Need to Know: May 22, 2018

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


You might have heard: The internet’s conspiracy theorists turned Parkland students into “crisis actors” (NBC News)

But did you know: The ‘hire a crowd’ business operates openly and makes journalism even more difficult (Poynter)

In New Orleans, paid actors disrupted a city council vote that will affect every person in that community who pays an electric bill. The Lens found that the supporters were paid actors hired from a Los Angeles-based firm called “Crowds on Demand,” which was founded by former AOL Patch reporter Adam Swart. “At least four of the people in orange shirts were professional actors. One actor said he recognized 10 to 15 others who work in the local film industry,” Lens reporter Michael Isaac Stein writes. “They were paid $60 each time they wore the orange shirts to meetings in October and February. Some got $200 for a ‘speaking role,’ which required them to deliver a pre-written speech, according to interviews with the actors and screenshots of Facebook messages provided to The Lens.”

+ Noted: Jemele Hill has been named NABJ’s 2018 Journalist of the Year (The Huffington Post); Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine has folded (New York Post); Barack and Michelle Obama sign multiyear deal with Netflix to produce TV shows and films (The New York Times); TheSkimm has closed out a $12 million Series C funding round with a group of mostly women investors, including Shonda Rhimes and Tyra Banks (Variety)


Here’s a blueprint for a sustainable online state news nonprofit (Nieman Lab)

VT Digger is the little nonprofit that could. The online news outlet serving the second least-populous state in the U.S. is turning nine this summer, and now has 19 full-time staff, an annual budget over $1.5 million, and close to 300,000 average monthly visitors (almost half the population of the entire state of Vermont). It publishes eight to 12 stories each day, and is trying everything under the sun to grow its audience and its revenue streams: email newsletters, podcasting, its own mobile app, Instant Articles experimentation, a bill tracker, obituaries, job postings.

+ This tool transforms print pages into social and mobile-ready stories (Poynter); What is innovation in local TV news? (Nieman Lab)


Pear Video has all the basic tenets of journalism in place — without the journalists (The Splice Newsroom)

In 2016 Wei Xing created Pear Video, which produces short, viral news clips. With a cash injection of more than $15 million from China Media Capital and reportedly nearly $100 million in a Series A funding round, Pear now claims it is China’s leading short news video platform with around 500 million daily views. The company’s 1,500 daily videos attract not only young urbanites in the world’s second largest economy, but also older users as well as people living in rural areas. Wei Xing explains to Splice how he has adjusted to the technological revolution — and how his news ventures survive in a tightly state-controlled media industry.

+ Politico to launch a partnership with the South China Morning Post on May 22, will include content-sharing and joint projects (Wall Street Journal); A look at and how paywalls on Russian media outlets allow for journalistic integrity but reduce its impact (Bloomberg)  


Email is dangerous (The Atlantic)

“Electronic mail as we know it is drowning in spam, forged phishing mails, and other scams and hacks. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” writes Quinn Norton. What we think of as email got its start in the 1970s, with recognizable email addresses, mailboxes, folders, and sending and receiving as we know it now. Email has changed since then, but not much. Most of what’s changed in the last 45 years is email clients — the software we use to access email. One week ago, a group of European security researchers warned that two obscure encryption schemes for email were deeply broken.


‘Why does the internet suck?’ (AdWeek)

“The internet is a prime example of how an infallible technology butts up against the fallibility of man,” write Josh Sternberg and Lisa Lacy. “So it is perhaps unsurprising that the internet, as it stands, is broken.” What started as a small community of government and academic researchers has blossomed into a community of 3 billion people, often yelling at each other about things both trivial and consequential, but also an economic boon for the titans of tech. But there’s hope, say Sternberg and Lacy. There’s a growing number of players who want to make the internet a happier place. Adweek spoke with a few pioneers of the early web, researchers and practitioners about their thoughts on the broken internet.


In speech at Yale, Hillary Clinton urged students to fight back against fake news by supporting journalists and subscribing to newspapers (The Wrap)

Hillary Clinton spoke at Yale University’s commencement ceremony this weekend to offer her support for the media, telling students that the best way to fight fake news would be to buy a newspaper. “How do we build democratic resilience? I think it starts by standing up for truth, facts and reason,” said Clinton on Sunday. “It means calling out actual fake news when we see it and supporting brave journalists and their reporting maybe even by subscribing to a newspaper.”

+ Fox News host Neil Cavuto is a Trump skeptic who champions capitalism, financial markets, and free trade (NPR); How Trump changed everything for The Onion (Politico)