional labor. The newsletter will also feature a “Council of Truth-Tellers” to answer anonymous reader questions. Truong is particularly interested in ensuring that journalists of color who may work in an otherwise white newsroom are empowered to speak up and know that others are going through similar issues. 


How South Africa’s The Daily Vox tripled its email audience (SAMIP) 

The Daily Vox, a youth media outlet in South Africa, has attracted most of its audience via social media. But when the publication decided to re-launch its weekly newsletter, it used some “best practices” of newsletter publishing to triple its email audience in only a few months. One of the keys was having the newsletter editor write a personal reflection on the day’s news. When she asked readers how they were handling the pandemic, many responded directly. Another successful tactic was revamping the look of the newsletters to include more photos and less text. The site also saw an uptick in subscribers at the beginning of the academic year after writing a series of stories for incoming students. 


Social media disinformation discussions are going in circles. Here’s how to change that. (Slate) 

One of the key problems with fighting misinformation online is a lack of data, write Jon Bateman and Craig Newmark. Studies that show how people react to disinformation online — and then how well countermeasures work in curbing or disproving that disinformation — are difficult to arrange when private companies refuse to allow access to their data. The data they do release is often skewed by business interests. Another issue is a lack of funding; universities don’t reward scholarship into social network maps or changes in algorithms. Outside funding often comes as short-term grants, making it harder for large-scale research to be done. Bateman and Newmark suggest that the big social media companies set up an independent organization to study misinformation in a way that is accessible to the public.


Why the media wants a crisis at the border (The New Republic) 

As coverage of the U.S.-Mexico border has ramped up in recent weeks, Alex Shephard writes that the national media is insistent on considering the situation a “crisis” after two relatively uneventful months in the Biden presidency. Shepherd writes that these news outlets don’t provide context for the current number of people crossing the border, such as the regular seasonal shifts in migration and the effects of severe weather or Central American violence on migration patterns. Instead, the press has allowed the story to become a political showdown between two parties, rather than a humanitarian issue with complex roots and no easy answers. 


How at-home pandemic recordings are changing public media’s standards for audio quality (Current) 

With so many people working from home, the expectations for public television and radio have changed in the last year. Construction sounds, pets and other noisy interruptions have become commonplace, as have more casual forms of recording like recorded phone calls. While some innovations have made it easier to record high-quality sound remotely, editors have also found that listeners and viewers are forgiving of less-than-pristine quality. Public radio has also worked to educate guests on the best methods for self-recording audio. 


+ Chalkbeat founder Elizabeth Green believes treating, and funding, local journalism as a public good will usher in a wave of much-needed civic engagement and change (DAME)

+ Build for a crisis: Ideas for the future of local news (Nieman Lab) 

+ Ibram Kendi redefined “racist.” Now he’s trying to build a newsroom. (The New York Times) 

+ “I’m afraid to open Twitter”: Next-level harassment of female journalists is putting news outlets to the test (Vanity Fair)