Need to Know: March 6, 2020


You might have heard: Misinformation about the virus is so widespread that the World Health Organization has deemed it an infodemic (MIT Technology Review)

But did you know: Coronavirus exposes gray areas for media (Poynter)

Many newsrooms are being forced to make difficult choices in coronavirus reporting — whether to report cases that are suspected but not confirmed, for example, and whether debunking a falsehood about the virus would only serve to draw more attention to it. “In an era of misinformation, professional news leaders are accustomed by now to stories that test their ethics and challenge their judgment,” writes Susan Benkelman, API’s director of accountability journalism. “But as the coronavirus — and the misinformation surrounding it — continues to spread, these difficult choices will also proliferate.”

+ Noted: Creditors group joins pension agency in questioning transactions in McClatchy bankruptcy (McClatchy DC); Twitter expands hateful conduct rules to ban dehumanizing speech around age, disability and now, disease (TechCrunch); USA Today launches Hecho en USA, a Spanish-language series (Editor & Publisher)


Cutting Print: Making it work when publishing days must go

Cutting print publishing days should be part of a carefully planned transition to digital — not a means of cutting costs to ensure immediate financial survival. Our strategy study explores how newspapers can chart a sustainable path forward by reducing expenses related to print publishing and delivery and building a digital presence better suited for modern reader habits.


Callouts that meet people where they are (Nieman Lab)

Like many news outlets that do crowdsourced reporting well, ProPublica places callouts that invite tips on its website, in its newsletters, and through its social media channels. But not everyone with a story to contribute is bumping into ProPublica in their online life. So ProPublica reporters often partner with other publications and relevant groups to share their callout links more widely. They also create eye-catching flyers that they post in community hubs and pass out at in-person events. Printable versions of the flyers are shared online, as well, so that readers can share them on their own.

+ Related: How a graduate class at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY put engaged journalism into practice (Medium, Social Journalism)

+ How the Bureau of Investigative Journalism directly engages people who could or should use its journalism (Bureau of Investigative Journalism)


U.K. would be ‘crazy’ to throw BBC away, says new culture secretary (Guardian)

Newly-appointed culture secretary Oliver Dowden called the BBC an “institution to be cherished,” but warned that the broadcaster needs to better reflect the views of people outside London, do more to report on the country with “genuine impartiality” and have “genuine diversity of thought and experience.” The BBC’s future is in jeopardy as the government considers abolishing the television license fee and making viewers pay a subscription instead. The move could compel the BBC to downsize and sell off most of its radio stations.

+ Earlier: The BBC’s Local News Partnerships program represents the broadcaster’s effort to “break out of the London bubble” (


What’s really holding women back? (Harvard Business Review)

Asked to investigate why one firm couldn’t retain its female employees in high-level positions, researchers Robin J. Ely and Irene Padavic found that the employees themselves told them a very different story from what the data suggested. Employees stuck to the typical narrative that women were held back by family demands, but the data showed that men struggled just as much with work-life balance. The difference, Ely and Padavic found, was that women were encouraged to take accommodations that ease work-life balance, such as going part-time or shifting to internally facing roles, which derailed their careers. If the firm addressed its culture of overwork instead of focusing solely on accommodations for women, more women would stay and progress to higher-level positions, the researchers concluded — and everyone would benefit.


Why journalism should be unhooked from commercial funding models (WAN-IFRA)

Journalism, with its overreliance on advertising, has always been susceptible to what Victor Pickard, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, calls “systemic market failure.” He argues that the first step towards saving and reinventing journalism should be to de-commercialize it. The second step, he says, is to democratize journalism, so that journalists have more control over their working conditions and what stories they can write. “Restructuring our news media so that institutions are owned and controlled by local communities and by the journalists themselves is an essential step toward democratization of the news,” says Pickard. “Creating new newsrooms can’t be imposed from the top down.”


‘If restoring local news is your thing this is a thread to read’ (Twitter, @jayrosen_nyu)

Ashley Luthern, investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote about what the paper knows and doesn’t know about last week’s shooting at Molson Coors’ Milwaukee brewery, which left five people dead. In a Twitter thread that followed her article, Luthern explained the newsroom’s internal deliberations about how to report the story. “This is such a powerful, effective thread about how the @journalsentinel is approaching an important story,” wrote Trusting News director Joy Mayer. “Great explanations around process, commitment and values.” 


+ In 2018, the nearly 100-year-old Welch News announced to its community, one of the most economically distressed in West Virginia, that it would be closing its doors forever. Then, “in one of the greatest West Virginia comeback stories that we’ve witnessed in some time,” one of its staffers stepped up to purchase the paper. Welch News now has a website, and in 10 days racked up 100 new digital subscriptions in the tiny town of Welch — population 1,700. (West Virginia Hub)

+ In other West Virginia news about the news (thanks to the NewStart Alliance newsletter for uncovering both items!), a Charleston Gazette-Mail reader writes about what the loss of longtime investigative reporter Ken Ward Jr. means to their community. Ward, a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, resigned in February. (Daily Yonder)