Need to Know: March 31, 2021


You might have heard: Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems file defamation lawsuits against Fox News (NPR) 

But did you know: What a costly lawsuit against investigative reporting looks like (Columbia Journalism Review)

Last week, a court in California threw out a libel lawsuit filed against Reveal, the nonprofit newsroom run by The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). The suit, filed by international charity Planet Aid, took four and a half years to fight, and cost Reveal and CIR millions of dollars. D. Victoria Baranetsky and Alexandra Gutierrez, both of whom work for CIR, write that a playbook has emerged for well-funded plaintiffs to wreak havoc on newsrooms, particularly those that focus on investigative journalism. Tactics include bloated complaints that force an extended litigation, suing in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions, and pushing for costly discovery. This last one can be particularly difficult for news organizations, whose lawyers must wade through notes and tapes to determine what is covered by reporters’ privilege. In the end, these lawsuits can have a chilling effect on free speech and journalism, particularly hard-hitting investigative work. 

+ Noted: McClatchy is outsourcing page design and typesetting, cutting at least 26 jobs (Poynter); Two Texas Tribune leaders announce their departures after a year on the job (The New York Times); Lenfest Institute announces upcoming News Philanthropy Network courses and workshops on fundraising, data analysis and growing revenue pipelines (Twitter, @lenfestinst) 


Trust Tip: Defend yourself without sounding defensive, part five (Trusting News) 

In the fifth and final installment of the Trusting News series on how engagement builds trust, Joy Mayer writes that it is important for news outlets to maintain a diplomatic and humble tone when engaging with critics. All communication should sound like it was written by a human, not a robot or a corporate brand manager. It is important to be generous, assume good intentions and try to make people glad that they reached out. For newsrooms looking to improve their engagement, start by putting someone who enjoys interacting with the public in charge of this task, Mayer suggests. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 

 +  How to be strategic about and make time for engagement (which builds trust) — a recap of the five-part Trusting News series (Medium, Trusting News) 


How Good Housekeeping’s membership is changing the reader-publication relationship (Digiday) 

Good Housekeeping, the 136-year-old magazine, has recently added a membership model alongside its subscription product. The member program seems to be working; the magazine is on track to have 10,000 members by its one-year anniversary in June. Membership includes several perks like bonus guides, discounts at retailers and the opportunity to be a product tester, all for only $8 more per year than a regular subscription. Since most of the benefits of the membership model are digital, there is little overhead for the magazine. Executives said that a large portion of members came through the Good Housekeeping website or a newsletter, and were not previous subscribers to the magazine. 


Uganda’s STORYTELD breaks new ground with multimedia storytelling (Medium, jamlab) 

In Kampala, Uganda, multimedia company STORYTELD is producing short news videos aimed at a generation of digital natives. The team at STORYTELD is building a brand by producing original news content, while earning much of their revenue through commissioned videos for clients. The scope of STORYTELD’s original content is broad — covering politics, business, technology and culture, as well as national and international news — and it is distributed online and on social media for mobile-first consumption. The team’s goal is to reach young audiences who may not feel served by traditional media formats. 


If you want a truly equitable workplace, get over fear of conflict (Fast Company) 

While many companies have pledged to increase equity among staff, they are often failing due to fear of open conflict. Mimi Fox Melton and Karla Monterroso, who lead the nonprofit Code2040, which focuses on boosting representation of Black and Latinx people in tech, say there are a few common obstacles that stymie equity. For instance, a woman of color may fear that certain actions could play into a stereotype — such as a Black woman being angry or intimidating — which could lead to her altering her behavior in ways that keep her from advancing in her career. 


The trial of Derek Chauvin, and the debate about cameras in court (Columbia Journalism Review) 

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd, began this week, and cameras are filming the entire trial for the first time in Minnesota’s history. All of the major television news outlets aired at least opening arguments from the trial on Monday, and cable channels Court TV and Law & Crime will be airing the entire trial live. Some objected to the inclusion of cameras, worried that they could lead to witness intimidation, but the judge authorized the cameras in part because COVID-19 meant that only two members of the press would be allowed in the courtroom at any one time. Some argue that cameras in the courtroom allow for greater transparency and encourage scrutiny of the legal system, while others worry that the attention can disadvantage defendants and encourage lawyers “to play to the court of public opinion, rather than the actual court,” writes Jon Allsop. 


We aren’t getting enough journalists from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This is what we need to do. (Splice Media) 

As media companies invest more in gender and racial diversity, Marc Lourdes writes that news outlets also need to bring in more journalists from lower income backgrounds. In describing his own journey from growing up poor in Malaysia to working for CNN in the U.S., Lourdes has seen that a lack of blue-collar and working-class reporters means that major stories are missed. As the industry becomes more competitive, the rare journalism jobs often go to graduates of elite universities, leaving fewer opportunities for “poor kids with talent,” writes Lourdes. Affirmative action policies designed for low-income students could help; particularly when they are based not only on students’ financial need, but the need of a community. More grassroots or citizen journalism programs could also help low-income journalists gain skills and experience, with fewer barriers to entry.

+ Earlier: What could the political effects be of a media that actually served working-class Americans? (Dissent)