Need to Know: Nov. 2, 2018

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


You might have heard: A BuzzFeed News investigation exposed a multimillion-dollar ad fraud scheme (BuzzFeed News)

But did you know: Just 4 of 36 companies contacted by BuzzFeed said they have identified money that will be refunded to advertisers, following investigation into ad fraud scheme (BuzzFeed News)

A massive ad fraud scheme that Google acknowledged stole close to $10 million from its ad networks and partners has been shut down after BuzzFeed News revealed its existence last week. But as of today, more than 30 companies that unwittingly helped the fraudsters earn money won’t comment on how many fraudulent ads they sold, or said the amount is small or nonexistent. Ultimately, the money was stolen from the brands and other companies who bought ads on the affected websites or in apps. Experts say this lack of transparency is endemic in the digital ad industry, which has a large and growing fraud problem that sees criminals steal billions of dollars a year from advertisers.


+ Noted: NewsMatch launches its annual fundraiser for news nonprofits (DemocracyFund); Bill Keller to step down in 2019 as editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project (The Marshall Project); Recode to be folded into starting early next year (Wall Street Journal); The New York Times passes 3 million mark in paid digital subscribers (Poynter) and The New York Times is on pace to earn more than $600 million in digital this year (Nieman Lab); Poynter opens applications for three Leadership Academies for Women in Digital Media in 2019 (Poynter)

API Update

The week in fact-checking

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of “The Week in Fact-Checking” newsletter, how American fact-checkers are covering the midterm elections, some of the top hoaxes on WhatsApp ahead of the Brazilian election, and, yes, that viral photo of Justin Bieber eating a burrito is fake.


How BuzzFeed is using its commerce business to sell advertising (Digiday)

Commerce has grown from a curiosity into a key stream of revenue, so BuzzFeed is helping brands sell more products, developing new ones that BuzzFeed helps sell with them and tying advertising into those deals. Last month, BuzzFeed launched a 100-item line of Goodful products that it is selling exclusively at Macy’s. Over the past year, it developed products for Scott’s, Maybelline and Bloomscape, using and its social reach to promote them. BuzzFeed’s markets team also has begun upselling affiliate commerce partners like Quip and Care/Of on display and branded content advertising. While it’s not yet a mainstream request, BuzzFeed is starting to see requests for commerce elements in some of the RFPs it gets from agencies as advertisers start to take a unified view of performance, customer acquisition and brand advertising.

+ Alexa can now talk about the midterm elections, drawing from the Associated Press and Ballotpedia (Venturebeat)


Why The Independent chose a membership-style model over paywalls (

In 2016, The Independent ceased its print subscription model and went online only. Since then, it has given online readers the choice of watching ads for content, registering a free account or subscribing to its Daily Edition app — until recently that is. Launched in September, Independent Minds is the latest tier in the subscription model and Christian Broughton, editor at The Independent, said it promises a mixed bag of rewards for readers stumping up their cash after reflecting on past models, rather than acting as a strict paywall. “I think what we’ve learned is that there are different communities of people who want different things,” he said. “We learned not to treat everybody the same, and to listen — the media are very good at talking, it’s also very important to listen.”


For a novelist, journalism and fiction are ‘interlocking muscles’ (Columbia Journalism Review)

For Omar El Akkad — a journalist turned novelist — journalism and fiction writing are not wholly disconnected but are different ways of exercising “two separate but interlocking muscles.” And though he still writes journalism, fiction is his first love. “I’m much more comfortable in the world of fiction than journalism, or any other style of writing or thought, because my defining characteristic as a human being is doubt,” he says, describing journalism as an endeavor that seeks to find answers and fiction as an exploration of questions — with less onus on arriving at some sort of truth. “When you construct a story in journalism you have the rebar; you have the foundations and they are very strong — they are facts, quotes and the things you’ve experienced. Fiction doesn’t allow you to do that.”


‘Alas, the blockchain won’t save journalism after all: Hype around the technology has led to incomprehensible applications of it’ (The New York Times)

Civil Media Company was introduced earlier this year as both a media platform and a network, to be owned and operated by journalists and concerned citizens in tandem. It was an exciting proposal, writes Jonah Engel Bromwich. Yet people who are in a strong position to understand what Civil is doing — either because they are experts on blockchain technology or because they work for one of its newsrooms — have openly admitted that they don’t understand how the organization works. Still, a problem remains: People don’t buy into blockchain applications unless they can make money. There is no evidence that people want to use it to “fix” journalism. For now, Civil is essentially just another media operation with venture capital funding.


How to criticize the press — responsibly (Columbia Journalism Review)

We live in a moment of extraordinary tension between the press and the public. Donald Trump’s knee-jerk retort of “Fake news” is now a particular favorite of dictators and authoritarians around the world. The prevailing anti-press animosity at the national level has trickled down to local reporters, the Associated Press reports. And it’s not just threats. Philip Eil has written previously about some things journalists and news organizations can do to try strengthen audience trust at a time like this. But that’s only half the equation. It’s also a good time for a refresher for citizens on what constitutes a healthy, constructive conversation about the work we produce.

+ Reddit AMA with Axios founders Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (reddit)

For the Weekend

+ ESPN+ will cost Disney several hundred million dollars this year, but the company sees it as a strategic bet (CNBC)

+ “As a young journalist in India, I was raped by M.J. Akbar. Here is my story”: NPR’s chief business editor, Pallavi Gogoi, says she was sexually assaulted by Indian MP M.J. Akbar, then EIC of Asian Age, and recounts months of verbal and emotional abuse (The Washington Post)

+ CNN cools on hiring Trump alums: Network president Jeff Zucker has told people that he’s not interested in hiring former officials he perceives as complicit in spreading falsehoods (Politico)

+ ”Digital defeats print” is the headline as Gannett steps away from printed election results (Nieman Lab)

+ Audience development roles are shifting focus from Facebook traffic to generating revenue (Digiday)