Need to Know: March 3, 2020


You might have heard: A “management transition” is the latest gloomy sign to come out of Tribune Publishing (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: How a pair of investigative reporters are trying to save the Chicago Tribune (New Yorker)

David Jackson and Gary Marx, the Chicago Tribune’s premier investigative reporters, are racing down the clock to June 30. That’s when Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with a history of buying up newsrooms and stripping them down, will likely acquire a majority share in Tribune Publishing. Hunkered in a conference room at the Tribune’s offices, the pair place call after call to the city’s economic elite, on the search for someone to buy and ultimately save the Tribune. “We’re dialling for dollars,” Marx explains. “Trying for miracles.”

+ Related: Tribune will report its 2019 earnings this afternoon (Tribune)

+ Noted: U.S. places unprecedented restrictions on Chinese journalists (Axios); Coronavirus fears lead to another journalism conference cancellation, this time in Perugia (Nieman Lab); Major U.S. newsrooms are scaling back travel and asking journalists to take precautions against coronavirus (Daily Beast); Poynter receives funding from Google News Initiative to help local newsrooms reach new, younger audiences through video (Poynter); Chris Matthews retires from MSNBC after string of recent controversies (CNN)


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Covering the coronavirus epidemic effectively: Define terms and talk to nurses (Open Notebook)

The coronavirus epidemic will be one of the most urgent, complex and fast-moving stories of the year. Laura Helmuth, science editor for The Washington Post, emphasizes the importance of translating scientific terms for a broad audience (avoid picking up the language of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health authorities) and contextualizing information whenever possible. Interviewing nurses can help with this: “Journalists typically quote doctors rather than nurses as expert sources, even when nurses’ experience and knowledge is more relevant. Especially with infectious disease control, nurses can offer critical information and perspective.”

+ The New York Times explains the measures some of its reporters and editors take to remain objective in their work (New York Times)


The Australian Associated Press will close, wire service tells staff it is no longer viable (Guardian)

AAP will close in June, after major shareholders Nine Entertainment and News Corp Australia announced yesterday that they were withdrawing their investment in the 85-year-old news agency. The arrival of search engines, aggregators and social media has rendered the AAP less relevant, and sources say that Nine Entertainment’s recent merger with Fairfax Media make it even less so. The AAP is a “place like no other in journalism,” said editor-in-chief Tony Gillies. “We exist for the public’s interest and I now fear for the void left by the absence of AAP’s strong, well-considered voice.”

+ These fact-checkers show why newsroom collaboration is necessary to fight misinformation (Nature Asia)


4 in 10 Americans visited untrustworthy news websites shortly before the 2016 election (Nature Human Behavior)

A new study measures how many Americans were exposed to untrustworthy news websites during the 2016 presidential campaign. The study found that about 44% of Americans visited such sites in the final weeks of the campaign, and they were overwhelmingly likely to visit sites that reflected their own political views. However, the information represented only about 6% of their overall news diet. Trump supporters were far more likely to visit untrustworthy news sites, and they were often sent to such sites from Facebook. Overall, untrustworthy conservative news sites made up 11% of Trump supporters’ news diets in the lead-up to the election.

+ Most Americans oppose micro-targeting in political ads (Gallup) — did you hear that, Brad Parscale? (New Yorker)


Trump is pushing a dangerous, false spin on coronavirus — and the media is helping him spread it (Washington Post)

President Trump and his spokespeople are attempting to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus, writes Margaret Sullivan. It’s more important than ever to responsibly report on Trump’s false and misleading statements about the epidemic. Use the “truth sandwich” approach, says Sullivan: Rather than lead with the falsehood and then try to debunk it, lead with the truth, air the falsehood, and then follow with the fact check. And don’t put false or misleading information in headlines, leads or tweets.


The search for a new ‘BuzzFeed Ben’ goes high (Vanity Fair)

The pool of potential successors to replace former BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith is a “serious journalist A-list,” writes Joe Pompeo. The people BuzzFeed has had conversations with include Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan and New York Times national editor Marc Lacey (neither of whom is moving forward); Michael Luo, editor of; and Shani Hilton, BuzzFeed News alumna and now deputy managing editor of the LA Times. There’s also a twist in the hiring process: The candidates will write editorial memos that will be anonymized and sent to select members of the staff, who will submit their opinions via Google Form. Their feedback will be used to whittle the list to the strongest candidates.

+ On the heels of the announcement that its full-time staff would experience a temporary pay cut, the Tampa Bay Times published a blockbuster investigation into the armored truck company Garda. They published despite the fact that Garda, a billion-dollar company, has threatened to sue. (Twitter, @markkatches)