Need to Know: November 16, 2020

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


You might have heard: Polls predicted a bigger Biden win than we saw in the election (Pew Research Center)

But did you know: To break reliance on polls, newsrooms are seeking other political indicators (Axios)

A University of Southern California study found that swing state voters engaged online with QAnon material more than twice as often as voters from other states. That finding suggests polls may have understated the presence of QAnon conspiracy theorists, who, like other groups, may be difficult to reach through traditional polling methods. Polls also have dismal response rates, making them unreliable and forcing newsrooms to pursue alternative measures of public opinion, like online trends, demographics and local news.

+ Noted: Trump allies explored buyout of Newsmax TV as Fox News alternative (The Wall Street Journal); BuzzFeed is expanding its Black vertical, Cocoa Butter (Digiday)


Best practices for journalists covering crises on Twitter

A new study examining how audiences respond to coverage of crises — both natural and manmade — on Twitter found that audiences value “instructing” information more than other types of reporting, and they are most willing to retweet that information. This piece is part of API’s Research Review series, which highlights academic research that could be relevant and useful to the news industry. We also hope that this series will spark ideas among academics with an interest in researching the news.


How ProPublica will cover the Biden administration (Not Shutting Up newsletter, ProPublica)

As ProPublica begins to look forward to its investigative coverage next year, Stephen Engelberg outlines what readers can expect from the watchdog news nonprofit, which plans to cover the Biden administration with the same tenacity as Trump’s. Engelberg writes that it’s inevitable for at least one federal agency to “fall short,” requiring action from reporters, and any Biden family efforts to profit from business dealings with the government would be impossible to ignore. Investigative coverage isn’t necessarily different during a Republican or Democratic administration, he writes, adding, “We go where the data leads us.”

+ How athletes impacted voter turnout and other story ideas for sustained election coverage (Medium, Hearken); The LA Times turned over its entire letters page to Trump voters: “Like the city we cover, the @latimesopinion editorial board veers liberal. But it’s imperative to listen to other views.” (Twitter, @sewallchan)


Britain’s equality watchdog finds no unlawful pay discrimination at BBC (Press Gazette)

In recent years, several women who have worked at BBC have won equal pay cases or settlements, and since 2017, 500 women who filed wage complaints received raises. During this flurry of complaints, the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched an investigation last year to determine if the outlet had discriminated against women. The probe didn’t uncover pay discrimination, prompting criticism from the group BBC Women and others, who argued the report wasn’t thorough enough and failed to address women’s lived experiences working at the outlet.

+ Related: Here in the United States, Los Angeles Times critic Patricia Escárcega writes about learning that the paper rejected her pay discrimination claim (Twitter, @piescarcega)

+ For some journalists, accepting commercial work can feel like selling out, but Amsterdam-based writer Lauren Razavi says that those who work in creative fields today also must be entrepreneurs (International Journalists’ Network)


Compared to other countries, the United States’ political divide is exceptional (Pew Research Center)

In one example, a survey from the month before the election found that about 80% of voters believed their party fundamentally disagreed with the other party’s core values, and about 90% worried that the other party’s victory would cause “lasting harm” to the country. Earlier this year, 76% of Republicans said they believed the United States had done a good job dealing with the pandemic, compared with 29% of people from other parties. That gap in opinion was the largest in Pew’s survey, which studied a dozen other countries.

+ YouTube isn’t removing videos with false election claims (The Verge)


For political reporters, the post-Trump era poses practical — and existential — questions (NiemanReports)

Journalists and media critics are now grappling with the question of how to cover Trump after his presidency. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith told NiemanReports that statements from Trump would likely only be relevant if they have a concrete impact, adding: “Often picking a fight with the press is the point, and you don’t have to engage.” Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post, however, expects Trump to receive attention after leaving the presidency and for news consumers to “stay tuned because he’s not going to leave the stage.”


What writing a pandemic newsletter showed me about the United States (Wired)

In April when Patrice Peck started her newsletter, Coronavirus News for Black Folks, she identified holes in COVID-19 coverage that underreported how Black people were being affected by the virus. When she noticed stories about essential workers included mostly white voices, she started a series of interviews with Black women who work in frontline positions. “The truth is,” Peck writes, “Black people have always had to use inventiveness, technology, and do-it-yourself media to work around a slow or hostile white establishment. And it doesn’t always work.”

+ How visual artist Edel Rodriguez developed his satirical images of Trump that ran in Der Spiegel, Time and other publications (Fast Company)