Need to Know: May 1, 2019

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


You might have heard: Months from launch, The Markup abruptly fired cofounder Julia Angwin, setting off an editorial exodus (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: What went wrong at The Markup isn’t unusual in the journalism startup world (Columbia Journalism Review)

There are things about the recent implosion at The Markup, conceived as a watchdog on Big Tech, that make it unique, writes Mathew Ingram. The group raised $23 million with nothing but a trio of co-founders and a brief description of the product they wanted to create — putting enormous pressure on the project before it launched. But the tensions that quickly arose between the three founders, ending with the firing of one, illustrate a deep cultural chasm between the editorial and business sides of The Markup — a rift that is not uncommon in the startup world. One on side was investigative journalist Julia Angwin, who had the creative vision for the project. On the other was Sue Gardner, a news executive whom Angwin tapped to take her vision and turn it into a successful operation — one that would be worth at least $23 million out of the gate. “A successful startup depends on two halves of a single brain: one half that does the creative stuff, the other half that handles the business necessities,” writes Ingram. “At The Markup, both sides were at war.”

+ Noted: Applications due May 5 for the Data Institute, a two-week intensive data training program for journalists from diverse backgrounds (ProPublica); ESPN will shut down its flagship magazine (Variety); The Correspondent apologizes as “brand ambassadors” Nate Silver, David Simon, and Baratunde Thurston speak out (Nieman Lab)


How The Durango Herald partnered to use a solutions-based approach to produce a youth suicide project (Better News)

Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: Using a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, the Durango Herald partnered with several organizations to use a solutions approach to covering youth suicide, a sensitive subject that the publication had received criticism for in past coverage. The approach won over the publication’s critics and improved the community conversation around the difficult topic. 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.

+ Related: A closer look at how the Durango Herald convened community stakeholders to ask how its coverage could play a role in youth suicide prevention efforts. The conversations not only helped shape the Durango Herald’s solutions-based multimedia project, it also resulted in a standalone resource website called Durango Cares, which the Herald operates and maintains. (Poynter)


Covering the 2020 Census: how stories will emerge from every beat (Poynter)

Data journalists and political reporters will naturally find many story opportunities in the 2020 Census, less than a year away, but this decennial count and the efforts leading up to it will impact nearly every beat for national and local outlets. In particular, it could be a good starting point to illuminate issues in local communities. “As a journalist, you don’t need to drown your audience in statistics,” said D’Vera Cohn, senior writer with the Pew Research Center. She suggests focusing on one or two data points in the text of a story, with more statistics incorporated into graphics. “If you are writing about poverty, for example, state the number of poor people in your community, their share of the total population, and whether those numbers are rising, falling or stable. Your graphic could include more detailed breakdowns of which groups are most likely to be poor, and compare today’s statistics with past numbers.”

+ The International Fact-Checking Network built an index of unreliable news websites (Poynter)


This fact-checking site tried crowdsourcing a story. Here’s what it learned. (Poynter)

Independent fact-checking outfit Teyit had its hands full trying to debunk false and misleading claims during the Turkish election — in particular, one that women attending the International Women’s Day march in Istanbul’s Taksim Square were booing the Muslim call to prayer. Trying to get to the bottom of the claim, Teyit tweeted out a call for video footage of the march, but the request backfired. Some criticized Teyit for not taking the women’s statement as evidence — and others went so far as to accuse it of helping the government identify protestors. “Particularly disturbing was that even some journalists questioned our efforts,” writes Şükrü Oktay Kılıç, digital content manager for Teyit. Although Kılıç acknowledges the utility of crowdsourcing evidence in fact-checking investigations, he acknowledges that Teyit could do better next time, including addressing privacy concerns from those who feared being identified as taking part in the protests, and in similar controversial situations eschewing Twitter for smaller, closed groups of readers who are willing to take part in the investigation.


Customer surveys are no substitute for actually talking to customers (Harvard Business Review)

For many organizations, surveys qualify as “talking to the customer.” Managers fear the time and expense that goes into one-on-one customer interviews, and the survey represents a tempting low-cost shortcut — but often ends up churning out flimsy, half-hearted responses, writes Graham Kenny. “In conversations with clients, you’re after quality not quantity … You need enough interviews to get to the point at which you hear nothing new and material is being repeated — so called ‘saturation.’ You can, it turns out, reach this point surprisingly quickly.” Kenny recommends asking one key open-ended question, along the lines of “What criteria do you use to choose us over the competition?” to quickly reach a meaningful saturation point.


‘Here’s how to stop thin-skinned bullies suing the media constantly’ (Columbia Journalism Review)

Stronger anti-SLAPP protections at the state and federal levels could prevent news organizations from being forced to defend themselves against lawsuits brought only as a revenge mechanism, write Jonathan Peters and Jared Schroeder. Plaintiffs generally don’t file SLAPPs — which stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation” — to win on their merits, a feat that First Amendment law makes difficult in most cases involving newsworthy expression. Rather, they are filed to restrain protected expression or simply as an act of vengeance. Anti-SLAPP laws allow courts to dismiss a SLAPP early, thus averting the substantial legal fees and emotional stress that come with litigation. But only 31 U.S. states have them, with protections varying from state to state. And there is no federal anti-SLAPP law.

+ Earlier: After journalist’s murder, efforts to combat SLAPP in Europe (Columbia Journalism Review)


NBC News chairman an unexpected figure in Mississippi news (AP)

Born and raised in Manhattan and a national news executive for much of his career, Andrew Lack would seem an unlikely figure behind an attempt to revive the ailing local news industry in Mississippi. Yet NBC’s news chairman has quietly taken up a key role behind Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news site that has been operating for three years. Lack is listed as Mississippi Today’s founder and has sunk $1 million into it. He also helped secure a broader funding base before the site’s 2016 launch. Although he has never lived in Mississippi, Lack has strong family ties to the state — and a willingness to back an experimental approach to journalism that is seeking traction during a painful time of retrenchment for local news. “Non-profit, digital-first journalism was beginning to fill a void as the newspaper structure that so many people depended on was starting to erode,” he said.

+ Earlier: “Local news in America is dying. Charity might save it.” (Bloomberg)