Need to Know: March 29, 2021

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


You might have heard: In February, election tech company Smartmatic sued Fox News, several of its stars and others for $2.7 billion (NPR)

But did you know: Dominion Voting Systems files $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News (NPR)

The lawsuit alleges that Fox News harmed Dominion during its 2020 presidential election election coverage, which spread false claims that the company was involved in voter fraud. In addition to the $1.6 billion, Dominion is seeking $1 million to cover expenses for security and combatting disinformation. Dominion also has sued Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, as well as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, over defamation claims related to the election.

+ Noted: Swiss billionaire to join hotelier’s bid for Tribune Publishing, potentially upending Alden Global Capital’s ownership plans (The New York Times); Los Angeles police detained four journalists who were covering a protest (Fox 11 Los Angeles); Some OneZero journalists are taking buyouts from Medium (@dlberes, Twitter)


Strategies for truth-telling in a time of misinformation and polarization

A local politician is attacking your coverage. Rumors about a disaster in your community are spreading on social media. Your comments section is a petri dish of polarization. These issues — media attacks, misinformation and polarization — all reinforce one another. Our report looks at some basic strategies for combating them.


Why do editorial boards look nothing like their communities? (Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute)

Editorial boards, which express viewpoints on political candidates, legislation and an array of other topics, often do not represent the diversity of their communities or transparently explain who is on the board. In one example, Chicago is 32% Black, but just one of The Chicago Tribune’s eight editorial board members is Black. University of Virginia media professor Meredith Clark said editorial boards are “another part of the paper that we need to think about in terms of disrupting the existing power structures and how that power is replicated.” Joy Mayer of Trusting News recommended community advisory boards as one solution for newsrooms to bring in more diverse perspectives and better serve their communities.

+ Earlier: Doubling down on local opinion journalism, McClatchy will create community advisory boards for every opinion team (Nieman Lab)


In these Latin American newsrooms, remote work is here to stay (International Journalists’ Network)

The pandemic led most Latin American newsrooms to move to a combination of virtual and in-person work. In Uruguay, El Observador permanently left its newsroom in December, and now its journalists work from offices in a co-working space a few times each week, which will allow the company to invest more in technology and human resources. The occasional in-person meetings became routine after the team saw that all-virtual work didn’t allow them to communicate enough. A bilingual newspaper in Costa Rica, La Voz de Guanacaste, lost 80% of its advertisers during the pandemic, leading the publication to close its office, stop printing and work remotely.


How social media platforms ‘control the terms’ of their political ad transparency (First Draft, Medium)

Facebook, Google and Snapchat have disclosed information about political advertisements, but First Draft researchers write that the data shared about those ads can be unreliable and has some “barriers to entry.” To access some Facebook ad information, researchers must know how to access the platform’s API or application programming interface, making those details inaccessible to people without those advanced skills. The data itself also may not tell the whole story behind an ad. Facebook advertisers can hide that they are funding ads by buying them using pages with different names.

+ After criticism over its moderation, Substack shared how it interprets its content guidelines (Substack)


Why modern objectivity conventions are broken (Jeremy Littau, Substack)

Jeremy Littau writes that rising anti-Asian violence has not received enough coverage, which he attributes to a sustained lack of diverse perspectives in mostly-white newsrooms. On the theory that it would lead to biased reporting, some newsrooms blocked Asian-American journalists from covering the Atlantia spa shootings. “The notion that identity is a disqualifier rather than an asset is nonsense on its face, but more importantly it is not universally applied,” Littau writes. (He points out that white male journalists wouldn’t be precluded from covering the attack because the shooter was a white male.) This perspective, he says, can lead newsrooms to continue framing stories in problematic ways and prevents them from pursuing the best possible coverage.

+ MLK50 editor Wendi C. Thomas asks who bears the responsibility for helping new journalists learn basic journalism skills (@wendi_c_thomas, Twitter)


Harassment of female journalists is putting news outlets to the test (Vanity Fair)

Editors are grappling with how to respond when their female reporters are harassed online, and since February, The New York Times and Washington Post both issued public statements in support of journalists who were being targeted. Several female journalists told Vanity Fair that major media companies aren’t doing enough to support them, and journalists are encouraged to ignore online abuse. The job of documenting escalating threats and attacks for law enforcement and social media companies is left to the women themselves, and it can be traumatic. Amid this lack of institutional support, female journalists have turned to group chats, Slack and Facebook groups to vent and find solidarity.