Need to Know: Nov. 1, 2019

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


You might have heard: Local news is the second-least trusted local institution, just ahead of local government (Knight Foundation)

But did you know: A surge in imposter news sites threatens Americans’ already-fragile trust in local news (New York Times)

Whether they’re backed by Russians posing as small-town news outlets, or shadowy partisan organizations that aren’t transparent about their funding or motivations, such “news” sites are becoming more commonplace — and they appear to be trying to capitalize on people’s trust in local news, warn researchers. Republicans, who tend to be more distrustful of national media outlets, are especially vulnerable to local news impersonators. In the 2019 Poynter Media Trust Survey, participants who identified as Republicans and those who were most distrustful of the national news media were found to typically choose local news sources over national ones, making it more likely that they will unknowingly stumble onto — and share — misleading information.  

+ Related: When local news outlets report on polarizing issues — like how national controversies play out at a local level, or holding local government officials accountable — they risk driving away readers who are on high alert for signs of partisanship (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: Thomson Reuters brushes off news wire suitors (Financial Times); SRCCON:LEAD, taking place Nov. 19-20 in Philadelphia, puts out a call for participation (SRCCON)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

Misinformation comes to TikTok, an activist runs for governor just so he can post false Facebook ads, and Google Assistant delivers fact-checks to Argentinians upon request. Factually is a weekly newsletter produced by API and the Poynter Institute that covers fact-checking and misinformation. 


Ask audiences what questions they have about your reporting

New research from the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin suggests readers have lots of unanswered questions about how journalists produce the news. They want to know what certain journalism terms mean, understand why some sources were included and others weren’t, and that reporters are independent of sources. “When we don’t explain the reasoning behind our decisions, we leave it up to readers to make their own assumptions,” wrote Mollie Muchna of Trusting News. “Spoiler: Those assumptions are usually not in our favor.”  

+ Earlier: CME’s research is based on news fluency — the idea that journalists can construct stories in ways that proactively answer people’s questions and concerns about them. Our national survey found many things that the public that doesn’t understand and journalism doesn’t make understandable.  

+ Related: Three things your audience might not believe about your election coverage (Medium, Trusting News)


Brut., digital media firm for Millennials and Gen Z, pushes into U.S. and raises $40 million (Hollywood Reporter)

The Paris-based company, which serves “socially conscious” news and entertainment videos to Millennials and Gen Z, prides itself on creating content based on human interest rather than algorithms. “Brut. doesn’t focus on producing endless cycles that reiterate bad news,” said founder and CEO Guillame Lacroix. “Instead, we favor engagement over views and shine a light on how people are pursuing change — like we did with climate change activist Greta Thunberg in publishing her first viral video. We want what our viewers want — to make the world a better place.” Brut. says its audience spans about 2 billion people in 57 countries (and now the U.S.) — and comprises 6% of all individuals age 18-34 in the world. 

+ Earlier: Want to connect with the Gen Z crowd? Don’t shy away from social issues (Marketing Land)


What comes after Deadspin? (New Republic)

Deadspin’s demise is the latest and best example of private equity’s catastrophic influence on journalism — and probably a harbinger of much worse to come, writes Alex Shephard. The clash between the site’s talented writers, who were the soul of Deadspin, and its corporate owners over editorial direction and intrusive ads led to most of the staff resigning as of yesterday. “Any financial entity that is in the media business will hopefully look at what’s happened at G/O as a warning,” writes Shephard. “The staff of Deadspin and its sister sites have shown remarkable courage in fighting back and walking out. They have done enormous damage to the reputation of Great Hill and to private equity more broadly. And they have shown that there is a way to rake in profits in this godforsaken business: by being smart, thoughtful, and funny, by making something people actually care about.”


After Katie Hill, media grapples with possible onslaught of nude photos (Politico)

The California Democrat’s resignation after the publication of intimate and embarrassing photos should serve as a nudge for the media to consider how it will approach similar stories in the future — especially as, in the age of selfies and smartphones, nude photos become more common, writes Michael Calderone. “Privacy is one place where journalists need to be really thoughtful about how societal norms are changing, and the norms are becoming more restrictive than the law,” Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, told Calderone. Daily Beast editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman echoed the idea that news organizations must take it upon themselves to decide how — or if — to report on such content. “Just because a photo is embarrassing doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy,” he said. However, “if the photo points out something newsworthy — a breach of power, some kind of criminal activity, some kind of hypocrisy — then I think they’re fair game.”  


How diverse are U.S. newsrooms? (Hint: not all that diverse) (Twitter, @jbenton)

According to the 2019 ASNE Newsroom Diversity Study, U.S. newsrooms are 58% male and whites are overrepresented by 24 points, on average. The most female newsroom in America (at least among those participating in the study) is Chalkbeat (78% female), and the most male is The Star Press in Muncie, Ind. (77% male). The study also found that only five news outlets (again, of those that participated in the study) are as diverse or more diverse than the communities they serve. Everyone else falls short of racial parity. 

+ Related: “If your newsroom is not diverse, you will get the news wrong.” (Reuters Institute)


+ We may hanker for the “glory days” of local news, but to refer to any 20th-century daily paper as a “local paper” hides an important truth. Thanks to syndication and the arrival of newspaper chains like Hearst and E.W. Scripps, the proportion of newspaper content that was written, designed, and printed locally started declining in the early 20th century. (Smithsonian Magazine)

 + How Reveal built its local reporting networks (Reveal)

+ What’s left of Condé Nast: Two years after Si Newhouse died (and Graydon Carter left), Anna Wintour and a new CEO map out the future they can afford. (New York)