Need to Know: November 18, 2020


You might have heard: Everybody in the spring was reading the news more because of coronavirus (Vox)

But did you know: COVID-19 cases are spiking, but our attention isn’t (Axios)

While coronavirus cases are back on the rise almost everywhere in the country, Americans are paying less attention to the pandemic now than ever before. Data from NewsWhip provided to Axios shows that news articles about the pandemic garnered only 75 million social interactions over the last two weeks, the lowest since early March. It’s not due to a lack of coverage; the number of news articles about COVID-19 matches the number during the June and July peaks, and cable news has been consistently covering the pandemic. Sociologists like Zeynep Tufekci say audiences have become more apathetic towards media coverage about the virus because it’s become too redundant and often, alarmist.

+ Trust tip: Refocus on coronavirus basics like local case numbers, restrictions and testing options, and consider shifting some resources away from traditional narrative stories in order to keep basic data accessible on a landing page or dashboard (Trusting News)

+ Noted: Election SOS announces first Rapid Response Fund grant recipients for post-election coverage; second round of applications now open(Medium, We Are Hearken); ProPublica selects six journalists for Distinguished Fellows program (ProPublica); Sacramento Bee executive Lauren Gustus to become Salt Lake Tribune editor (Salt Lake Tribune)


Two innovative news leaders join API Board of Trustees

API is pleased to welcome two new members of its Board of Trustees: Paulette Brown-Hinds, founder of Voice Media Ventures, and Amanda Zamora, co-founder and publisher of The 19th.

+ Trusting News is taking applications for its free, flexible 5-week Trust 101 class (Twitter, @TrustingNews) 


Changing hearts and minds: advice for cultural change in legacy news organizations (Twipe)

Cultural change can be hard in legacy news organizations, but newsroom leaders need to adapt to succeed in the new digital landscape. Admitting when you don’t know something is crucial when trying to reform and innovate, especially for those in leadership positions. Company leaders must also learn to delegate to and empower lower-level managers, rather than fostering a “mother bird syndrome” that encourages employees to wait for specific instructions, writes Mary-Katharine Phillips. Building a team that is supportive of cultural or technological changes is crucial, as is ensuring that all members are well-versed in new digital technologies or products.

+ Earlier: How the Bay Area News Group built digital content guides to shift staff away from a print-centric mentality (Better News); How the Dallas Morning News reorganized around digital (Poynter)


Journalists across Europe collaborate to cover Airbnb and other housing issues (Nieman Reports)

When Jose Miguel Calatayud wanted to learn more about a meeting in Munich discussing the impact of Airbnb on rental markets, the only articles he could find were in German, a language he doesn’t speak. So he turned to the mailing list of Arena for Journalism in Europe, a collaborative journalism network that facilitates cross-border work in Europe. The group had recently launched a new network, Housing Project, to look at larger, shared issues related to housing across the continent. The project is working to grow its network and encourage more collaborative projects; the group’s first cross-border investigation is expected to be published in the coming months.


Instagram cautiously considers paying publishers (Axios)

With Instagram on the rise as a news and information source, the social media platform is considering paying publishers for their content. Sources tell Axios that Instagram will invite select publishers to participate in a test in the coming months. The platform has announced one-off partnerships with BuzzFeed and the production company ATTN: to experiment with paid content; however, it is being cautious with its monetization roll-out, which it’s testing for all creators. Unlike its parent company Facebook, Instagram does not have a separate News tab, meaning most paid content from publishers would likely end up on its video app IGTV.

+ Twitter announces Fleets, a feature that allows users to post ephemeral photos or text that automatically disappear after 24 hours (The New York Times); Outbrain leaders launch newsletter curation app Listory (Axios)


A popular political site made a sharp right turn after its ‘anonymous’ funding sources changed (The New York Times)

The website Real Clear Politics established itself 20 years ago as an election news website for the politically-obsessed, but in the past few years, the site’s tone has shifted markedly to the right. The change in tone occurred after the site received funding from two entities that wealthy conservatives are known for using to shield their identities. It’s not uncommon for conservative and liberal sites to accept anonymous tax-deductible contributions through their foundations, but these donations raise questions about the influence of this money in the news organization’s editorial decisions. Real Clear Politics’ owners declined to comment on questions about the anonymous sources of funding, saying that the website is an independent venture.


Documenting serious issues with comics journalism: An interview with Josh Neufeld (Journalist’s Resource)

Josh Neufeld has often turned serious news stories into comic strips, and his latest work explores racial inequity in treatment during both the 1918 flu epidemic and the current coronavirus pandemic. Drawn from a research paper and interviews with medical doctors, the illustrated story depicts how misinformation during both pandemics led to a mistaken belief that Black people were less vulnerable, or even immune, to the diseases. In an interview about his process, Neufeld said that he writes the entire script first like a screenplay, then fills in the corresponding images, which are based on actual photos. The key to strong comic journalism, he says, is pithiness, transparency and a straightforward tone.