Need to Know: November 13, 2020


You might have heard: There are many plans to save local journalism (Poynter)

But did you know: The people who broke local journalism can’t be the ones to save it (The Mendocino Voice)

The need to save local journalism has become a truism during the pandemic, but the loudest voices on the subject often come from the insiders, legacy outlets and tech companies that led to the downfall of local journalism to begin with, write Olivia Henry and Jesse Hardman. Allowing federal money to go to newspaper and TV chains only reinforces current hierarchies, while tech companies’ support of journalism is often more grounded in good PR. Henry and Hardman write that the focus on rebuilding local news should be on serving communities, often through non-traditional methods like social media and community bulletins, and money should go to encouraging on-the-ground reporting, not maintaining current business structures.

+ Noted: Trump eyes digital media empire to take on Fox News (Axios); About 500 people are taking buyouts at Gannett (Poynter); Bustle Digital Group unionizes with Writers Guild of America East (Variety)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

The next COVID-19 misinformation wave, the rise of Parler, and why hashtag typos are a favorite tactic of disinformation agents. Factually is a weekly newsletter produced by API and the Poynter Institute that covers fact-checking and misinformation.  


City Limits made a voter guide for judicial elections — and readers loved it (Medium, LION Publishers)

Last month, in the run-up to Election Day, New York City-based City Limits was focused on judicial elections, producing a judicial ballot guide that earned six times more views than the site’s other high-ranking posts. The newsroom also partnered with Gotham Gazette and WNYC to build an interactive app for voters, which broadened the project’s reporting capabilities and its readership. The partnership with WNYC allowed for reporters to appear on the radio, providing exposure to a broader audience. And the site launched an election newsletter that was so successful that it will continue, transitioning to a focus on the 2021 mayoral election in New York City.


Taiwan is beating political disinformation. The West can too. (Foreign Policy)

Disinformation spread widely last winter in Taiwan in the run-up to its presidential election, but the country’s proactive approach to fighting it seems to have succeeded. Civic-minded technologists work to debunk and downvote conspiracy theories on social media, while volunteers research suspicious-sounding claims on a popular chatbot. Taiwan FactCheck Center serves as an independent database of debunking misinformation. At the same, the government has set up public debates online that highlight consensus opinions and minimize fringe ideas. Media literacy trucks travel the country to help people learn to spot fake news, and laws punish groups that knowingly receive foreign money to distribute misinformation.

+ India’s move to regulate digital media raises censorship fears (The Guardian)


The guardians of Wikipedia’s climate page: An intensely devoted core keeps a bastion of climate science honest (Mashable)

Over the past few years, a team of seven have become the primary editors of Wikipedia’s English-language climate change entry, which received over 6 millions views in 2019. As climate misinformation spreads around the web, they are focused on meticulously maintaining the page, citing hundreds of credible sources while attempting to make the science accessible to all. The work is unpaid and often tedious — one editor estimates that he spent 90 hours and read 3,000 pages of research to re-write one section of the page. The de facto leader of the editors, Femke Nijsse, says she logs in every day to review edits and suggestions for the page.


Don’t let Biden’s victory cloud the issue: Journalism needs to reach Americans again (Columbia Journalism Review)

In the wake of the presidential election, many journalists may find it tempting to believe that a sense of normalcy may return to the industry. But with only 9% of Americans telling Pew Research Center that they have a “great deal of trust” that the media works in their best interest, much of the good journalism done to combat online misinformation has fallen on deaf ears. James Ball writes that the way forward is not more fact-checking or introspection, but more storytelling that reflects the lives of all Americans. 


False choices: There’s no ‘right’ way to build a sustainable media business (Substack, The Rebooting)

It’s tempting to view every issue as a binary choice, including the decisions that go into building a media business — but that kind of thinking can lead to unnecessary limits, writes Brian Morrissey. Choosing between subscriptions and advertising fails to tap the benefits of a combined model, while sacrificing user experience for monetization overlooks the fact that giving loyal consumers a high-quality product leads to more success in the long run. Data and common sense shouldn’t face off against each other but work in harmony, adds Morrissey, and the idea that niche means permanently small overlooks the great potential of targeted news to scale.


+ How a lawsuit challenging coronavirus restrictions led to a massive data story tracing COVID-19 clusters in Nashville (Twitter, @BrettKelman)

+ How the Neighborhood Media Foundation provides a collaborative blueprint for local journalism in Ohio (Medium, Center for Cooperative Media)

+ A Q&A with Matthew Desmond on Evicted, moratoriums, and humanizing housing coverage (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ How The Shade Room, a media company focused on Black culture, harnessed its massive community to register people to vote (Nieman Lab)