Need to Know: March 4, 2021


You might have heard: “Right-wing populism is always more engaging” than other kinds of partisan content because it connects with people on a visceral level, says Facebook executive (Politico)

But did you know: Far-right news sources garner more engagement on Facebook than centrist or leftist news sources (Cybersecurity for Democracy)

A new report from Cybersecurity for Democracy shows that, in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, far-right news sources on Facebook consistently received the highest engagement per follower of any partisan group. It also found that far-right misinformation had on average 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages. The researchers write that their findings are hindered by Facebook’s lack of public data about impressions — how many users saw a piece of content and how much time they spent reading it. Instead, their report is based on the data Facebook does make public, which centers on engagement — for example, reactions, shares and comments on posts.

+ Noted: The Tiny News Collective, which will provide the tools necessary to build a local news operation, has created advice and resources for potential grantees before applications open later this month (Twitter, @tinynewsco); The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind initiative created by the state of New Jersey, is now accepting applications for its inaugural round of grant funding (NJ Civic Info); The Reynolds Journalism Institute names its 2021-22 fellows (Reynolds Journalism Institute)


API is hiring a Director of Inclusion & Audience Growth

We are seeking someone with a news background who will work directly with news organizations that want to improve their coverage of communities of color and create more equitable workplaces. The person in this role will be expected to take a holistic approach to the serious diversity, equity and inclusion issues affecting BIPOC in communities and also within news organizations themselves. Learn more and apply.


A new tool to measure the health of local news ecosystems (Knight Foundation) 

The Google News Initiative, the Knight Foundation and Democracy Fund commissioned Impact Architects to develop a playbook for news organizations or funders to evaluate the quality of local news and access to information in their communities. The playbook walks users through various factors that play into their local news “ecosystem,” such as social demographics like race, income and education level; existing journalism organizations, their business models and any specific groups they serve; and philanthropic funding of those organizations. There are helpful comparison metrics, drawing from sources like the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center, that can help users form a contextualized understanding of gaps and opportunities for local news in their communities.

+ “Florida politics via text”: The Tampa Bay Times is using a texting service to keep readers up to date on Florida’s spring legislative session (Tampa Bay Times)


How Brazil’s Correio builds community among readers on WhatsApp (Reuters Institute)

Messaging apps are increasingly important platforms for publishers in Latin America. Brazilians in particular frequently turn to WhatsApp to share and discuss news. Correio, a newspaper serving the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, operates 10 different WhatsApp groups, with some focused on general news and others on specific topics, like Carnaval, the coronavirus or football. By WhatsApp’s rules, the groups are limited to 256 people each. Correio assigns a team of reporters to each group who act as discussion moderators and use the platform to find sources and story ideas. The interaction allows readers to get to know Correio’s journalists. “Lots of publishers use WhatsApp and chat apps to just distribute content,” says journalist Juan Torres. “It’s like fishing to see if you can drive traffic to your website. This isn’t the way social media works.”


More Americans than ever now identify as politically Independent — why? (Twitter, @samaraklar)

Gallup recently documented a record high in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves Independent — in early February, it was up to 50%. But Samara Klar, co-author of the book “Independent Politics,” notes that many Independents still lean toward one party or the author — and they tend to vote pretty consistently along their party lines. The reason they still call themselves Independents, though, may come from the increasing stigmatization of partisanship. “Our surveys [and] experiments show that voters associate partisanship with anger [and] hostility — traits they don’t associate with themselves,” writes Klar. “Partisanship generally is socially undesirable, across both parties.”


Facebook helped fund David Brooks’s second job. Nobody told the readers of The New York Times. (BuzzFeed News)

New York Times columnist David Brooks is earning a second salary from his work on a project with the Aspen Institute that is funded by Facebook; a conflict of interest that he has not disclosed to his readers, reports Craig Silverman. Brooks has published multiple columns in the Times promoting the project, which aims to “end loneliness and isolation and weave inclusive communities.” A Times spokesperson has refused to say whether the paper was aware that Brooks is taking a salary from the Aspen Institute, or if it knew that Brooks’ project is funded by Facebook. Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that Brooks wrote a blog post for Facebook’s corporate website that editors said they were unaware of. Eileen Murphy, the senior vice president of corporate communications for the Times, did tell Silverman that “We’re in the process of reviewing David’s relationship with the Weave Project and the Aspen Institute, and what disclosures, if any, should be added to David’s columns going forward.”


‘Strong signs of positive movement’ in local news philanthropy (Report For America)

Report for America has documented its partner newsrooms’ increasing success in fundraising efforts over the last year. Its report, published yesterday, found that its partner newsrooms raised more than $4.6 million in 2020, 61% more per reporter than the prior year. This partly reflects increasing support from community foundations, writes Sam Kille. While 25 community foundations donated to RFA newsrooms in 2019, 56 donated in 2020 — an increase of 124%. The report also shows that RFA’s for-profit newsrooms accelerated their fundraising efforts in 2020, but still have room to grow their skills in this area.

+ Earlier: Local news funding is starting to come from unexpected sources. Here’s how news organizations can go after these new springs of support (American Press Institute); The Raleigh News & Observer shares its playbook on grant writing in journalism (Better News)