Need to Know: March 7, 2019

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


You might have heardU.S. regulators have met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine against Facebook for privacy violations, which would mark the first major punishment levied against the platform since the Cambridge Analytica scandal (Washington Post)

But did you know: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says he’ll reorient the company toward encryption and privacy (Washington Post)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday announced a sweeping reorientation toward privacy, explaining in a lengthy essay posted to his account that he would spend the coming years focusing the company’s distinct apps — WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook — on content that is encrypted, reports Elizabeth Dwoskin. While offering few specifics, Zuckerberg said the company would move from being a social network where people broadcast information to large groups — a town hall — to a service that is modeled after a “living room,” where people communicate with smaller, trusted groups. The shift, a response to popular distrust and dissatisfaction with the platform as well as stagnating growth, could cause an upheaval in Facebook’s business model of mining people’s information to show them ads.

+ “This isn’t a product announcement, it’s a statement of the principles that we think are necessary to build this privacy-focused social platform”: After Zuckerberg’s post went live, Wired spoke with him to gain clarity on a few of the many questions raised by his announcement (Wired)

+ Noted: Democratic National Committee rejects Fox News for debates, citing New Yorker article (Washington Post); Advance Publications to buy plagiarism-scanning company Turnitin for nearly $1.75 billion (Wall Street Journal); WSJ to create new newsroom departments, including Young Audiences, Membership Engagement, Newsroom Innovation, Audience Data, and Research & Development, adding three dozen new jobs (Talking Biz News); Colorado Public Radio to acquire Denverite from Spirited Media (Medium); Leaked documents show the U.S. government is tracking journalists and immigration advocates through a secret database (NBC 7 San Diego)


How nonprofit education news site EdNC built its own loyalty tracker (Better News)

The team at EdNC couldn’t find an ideal way to gauge the loyalty of its audiences. So they created their own customizable data tool: a “loyalty tracker” that assigns a loyalty score to individual readers. The newsroom can set a value for each article read, email opened and survey taken, allowing them to evaluate engagement across organizational silos. “Focusing on loyalty indicators has made a huge difference,” writes Chief Growth Officer Nation Hahn. “One example: From August to November of 2018, we saw a 50 percent uptick in site traffic from the same time period the year before.” This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


How they did it: Public records helped reporters investigate police abuse of power (Journalist’s Resource)

In an investigative series by the South Bend Tribune, two journalists uncovered serious abuses of power in Elkhart, Indiana’s police department, which led to the police chief’s resignation and prompted the mayor to seek an independent review of the department’s policies and practices. The series, a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, was built largely on public records, allowing the reporters to tell stories even when some of the people involved refused to be interviewed or speak on certain subjects. Remember that the most useful public records might be audio and video recordings, advised Christian Sheckler, a public safety reporter at the South Bend Tribune. “Think of different types of records, different steps along the way where there might be a record made that is relevant.” If a person will not or cannot give an interview, seek out records that show what they have said about a topic in their words — for example, complaint affidavits and transcripts of court depositions. A good understanding of how different government agencies work can also lead to previously unthought-of records, like meeting minutes and recordings.

+ Related: Two journalists talk about their teen labor trafficking investigation and ProPublica investigates “zero tolerance” immigration policy (Journalist’s Resource)


‘We’ve made a huge mistake’: European publishers sound off on subscriptions and tech talent shortages (Digiday)

In Milan, Italy, 150 publishers gathered at Digiday’s Publishing Summit Europe this week to discuss their growing reader revenue strategies, difficulties with attracting and keeping talent and the changing programmatic landscape. Retaining tech talent was a recurring theme in the discussion. “For us, it helped giving more senior people more control and management over the product, so it’s not just the editorial team who have the final say,” said one publisher. “Younger people will fly away easily.” Another talked about the importance of building products that both tech and editorial sides can get excited about. “We create great media; we can still be cutting-edge and focus on those great aspects of our creativity; that’s what we should be seeing them on.”

+ Earlier: “You have specialist swim lanes”: Publishers struggle to woo and keep platform tech talent (Digiday)


The attention economy is dead (Verge)

Consumers have only so much time in the day to pay attention to things, and we as a society have reached the limit, writes Bijan Stephen. A recent report put out by the media and technology research firm Midia underscores that point: “Engagement has declined throughout the sector, suggesting that the attention economy has peaked. Consumers simply do not have any more free time to allocate to new attention-seeking digital entertainment propositions.” But in the midst of this massive attention shortage, Fortnite — one of the most popular video games in the world — has managed to capture a large share of young audiences’ attention. What can the media learn from Fortnite? “Fortnite is, above everything else, a place to hang out with your friends,” writes Stephen. The game has built a successful business model around helping users construct their personal image in the digital world — something that appeals particularly to young audiences.


Deepfake propaganda is not a real problem (Verge)

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of journalism’s most prominent writers and publications spent 2018 telling us [deepfake] technology was an imminent threat to public discourse, if not truth itself,” writes Russell Brandom. But more than a year after the first fakes starting popping up on Reddit, that threat hasn’t materialized. Despite the technology being readily available and misinformation activity ramping up globally, troll groups seem to have sunk their efforts into creating fake content from scratch or editing videos. Part of the issue is that they’re too easy to track, writes Brandom. “Uploading an algorithmically doctored video is likely to attract attention from automated filters, while conventional film editing and obvious lies won’t. Why take the risk?”


Health coverage loses its booster shot after funding runs out for this media critic (Nieman Lab)

HealthNewsReview is — or used to be — a staunch watchdog on health reporting. In a recent analysis, it found that less than a third of news stories about health findings sufficiently discussed cost, and less than 40 percent mentioned potential harms or the quality of the evidence. In its rigorous scoring system, 10 percent of the articles received a one or zero star rating, and just 14 percent hit a perfect five stars. But that was the last review that HealthNewsReview published. Battling funding loss as a nonprofit and an impasse of how to most constructively criticize news outlets, HealthNewsReview ceased operations in December 2018, reports Christine Schmidt; amid an environment where viral health misinformation routinely makes the rounds on Facebook and YouTube’s recommendations still coax vaccine-searching users to anti-vax videos.

+ The Covington Catholic case could turn on “actual malice” (The Atlantic); How to buy into journalism’s blockchain future (but this time in only 33 steps as opposed to 44) (Nieman Lab)