Need to Know: October 12, 2018

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


You might have heard: Blockchain-based journalism startup Civil Media is falling short of its funding goal, as major news organizations pass on partnerships (The Wall Street Journal)

But did you know: This week could make — or break — blockchain-powered journalism (CNN)

The latest experiment in journalism is facing a big test this month, writes Jill Disis. Civil Media, a blockchain company that has partnered with more than a dozen news outlets, has about a week left to sell its new cryptocurrency to the public. The tokens are intended to create the foundation of an economy that is key to the model that Civil envisions for journalism. But so far, the company is falling far short of its goal to sell $8 million in tokens by its self-imposed deadline of Oct. 15; hindered in part by the many unknowns around the project and the long, convoluted process of purchasing the tokens. “Success for Civil and its partners could present a promising alternative to the advertising revenue that the industry is reliant upon, but which has been sucked up by Google and Facebook” writes Disis. “Failure, meanwhile, could send everyone back to square one.”

+ Civil founder Matthew Iles: “This isn’t how we saw this going  —  but our company and our community are pushing hard to make it happen. We don’t know if it will work.” (Medium, Matthew Iles)

+ Noted: Today is the final day for newsrooms to respond to the ASNE Diversity Survey (Democracy Fund); Facebook has purged over 800 U.S. accounts and pages for pushing political spam (The Washington Post); Local Independent Online News Publishers gets $100,000 grant from Facebook (Poynter); Trusting News project expands research and training through University of Georgia partnership (Reynolds Journalism Institute); Netflix will produce Panama Papers drama, starring Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, David Schwimmer and Antonio Banderas (Deadline)


The week in fact-checking

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 “The Week in Fact-Checking” newsletter, the lifespan of a failed celebrity death hoax; feminist fact-checking projects are cropping up around the world; and Indonesian officials battle misinformation in the aftermath of the tsunami.


The Economist is revealing the data behind its reporting (Medium, Evan Hensleigh)

The Economist will publish some of the data behind its reporting on GitHub, writes Evan Hensleigh, a visual journalist on staff. “Releasing data can give our readers extra confidence in our work, and allows researchers and other journalists to check  —  and to build upon  —  our work.” Today’s sophisticated tools for data gathering and analysis means that more journalists are doing this work themselves, which makes “showing your work” an effective way to build trust and engagement with audiences. “We plan to publish more of our data on GitHub in the coming months — and, where it’s appropriate, the analysis and code behind them as well,” says Hensleigh. “We look forward to seeing how our readers use and build upon the data reporting we do.”

+ Millie Tran, the first global growth editor at The New York Times and a former API employee, discusses how she tries to understand and nurture a worldwide audience. (“So many dashboards and data sets!”) (The New York Times)


Why CBC News created a pop-up newsletter for the royal wedding (Lenfest Institute)

The royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to American Meghan Markle suffered no lack of media coverage. But the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, added a quirky element to its reporting: a pop-up newsletter called “The Royal Fascinator” that would cover every aspect of the nuptials. “The keys that when I talk to groups that are hoping to do something like this is to really find out where that curiosity is from the readers and how you can connect with them over something they’re really passionate about,” said CBC social producer Megan Griffith-Greene. Griffith-Greene said the Royal Fascinator had an average open rate of 65 percent over the course of its 8-week run. “One of the reasons this worked so well is … it’s something that people wanted to be a little obsessed about for a little while.”


Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women (Reuters)

Amazon’s machine learning specialists just uncovered a big problem: their new recruiting engine did not like women. The team had been building computer programs since 2014 to review job applicants’ resumes with the aim of mechanizing the search for top talent, reports Jeffrey Dastin. Amazon’s computer models were trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period. Most came from men, a reflection of male dominance across the tech industry. Over time, Amazon’s system taught itself that male candidates were preferable. It penalized resumes that included the word “women’s,” as in “women’s chess club captain.” And it downgraded graduates of two all-women’s colleges, according to people familiar with the matter. Although the company has attempted to edit the algorithm to make it neutral toward women, there is no guarantee that the machines would not devise other ways of sorting candidates that could prove discriminatory, writes Dastin.


Khashoggi case shows importance of ethical reporting on hostages (Columbia Journalism Review)

As the daughter of an American journalist held hostage for six years by Islamic terrorists in Beirut, Sulome Anderson watches news coverage of hostages from a different perspective. In her father’s experience, she writes, “efforts were made by most news organizations not to put my father at risk by publishing things that would endanger him or make his captors angry. Thirty years later, our hyperactive news cycle has all but obliterated the systematic, careful consideration of consequences when publishing news.” At no point has that been more evident than with some coverage of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s kidnapping, Anderson writes. “Even the ghost of a chance that Khashoggi was in the custody of a regime that would not hesitate to use brutal interrogation tactics should have prevented news outlets from publishing confidential information that involved Khashoggi’s criticism of the Saudi government. Yet that is exactly what some journalists did.”

+ Related: After the alleged Khashoggi killing, why are U.S. media companies partnering with a Saudi conference? (The Washington Post)


Successful online local news outlets are often located in wealthy communities, and advertising still pays the bills (Poynter)

“More than a decade into the rise of the hyperlocal news website, conventional wisdom dictates that advertising alone will no longer pay the bills and digital local news publishers must diversify their revenue streams to survive,” write Tara George and Sarah Stonbely. “While memberships and subscriptions are increasingly important revenue streams, our new study finds that local news entrepreneurs who are thriving — and the not-so-successful ones, too — still rely heavily on advertising as their main source of income.” Of the 43 online local news publishers interviewed in the study, 87 percent of those identified as successful listed advertising as their primary source of revenue. The study also found that 96 percent of thriving outlets were located in communities with at least a moderate level of affluence.


+ “Fact: the actor Daniel Radcliffe is currently starring in the Broadway show The Lifespan of a Fact, as a magazine fact checker with an aviation inspector’s zeal for accuracy,” writes Michael Schulman. In preparation for his role, the actor of Harry Potter fame spent a day at The New Yorker to immerse himself in the real-life world of fact-checking. Radcliffe verified a soon-to-run restaurant review, his pencil trembling in his hand as he ran through questions with the restaurant’s chef. “Nothing I do today will be harder than that,” he declared as he hung up. (The New Yorker)

+ Journalists around the world share book recommendations (International Journalists’ Network)

+ The viral story about a competitive barefoot runner demanding people sweep up acorns is a hoax (BuzzFeed News)

+ The art of the sidle: the slickest move in NBA media: “To the untrained eye, sidling looks deceptively simple. As a player sets out for the team parking lot (at home games) or the bus (on the road), a reporter pulls alongside him like a car merging onto the freeway. But the ability to approach a superstar is usually built on a relationship developed over a period of years.” (The Ringer)