Need to Know: November 12, 2018

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


You might have heardIn the past year alone, Facebook Group membership is up 40 percent, with 1.4 billion people — more than half of Facebook’s massive user base — now using Groups every month (Forbes)

But did you know: Facebook Groups are ‘the greatest short-term threat to election news and information integrity’ (Nieman Lab)

While the midterm elections passed without any large-scale disasters unfolding on social media, a close examination of Facebook in the days leading up to the midterms shows that the well-publicized threats of misinformation and propaganda are still moving targets. According to Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and a leading scholar on misinformation and social media, private Facebook Groups have begun to play a major role in manipulation, helping to push ideas at the right place and at the right time across the platform. “We can talk about how scary WhatsApp is in other countries, and how Twitter might play a leading role in the United States elections, but it is Facebook’s Groups — right here, right now  —  that I feel represents the greatest short-term threat to election news and information integrity,” Albright wrote.

+ Noted: Democrats to probe Trump for targeting CNN, Washington Post (Axios); Fox News told staff not to tweet its content from their personal accounts amid Tucker Carlson protests, according to internal email (Business Insider); Fortune Magazine to be sold to Thai businessman for $150 million (The Wall Street Journal); McClatchy announces initiative to help ease the burden of medical debt among veterans and servicemembers (McClatchy); ICFJ Knight Fellowships to promote global exchange of journalism best practices with $5 million in new support from Knight Foundation (ICFJ)


Five reasons to step away from the rolling news cycle (International News Media Association)

If you’re adopting a reader revenue model, you may want to step away from the rolling news cycle, writes Ben Whitelaw. One reason is that, in our age of information overload, rolling news isn’t actually conducive to informing readers, who are more likely to want help sifting through the news dump and putting new information in context. Producing more “slow journalism” can also help differentiate your newsroom from the free competitors. Another compelling reason? Constantly updating digital products leaves little time to adjust ways of working and review progress. By stepping out of the rolling news cycle, editors have more time to do increasingly important jobs such as reviewing analytics data, working with other stakeholders to drive subscription or membership, or attending training on new ways to tell stories that people will pay for.


This Spanish news site thinks its work goes past publishing stories — to lobbying the government and writing laws (Nieman Lab)

The activist-for-truth role of a journalist is part of the core of Spanish nonprofit news organization Civio, which believes that when it uncovers problems in government, part of its job is to lobby for specific solutions. Civio doesn’t lobby on every issue it reports on. But if its reporting shows that the government is standing in the way of transparency or accountability, it’s not afraid to take a stand. “You know so much of the problems you have implementing the law, what kind of information you need to try to avoid corruption or similar,” said managing editor Eva Belmonte, who has shown up at Spanish legislators’ offices with 100-page proposed amendments in tow, some of which have been written into law. “You feel all this knowledge would be useful for something, for trying to change something.”


Welcome to the age of the hour-long YouTube video (Wired)

YouTube videos that last anywhere between 15 minutes and two hours have become not only common but successful on the platform. That might seem counterintuitive: Not so long ago, YouTube videos resembled long-form Vines more than anything approaching a 22-minute sitcom. But as more people watch video via mobile, the lines between a highly produced television show and a rough YouTube vlog have blurred. These days smartphone users spend a whopping 54 percent of their video-viewing time on videos over 20 minutes long — that’s up from just 29 percent in the beginning of 2016. And as a new study from the Pew Research Center demonstrates, YouTube has been quietly shifting its recommendation system to reward lengthy videos.


The Jim Acosta incident is a dangerous smear exercise (The Atlantic)

The White House’s decision Wednesday to revoke the press pass of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, based on the false accusation that he “laid hands” on a White House intern, was a political move by a president who sees the press as a useful political foil, writes Michelle Fields. “But it is also a dangerous move. It’s dangerous because it is a further assault on objective truth. It’s dangerous because we live in a time when political radicals on all sides seem willing to act violently, whether it is by sending pipe bombs to the president’s perceived enemies, including CNN, or threatening to break into [Fox News host] Tucker Carlson’s house.”


Minnesota holds its own as small-town newspapers shrink across America (Star Tribune)

Starting a community weekly these days may seem as foolhardy as opening a video store. More than one-fifth of the nation’s local dailies and weeklies have closed shop in the past 15 years, according to a University of North Carolina study. Many others are so-called “ghost newspapers,” with drastically scaled-back staff and editorial content. More than 5 percent of U.S. counties have no paper at all. But none of those counties — branded as “news deserts” — are in Minnesota or Iowa. Despite newspaper closures in both states over the last 15 years, many weeklies have been staying afloat thanks to deeply personal relationships with local readers, people “who still get excited about their granddaughter’s picture in the sports pages or need to know the schedule of church services,” but who also look for serious accountability journalism. “If your claim to fame is primarily reporting on local gossip, you’ve been replaced by Facebook,” said Marshall Helmberger, publisher of the Timberjay in Duluth, Minn. “If you provide readers good copy, you’re going to keep them.”