Need to Know: October 11, 2018

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


You might have heard: More reporters are leaving Twitter, saying it’s “unhealthy for many reasons” (The Hill)

But did you know: A new study suggests too much time on Twitter affects journalists’ news judgment (Columbia Journalism Review)

In a study involving about 200 journalists who are self-described heavy or moderate users of Twitter, researchers examined the media’s tendency to ascribe newsworthiness to stories surfacing on Twitter. Some of the subjects saw only tweets with headlines from the Associated Press website, while others were also randomly shown tweets that contained AP headlines, but had been manipulated to look like anonymous tweets. The researchers then asked the journalists to rate the newsworthiness of the tweets. The result? Journalists who said they spend a lot of time on Twitter and rely on it for their work ranked the anonymous tweets as high or higher than the AP stories (although this effect declined the longer a journalist had been working in the industry). “For journalists who incorporate Twitter into their reporting routines, and those with fewer years of experience, Twitter has become so normalized that tweets were deemed equally newsworthy as headlines appearing to be from the AP wire,” wrote researchers. “This may have negative implications.”

+ Earlier: How is discourse on Twitter impacted when journalists leave? (Texas Standard); Twitter dustups are a reminder: Journalists, you are what you tweet (Poynter)

+ Noted: Saudis are said to have “lain in wait” to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi (The Washington Post); Cryptocurrency startup Civil Media is falling short of its funding goal, as major news organizations pass on partnerships and one of its co-founders criticizes company (The Wall Street Journal); Newsweek’s ex-parent company charged with defrauding lenders (The Wall Street Journal); News Integrity Initiative awards $250,000 grant to MuckRock and DocumentCloud (MuckRock); Twitter says it is ending Moments on mobile (Twitter, @TwitterSupport); JSK Fellowships announces the launch of JSK Impact Partnerships, an initiative to improve the quality of news and information (Twitter, @JSKstanford)


We’re headed to Tennessee and Oregon to talk about trust and covering marginalized communities

Deputy Executive Director Jeff Sonderman is speaking to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s summit in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday morning about “How to build trust and understanding with your audience.” On Sunday, Program Associate Katherine K. Ellis, Director of Newsroom Learning Amy Kovac-Ashley, and Helga Salinas of ProPublica Illinois, will present a workshop, “Repairing the neglect: How journalists can begin to cover marginalized communities,” for the Journalism and Women’s Symposium. All will be accessible during the conference to talk to anyone who is interested in newsroom culture, leadership or diversity and inclusion. Reach out to them on Twitter @terabithia4, @Helga_Salinas and @katherinekellis.


Measuring audience reactions in real-time (University of Oregon)

In a live event on earthquake preparedness that featured experts as well as student-produced informational videos, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and Oregon Public Broadcasting used an audience engagement app called to measure audience attitudes and other feedback. The app allowed the journalists to see which topics and formats were most appealing to the audience, and to track whether viewers’ feelings of preparedness increased as a result of the forum. (H/t to the Gather community for this case study, which is included in their now-public collection of case studies.)


The Brazilian election offered a window into WhatsApp’s wild, sometimes fact-free world (BuzzFeed News)

WhatsApp is the “true beating heart” of the internet in Brazil, used by nearly 100 percent of Brazilians with internet access — about 40 percent of the overall population, writes Ryan Broderick. But WhatsApp is also a “black box of viral misinformation,” used ever more aggressively by Brazilian political activists in the lead-up to the country’s elections, which took place on Sunday. Due to WhatsApp’s encrypted messaging structure and the peer-to-peer nature of it, it’s impossible to know what people are sharing or how frequently. But if a WhatsApp monitor built by Brazilian fact-checking group Eleições Sem Fake is any indication, it looks just as overrun with misinformation as Facebook is.


A future where everything becomes a computer is as creepy as you feared (The New York Times)

It often happens in the tech industry that audacious founders set their sights on something so impossible that the very unlikeliness of their plans insulates them from scrutiny, writes Farhad Manjoo. “By the time the rest of us catch up to their effects on society, it’s often too late to do much about them. It is happening again now.” Tech companies’ plans, already in motion, to put a computer inside everything, connecting everyone (the so-called “internet of things”), could expose us to a “nightmarish set of security and privacy vulnerabilities,” argues Manjoo. “And guess what. No one is really doing much to stop it.”


The New York Times bombshell that bombed (Politico)

“It arrived on Page One of the New York Times last Wednesday with all the subtlety of a supertanker berthing at a sailing marina, consuming all the editorial space above the fold,” writes Jack Shafer. But despite this conspicuous beginning, The New York Times’ major investigative piece on the Trump family’s tax evasions has since seemed to sail quietly into the sunset. “Perhaps it’s because a tax fraud story doesn’t burst with the crowd-pleasing juices” of scandals like mistress payoffs, Russian meddling and high-profile firings, Shafer suggests. The timing of the story — it broke while the Kavanaugh nomination story was still unfolding — probably also played a role. But Shafer also argues that the Times held the story too close to its chest: “By sharing a small taste of what he had with other papers, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet could have amplified the story and perhaps turned up new leads that would benefit the Times.”

+ The Washington Post fact-checks President Trump’s op-ed on Medicare in USA Today and finds a misleading statement or falsehood “in almost every sentence”; USA Today’s editorial page editor, Bill Sternberg, said that the piece had been fact-checked but that Trump, like any opinion author, had been given “wide leeway to express [his] opinion” (HuffPost)


Sports journalists battle for relevancy (Nieman Reports)

Sports journalism is facing an existential question, writes J. Brady McCollough. The ways sports fans enjoy content have become more fluid. ESPN can’t count on people to subscribe to cable or satellite TV when over-the-top streaming options are available. By the time Sports Illustrated lands on newsstands and doorsteps each week, its subscribers have had days to read other eloquent retellings of what happened in the sports world. Newspaper sports sections, strapped by staff reductions and dwindling resources, are less ambitious. Across sports media, compelling stories go undiscovered and untold, especially in women’s sports. In the long run, asks McCollough, how will serious sports journalism survive when entertainment dressed up as journalism is the only proven way to subsidize work that matters?

+ Venture philanthropy for local news might not be as scary as it sounds (Nieman Lab); Boosting Colorado’s local news ecosystem with the Colorado Media Project (Local News Lab)