Need to Know: November 7, 2018

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


You might have heardHow Facebook and Twitter are rushing to stop voter suppression online for the midterm elections (The Washington Post)

But did you know: Unlike in 2016, there was no spike in misinformation this election cycle (Nieman Lab)

The University of Michigan’s Center for Social Media Responsibility has been tracking what it calls “iffy” content — or plausible misinformation circulated on social media — since early 2016. Its “Iffy Quotient” — the fraction of the 5,000 most popular URLs on each social media platform that came from a large list of sites that frequently originate misinformation and hoaxes — allows it to track platforms’ progress in shutting down misinformation. “Assuming that the publishers and disseminators of misinformation are as competent and motivated in 2018 as they were in 2016, we expected the Iffy Quotient to spike in September and October,” writes Paul Resnick. “But it didn’t. What’s different? We can’t tell for sure … The most important difference is probably countermeasures taken by the platforms.”

+ Related: Inside the “arms race” between social media companies and bad actors attempting to spread fake news and misinformation (NBC News)

+ Noted: Guardian partners with Google to launch the Guardian Voice Lab, which will test audio experiments for Google Assistant (The Guardian); The Athletic raises $40 million in new funding round (Axios); Oath will soon be rebranded as Verizon Media Group (The Verge); TicToc, Bloomberg’s 24/7 Twitter network, created 50 verified Twitter Moments, one for each state, surrounding the midterm election (The Wrap); Fox News denounces “unfortunate” Sean Hannity appearance at Donald Trump rally (USA Today)


How Gannett is using the election to showcase the different strengths of print and digital (Digiday)

This week Gannett will not print election results in most of its physical papers Wednesday or Thursday, dedicating them instead to big-picture analysis and storytelling. On its digital properties, visitors will be able to do things like interact with a chatbot that delivers real-time election results, or take an interactive politics quiz. But in physical editions readers will see stories on topics including local voter turnout, or the issues at stake in local contests. To some extent, Gannett’s election strategy is a practical concession; in some markets, Gannett editors have to close their editions as early as 7 p.m. But overall, the goal of the strategy is to encourage subscribers to see Gannett’s papers as a source of analysis and big-picture coverage and its digital properties as a source of up-to-the-minute information.

+ The front pages of the 2018 midterms, as well as a list of local news orgs that are covering noteworthy Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial races across the country (Poynter)


In Saudi Arabia, Washington Post’s coverage of Khashoggi killing fuels calls for Amazon boycott (The Washington Post)

The Saudi government has come under intense criticism for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and some Saudi social media users have come up with a way to fight back: boycotting Over the past few days, Saudi Twitter users have used hashtags such as #BoycottAmazon to encourage their compatriots and allies to stop using Amazon as well as Souq, an online retailer bought by Amazon last year. According to Bloomberg News, the calls for a boycott topped Twitter’s trending topics in Saudi Arabia for several hours Sunday. However, it’s unclear how much the Amazon boycott drive represents popular opinion in Saudi Arabia. The country has one of the most active Twitter user bases in the Arab world, but analysts say the use of pro-government bots is widespread and often designed to get certain messages onto trending lists.

+ Facebook admits it screwed up on Myanmar — but it refuses to take all the blame (The Verge); If you’re wondering what attacks on the news media around the world mean for the future of democracy, it’s worth a trip to Budapest. Consider it a cautionary-tale vacation. (The New York Times)


Using digital communication to drive digital change (MIT Sloan Management Review)

Leaders trying to get their organizations to adopt new technologies or new ways of thinking tend to kick things off with big, inspirational speeches — which are often followed by silence. Communication grinds to a halt until leaders define the next step in the strategy or reach a massive milestone. Meanwhile, employees wait, wonder, and want to know how they can help. But leaders have digital communication tools at their disposal that they can use to deliver a steady stream of messages to their employees and continually gather and respond to their feedback. And this doesn’t have to be complicated: A series of regular email messages can keep people in the loop about the change they’re expected to implement. App-based pulse surveys can help managers quickly gather feedback about how employees are feeling during periods of organizational change. And online learning spaces (even just a dedicated Slack channel) can be used to work out kinks, store helpful resources, and answer employees’ questions.


A journalist’s dilemma: wanting to do more to help than tell the story (The GroundTruth Project)

When reporting emotionally fraught stories, young reporter Samantha Max often finds herself navigating the gray zone between professional boundaries and personal empathy. “I can’t help but connect on some level with the people I interview. And I don’t think that’s wrong. That fellow human connection is what allows us to open up to one another, to get honest, to get real. That’s where the best stories come from,” she writes. “But where should I draw the line? Is it OK to be friends with a source, to check in with them, to offer help when they’re in need?” Although journalists aren’t supposed to stray into advocacy, it can be difficult to know when that line has been crossed — especially when the situation involves a person in need. “I’m still figuring out the balance between being professional and being human,” writes Max. “But if I’m ever unsure, I think I’ll err on the side of compassion.”


2018 has been a record-breaking year for journalism Kickstarters (Nieman Lab)

Seven of the 10 most-funded journalism projects in Kickstarter’s history have taken place in the last year, reports Christine Schmidt; though only 13 of Kickstarter’s journalism projects have ever raised more than $100,000. (Out of the 1,124 successfully funded journalism projects, 53 percent amassed between $1,000 and $9,999.) A journalism Kickstarter has an average 1-in-5 chance of hitting its funding minimum. Many of the Kickstarters that have broken records this year came out of the demise of other publications and frustration with the traditional media structure — see DNAInfo, The Denver Post, even the BBC and The Wall Street Journal — and they hit on a critical mass of folks similarly frustrated with the status quo. To have a Kickstarter that works, you need more than just cool swag, says Margot Atwell, publishing director at Kickstarter: “By virtue of how the platform works, in order to have a successful project, you have to build a community.”

+ A map that shows how national outlets relied on local papers, and vice versa, after the Pittsburgh shooting (Columbia Journalism Review); “[City Paper editor David Carr] explained in straightforward terms that he worried that there were specific stories missing from his newspaper. He wanted a better publication and believed our work would help him build one. And we did.” (Columbia Journalism Review)