Need to Know: November 29, 2018

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


You might have heard: “Today In” is Facebook’s latest experiment in connecting people to local news (Poynter)

But did you know: Facebook launches Today In, but the tool is susceptible to misinformation and could leave Facebook open to claims of bias and censorship (TechCrunch)

Yesterday Facebook launched Today In, a local news aggregator that will be available in 400 small and mid-sized U.S. cities. The goal is to fill the void in local news on the platform, which more than 50 percent of Facebook users said they wanted more of, as well as to give local outlets a referral traffic boost that could help offset the fact that Facebook has drained ad dollars from journalism into its own News Feed ads. Today In displays previews that link out to news sites about top headlines, current discussions, school announcements and the like. Although Facebook has assured users that Today In will be carefully monitored for misinformation and clickbait, there’s always a chance that such content will slip in, writes Josh Constine. “The launch … opens up a new vector for policy issues, and it’s curious that Facebook would push forward on this given all its policy troubles as of late. It will have to ensure that Today In only aggregates content from reliable and fact-focused local outlets and doesn’t end up peddling fake news. But that in turn could open it to criticism suggesting it’s biased against fringe political outlets that believe their clickbait is the real story.”

+ Noted: is in talks to sell to Bustle (Recode); Fox News hasn’t tweeted since Nov. 8, when it began a silent protest against Twitter after demonstrators posted star host Tucker Carlson’s home address on the platform (Politico)


How the food team at the Times-Picayune transformed itself (Poynter)

In 2016, the Times-Picayune, looking to continue building its digital audience as it transitioned away from print, launched Where Nola Eats. The three-person team behind the new food site wanted to write more about neighborhood restaurants, the places where locals eat, and the places and foods that make New Orleans unique. Building and maintaining communities on social media turned out to be instrumental to the new approach. The journalists use Instagram (where they have more than 56,000 followers) and Facebook (more than 42,500 group members) to engage readers interested in New Orleans cuisine, as well as find new ideas and gauge what’s working and what isn’t with their coverage. It isn’t about just sharing their work, but meeting with people online every day and looking for new ways to reach them where they are.

+ How the Wichita Eagle tackled community literacy through a virtual reading challenge (Gather)


The BBC puts its mobile storytelling plan in action (Nieman Lab)

For the past year, the BBC’s research and development team has been pursuing workable options for mobile storytelling beyond the standard 800-word article. After experimenting with many prototypes, the team has activated at least two new formats in the BBC’s reporting: the Expander, an in-text yellow ellipsis after a key term/event/name/etc. that pops out some more information when clicked, and Incremental, an embed segmenting the story with options for the same content via a video clip, short, or long text. But many of the prototypes were based on principles that carry over to any kind of journalism, and don’t need a special format to shine through. For example, taking a “what does this mean for me” angle on national stories; creating summaries or timelines to help get readers up to speed on issues they haven’t been following closely; and exchanging jargony paragraphs for simpler language that also offers more background and depth.

+ Philanthropist Judith Neilson to fund a $100M institute for journalism in Sydney (The Guardian)


Do remote workers really outperform office workers? (Inc.)

One study found that the number of people who say they cannot concentrate at their desk has increased by 16 percent since 2008. Another found that the number of workers who say they do not have access to quiet places to do focused work is up by 13 percent. While there is no conclusive evidence that remote workers really do outperform their colleagues in the office, there are some convincing arguments for remote work. Away from the noise and distractions of a busy office, many remote employees attest to higher productivity and more purposeful communication. As for long-distance video chats, an astounding 92 percent of workers say the video collaboration actually improves their teamwork. And many argue that the greater flexibility of remote work actually helps employees focus. “It should not matter where people are getting the work done — as long as they are focused and working hard each day,” writes Brian de Haaff.


Can Laurene Powell Jobs save storytelling? (The New York Times)

Over the last few years, Powell Jobs, an activist, investor and entrepreneur, has been investing in media companies through her social impact firm, Emerson Collective. Buying up a range of unusual properties, she seems to be making an effort to turbocharge storytelling in this fractured digital age. Powell Jobs has $20 billion from the stakes in Apple and Disney that she inherited from her husband, Steve Jobs. She also seems to have inherited his understanding that narrative moves people more than anything else, writes Kara Swisher. “It’s an interesting experiment to watch, because the investments include a panoply of the cool, hip and fresh in a mostly glum content industry.”

+ Related: Emerson Collective, owned by Laurene Powell Jobs, acquires Pop-Up Magazine Productions (The California Sunday Magazine)


An algorithmic nose for news (Columbia Journalism Review)

The Duke University Tech & Check Cooperative has developed an algorithm called ClaimBuster to monitor CNN transcripts for claims that are fact-checkable — typically statements involving numbers — and send alerts about them to reporters. Every morning a list of “checkworthy” statements made on air is emailed to fact checkers at outlets such as The Washington Post and PolitiFact, and journalists can then determine their potential newsworthiness. “Algorithmic claim spotting is one of a growing number of applications of computational story discovery,” writes Nicholas Diakopoulos. “Whether monitoring political campaign donations, keeping an eye on the courts, surfacing newsworthy events based on social media posts, winnowing down hundreds of thousands of documents for an investigation, or identifying newsworthy patterns in large datasets, computational story discovery tools are helping to speed up and scale up journalists’ ability to surveil the world for interesting news stories.”

+ “Most of it was brute force manual labor”: How journalists uncovered the top 15 “dark money groups” in U.S. politics (Global Investigative Journalism Network)