Need to Know: May 9, 2019

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


You might have heard: Fact-checking’s “backfire effect” — the idea that, when a claim aligns with someone’s ideological beliefs, telling them that it’s wrong will actually make them believe it even more strongly — is rare, researchers say. (Full Fact)

But did you know: The backfire effect might be rare, but fact-checking still can’t do much when people’s ‘dueling facts’ are driven by values rather than knowledge (Nieman Lab)

The starkly different reactions to the Mueller report (“Total exoneration!” “Impeach now!”) illustrate the “dueling facts” phenomenon many researchers have observed in the U.S., in which liberals and conservatives increasingly perceive two different realities. But new research suggests that, contrary to most assumptions, the root cause of such divergent views isn’t people’s partisan leanings, their social media circles, or the media they consume. Instead, it’s their individual values. “Values not only shape what people see, but they also structure what people look for in the first place,” write David Barker and Morgan Marietta. “Those who care about oppression look for oppression — so they find it. Those who care about security look for threats to it — and they find them. In other words, people do not end up with the same answers because they do not begin with the same questions.” What does this mean for fact-checking? Unfortunately, that it won’t get very far with the people fact-checkers most hope to reach. “The voters who need to hear corrections rarely read fact-checks. And for those who might stumble across them, reports from distant and distrusted experts are no match for closely held values and defining identities.”

+ Noted: LION names Chris Krewson as its new executive director (Twitter, @LIONPubs); Lenfest Institute announces inaugural Lenfest Next Generation Fund winners (Lenfest Institute); The New York Times launches its (evidence-driven, non-judgy) Parenting vertical, with an eye toward making it a subscription product (Nieman Lab); Advance Publications is investing $10 billion outside its core media business to ease reliance on ad revenue (Wall Street Journal)


Why should I tell you?: A guide to less-extractive reporting (Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Although there’s plenty of advice on trauma journalism, there’s not a lot of conversation around what — if anything — makes such journalism morally justifiable and not voyeuristic or extractive, writes Natalie Yahr. Based on interviews with several journalists and one community organizer, Yahr put together a helpful guide to doing journalism that is beneficial for everyone involved — not only in scenarios of trauma, but for any and every story. The guidelines, which cover how to set a source’s expectations, how to build relationships with sources, and how to give something back, are also a good roadmap for engaged journalism, particularly in communities that have been burned by news coverage in the past.    


Venezuela is hurting and Latam fact-checkers are working together to sort fact from fiction (Poynter)

As Venezuela remains locked in a dramatic standoff between incumbent President Nicolás Maduro and challenger Juan Guaidó, fact-checking organizations across Latin America (but not in Venezuela itself, where press freedom remains severely restricted) have come together in a unique collaboration to strengthen and amplify each other’s work. The organizations, collectively known as LatamChequea, enter fact-checks into a Google Doc where other members of LatamChequea can copy the conclusions and republish it. The content is shared on social media under the hashtag #VENfacts, along with the bylines and credits of the original organization. “This initiative around Venezuela shows that fact-checkers can work in a coordinated way against different pieces of misinformation,” said Olivia Sohr, who coordinates LatamChequea from Chequeado in Buenos Aires. “It makes fact-checking faster and more efficient. And, by doing so, it was possible for us to inform a much wider audience, in many countries, and to reduce the spread of hoaxes.”


What smart managers know about the power — and fragility — of trust (Columbia Journalism Review)

Trust in organizations tends to evaporate when times are rough, and slowly rebuild once things have smoothed out. Newsrooms are a prime example of this. But managers who establish what’s known as “identification-based trust” can maintain that trust through good times and bad, writes Jill Geisler. Identification-based trust — the highest form of professional trust, according to experts — is established through a shared set of goals and values. Managers who are open and honest about what they value and why, who explain their decision-making, and show trust in their employees tend to be more successful in gaining and keeping trust through difficult periods.


Southern newspapers played a major role in racial violence. Do they owe their communities an apology? (Poynter)

“Following the Civil War up until the Civil Rights Movement — and beyond — white-owned newspapers across the South served as cheerleaders for white supremacy,” writes Mark Pinsky. “Their racist coverage had sometimes fatal consequences for African Americans.” Beginning in the early 2000s, newspapers in cities like Lexington, Ky.; Jackson, Tenn.; and Tallahassee, Fla., have begun acknowledging their reporting failures leading up to the civil rights movement and apologizing for them. “It never hurts for people or institutions to own their mistakes or re-examine past and present biases,” said Peter Wood, a historian and professor at Duke University. “We welcome corrections and admissions from newspapers willing to re-examine their past.”

+ Related: Find out how your newspaper covered controversial events of the past. Name your mistakes and own them. Do something different going forward. (Poynter)

+ As NewsGuild holds election, members say union has been too passive (Columbia Journalism Review)


What 1,000 true fans means for today’s journalism startups (Phillip Smith)

Lately there’s been a shift in the news industry from caring about clicks, page views and email list sizes to caring more about nurturing an engaged, loyal audience. In other words, news organizations are beginning to go from quantity to quality when it comes to audiences. That’s a good lesson for young journalism startups that are trying to find traction, writes Phillip Smith. The “magic number” of true fans — the number of paying supporters an organization needs to be sustainable — doesn’t need to be astronomically high. It could be 1,000, or 400, or 5,000. It depends on the enterprise. But “Once you’ve found your 1,000” (or whatever your magic number is) “…true fans, there is a network effect that starts to happen  —  a positive feedback loop giving your project more and more momentum.” The growth might be erratic and slow-going at first, but that’s a good thing, says Smith. “The opportunity is to take advantage of those early days to refine what you’re offering, and to really understand the value you’re bringing into people’s lives.”

+ Earlier: Journalism’s Dunbar number: Audience scales, community does not. (Local News Lab)