Need to Know: May 7, 2019

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


You might have heard: Instagram is teeming with conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes (The Atlantic)

But did you know: Instagram is reducing the reach of posts debunked by fact-checkers (Poynter)

Facebook-owned Instagram is drawing on Facebook’s partnership with 52 fact-checking outlets across the globe to limit misinformation on its platform. When a fact-checking group that is officially partnered with Facebook flags a post as false, Instagram will remove it from the Explore tab and its hashtag result pages, making it much harder for users to discover bogus memes and photos (unless they follow the account that posted them). “Our approach to misinformation is the same as Facebook’s — when we find misinfo, rather than remove it, we’ll reduce its distribution,” said Stephanie Otway, a spokeswoman for Instagram. “We can use image recognition technology to find the same piece of content on Instagram and take automatic action.”

+ Noted: Two Reuters reporters freed in Myanmar after more than 500 days in jail (Reuters); Facebook updates its video guidelines to promote original content, loyal and engaged viewership (TechCrunch); Amazon wants to pay the New York Times and BuzzFeed to expand so it can reach more shoppers outside the U.S. (Vox); Sinclair to buy 21 regional sports networks from Disney (Broadcasting Cable); Vice goes on hiring spree after $250 million debt infusion (ThinkNum)


Is our community listening program right for your newsroom? Learn more in our informational webinar this Friday

API has opened applications for a new year-long program to support news organizations that want to do more journalism based on community listening. We’re looking for individuals who want their journalism to be better informed and inspired by their communities’ needs, but who need guidance on strategies to make that happen. Through a combination of in-person training and regular remote check-ins, we’ll support 10 journalists in a listening-focused project of their design. Interested journalists can apply by May 24, and find out more in our May 10 webinar.


The do’s and don’ts of religion reporting (GroundTruth Project)

Religion rarely confines itself to one beat, but bleeds into issues like race, politics, economics and social justice, making it important that reporters have at least a basic level of religious literacy. But beyond getting titles right (so you don’t address an Episcopal priest as “minister” or a protestant reverend as “pastor”), religion reporting requires the same caution and open-mindedness needed for reporting on other complex social issues: Don’t give undue weight to extremist views (reporters will often do this because they’re looking for a good soundbite), and shed any stereotypes and preconceived notions you have going into a story. Generalizations like “all Christians are conservative” and “All American Jews support Israel” often permeate stories and condition the perspective of reporters, leading to oversimplified and prejudiced reporting.


Why surveyed users to find out their ‘superpower’ (Engaged Journalism Accelerator)

Spanish fact-checking platform debunks claims and stories brought to them by their readers — so it’s critical that their audience stays highly engaged. In a survey designed to gather information like how readers found about the platform and what skills/experiences they have (their “superpower”), Maldita took a lighthearted approach, using emojis, gifs and playful questions. The survey garnered far more responses than expected — 2,645 in only four days — and 30 percent came from people who hadn’t engaged with Maldita before. The “superpower” responses, which the team is planning to enter into a searchable database, will help Maldita find sources. “We want to engage our audience in the process of debunking since we know we need them often,” said co-founder Clara Jiménez Cruz. “Since Maldita’s way of talking to its audience is already a bit cheeky, we thought the word ‘superpower’ worked just right with our mood.”

+ Related: Spain has a new government and its fact-checkers had an impact on the campaign (Poynter)


Why companies won’t let bad projects die (Harvard Business Review)

If “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do,” why is it so hard for some organizations to kill initiatives that don’t align with their core strategy? In many cases, it’s because leaders are unaware of all the initiatives happening in all departments across the organization — or oblivious to their true impact on employees’ workloads. It’s also common for leaders to implement “Band-Aid initiatives,” which tend to proliferate without truly addressing problems, or cut resources without making corresponding cuts to projects. Taking inventory of all projects and initiatives happening across an organization is a good starting point for shedding unnecessary, burnout-inducing work, write Rose Hollister and Michael Watkins.

+ Related: How the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel focused on prioritizing with a “Stop Doing” list (Better News)


Is Report for America building trust within the communities it serves? (Nieman Lab)

Report for America, a two-year-old initiative that places young reporters in under-resourced newsrooms across the U.S., is beginning to expand. A new report from Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism examines whether the nonprofit’s model — which could, in some cases, be viewed as enabling parachute journalism — is actually building trust in media in the communities it’s looking to serve. The research turned up mixed results — some residents of the communities where RFA reporters are working said they had a sense that the stories were more about their communities than for them, but appreciated that their communities were being covered at all. The report also surfaced the question, voiced by at least one RFA fellow, of whether RFA’s operating structure — having reporters cover vast areas for a one- or two-year term — actually hobbles its mission.


Saving the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, one iPad at a time (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr. is embarking on a bold mission to save his newspaper: Give former print subscribers iPads, and one-on-one instruction on how to use them, in the hopes of converting them to digital subscribers. “We lost money last year. We are going to lose more money this year because this one-on-one [iPad instruction] is expensive,” Hussman says. “But, if we can convert people, we are going to be profitable again in 2020. That’s our hope.” Hussman needs to convert about 70 percent of his print subscribers to digital subscribers to make his plan succeed. Those subscribers would need to pay at or near the full subscription rate. “If we can get pretty close to our full rate, we don’t have to cut a dollar out of the newsroom. We don’t have to cut staff. We don’t have to cut any news hole. We can expand the news hole because it won’t cost one penny in newsprint.”