Need to Know: October 11, 2019

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


You might have heard: In 2018, Google committed to spending $300 million in three years on “building a stronger future for journalism” (Columbia Journalism Review) 

But did you know: As Google backlashes have risen and fallen, so have its grants to news organizations (BuzzFeed News)

A new report shows that Google grants to news organizations tend to be made in places where the company faces pressure from politicians, the public, and the press. The finding raises questions about whether the tech giant is committed to social good or buying itself goodwill, writes Alex Kantrowitz. The report, which comes from the Campaign for Accountability’s Google Transparency Project (which is funded in part by Oracle, a Google competitor), shows a spike in funding in Europe when Google was under pressure in the mid- to late-2010s, and a subsequent uptick in the U.S. amid a backlash that’s led to a Department of Justice investigation and calls for its breakup.

+ “Not sure anyone thought journalism funding was delinked to overall business priorities. These companies are not charities.” (Twitter, @raju)

+ Noted: News and opinion site Splinter is shutting down (Daily Beast), but owner G/O Media instructs staffers not to write about it (HuffPost); The New York Times brings back Alex Hardiman as head of product, signaling that product will become “the central business engine of the company” (Axios); The Fresno Bee is the latest McClatchy paper to cancel its Saturday print edition (The Business Journal); Mahoning Matters, a Google experiment in creating local digital news outlets, launched yesterday with staff from the recently-shuttered Vindicator (Google)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually: what fact-checkers are saying about the impeachment inquiry; Argentine ads show how convincing deep fake videos can be; and how political operatives fabricated millions of comments on U.S. government websites to create fake voter outrage. 


Invest in trust and make projects reproducible by sharing your data analysis (OpenNews)

Sharing a data analysis is a great way for journalists to show their audiences how they work and improve transparency, writes Janelle O’Dea. O’Dea, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, recently used Python and a tool called Jupyter Notebook to show where her team got data for a story on playground safety and how they “sliced and diced” that data. They chose the playground story because the data was public; they’d already done an analysis of it (rather than merely cleaning and presenting it in a more digestible way); and the analysis wasn’t highly technical. “I wanted to publish the code in a way that a person who isn’t familiar with Python or any programming whatsoever may at least be intrigued — and not overwhelmed — by the analysis,” writes O’Dea. 

+ Python for Mac: A step-by-step guide for journalists (Reynolds Journalism Institute)


British press faces criticism for Brexit coverage (Press Gazette)

Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, criticized British journalists at a panel discussion that took place Thursday in London on the “Brexit and the Media,” saying that they’re “being played like an instrument” when they publish stories based on government leaks and anonymous sources. Another panelist at the conference suggested that British journalists tell Downing Street representatives to “speak on the record if they want their words reported.” Nielsen even suggested that British editors commission more stories from European media, although foreign journalists have said they often struggle to gain the same access to the U.K. government.

+ Earlier: British journalists faced with Boris Johnson should examine U.S. media mistakes in covering Trump (The Guardian)


What PewDiePie shows us about YouTube culture (New York Times)

Confusion over whether Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie is a white nationalist or a misunderstood gamer shows how much of internet culture revolves around a “frustrating quantum state — things are either total jokes or total nonjokes, depending on their context and your vantage point,” writes Kevin Roose. That’s true especially of YouTube, which has its own subculture that is little understood by “mainstreamers.” PewDiePie has often invoked the “inside joke” plea after his controversial behavior has landed him in hot water, but after media coverage of the scandals caused him to lose lucrative contracts, he began lashing out at the media. His outrage campaign only added fuel to his popularity, tapping into a new — and potentially dangerous — fan base. 

+ “It’s impossible to understand mass culture without understanding the role YouTube plays in it. And it’s impossible to understand YouTube without understanding PewDiePie. So there’s my pitch.” (Twitter, @KevinRoose)


Why Facebook can’t stop politicians from lying (The Verge)

Facebook’s decision to exempt politicians from its policy prohibiting ad misinformation was “probably the right call,” writes Casey Newton. Although the decision has been fiercely criticized from all sides, Facebook is merely taking the same stance as the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces truth-in-advertising laws but also declines to weigh in on the truth of political advertising — because it’s a government body. “If you don’t want the state making calls on political speech, you probably don’t want a quasi-state with 2.1 billion daily users making calls on political speech, either,” Newton points out.


How are paywalled news outlets preparing to serve residents in California’s mega-power shutoffs? (Nieman Lab)

As many as 2 million Californians are without electricity as the state’s largest utility company, PG&E, cuts power supply in fear of the weather conditions sparking another deadly wildlife like last year’s Camp Fire. The situation is forcing local and regional news outlets to consider dropping their paywalls to allow readers access to critical information about the power shutoffs. The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, has a “Support Free Map Access” button next to a map of the power outages, which has come out from behind their paywall. The button leads to a donation box via LaterPay, a German startup that began as a semi-micropayments processor. “Maybe it’s time, while outlets are providing help to residents in need, to gently remind them that they can use some help, too,” writes Christine Schmidt.


+ Why we need a working-class media (Dissent)

+ How A.G. Sulzberger is leading the New York Times into the future (Time)

+ “For a few months in 2017, he nervously eyed suspicious-looking vehicles, spent nights in friends’ apartments and took evasive maneuvers, such as walking against traffic to foil anyone following him in a car”: How Ronan Farrow overcame spies and intimidation to break some of the biggest stories of the #MeToo era (Washington Post)