Need to Know: October 15, 2018

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


You might have heard: A Turkish newspaper close to the government has published a list of 15 men suspected of killing Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi (The New York Times)

But did you know: President Trump vows ‘severe punishment’ if Saudi Arabia is behind missing journalist (CBS News)

President Trump said in an interview with 60 Minutes the Saudis could be behind the disappearance of missing journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, and if so, the U.S. would inflict “severe punishment.” Trump said there is a lot at stake “and maybe especially so because this man was a reporter.” When asked what kind of punishments he may pursue if Saudi Arabia is found to be behind the disappearance, Trump wouldn’t commit to sanctions or cutting sales of military equipment to Saudi from American companies. “I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do,” he said, “I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that. And you know what, there are other ways of punishing.”

+ Related: Reality breaks up a Saudi prince charming’s media narrative (The New York Times)

+ Noted: Google to fight subpoena demands over “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheet (The Hollywood Reporter); Newspaper sales in Florida are eroding faster than the national average (Florida Bulldog)


How The Washington Post’s User Lab balances advertiser and subscriber demands (Digiday)

As part of its big subscription push, The Washington Post is trying to make sure people don’t run into anything that might keep them from subscribing — including their ads. The Post’s User Lab is the scene of these efforts; a four-person team that conducts monthly focus groups with heavy users of The Post. In the focus groups, the lab is looking for three things: if the ad functions as users expect it to, is it useful for them, and overall feedback. So far the lab has created four new ad formats. It found, for example, that people preferred being served contextually relevant articles over retargeted ads, so it has started to bundle Post articles that are relevant to the reader into an ad unit. Other publishers have been making similar moves to the Post’s in the name of improving user experience as they look to users to pay more of the bills, writes Lucia Moses.


Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance in Turkey plays into Middle East media war (The Washington Post)

The reason behind the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey has been vehemently contested by both countries, with Saudi Arabia denying that Khashoggi was killed or even detained in the consulate, and Turkey insisting that he was. With little evidence officially put forward by either side, the conflicting narratives cast doubt on the information that has arisen so far. “The Middle East is deeply divided by geopolitical interests and is a place where leaks of information — and misinformation — are often intended to drive narratives,”  writes Adam Taylor. “Turkey and Saudi Arabia sit on opposing sides of this divide, and both have a reputation for muddying the water.”


I learned about climate change by watching Fortnite on Twitch (Wired)

A channel on Twitch, the streaming video platform owned by Amazon, that features climate scientists discussing global warming while playing the video game Fortnite, may seem an unlikely source of information about climate change. But it’s proving a genius way of getting the topic in front of the young audience who will have to deal with its effects, writes Angela Watercutter. “Scientists do a good job of communicating via traditional routes — talking to journalists and policymakers and writing op-eds,” says Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M who has been featured on the channel. “But not everyone listens to policymakers or reads op-eds or follows scientists on Twitter. ClimateFortnite is a great way to reach people who don’t get news from traditional sources.”


Trump’s USA Today op-ed demonstrates why it’s time to unbundle news and opinion content (Nieman Lab)

The recent furor over President Trump’s op-ed in USA Today, in which fact-checkers have found many distorted and outright false claims, brings a growing tension between news and opinion content to the fore. The episode shows how blurry the lines are between news and opinion, and why the public finds it so difficult to distinguish those lines, writes Eli Pariser. “Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the whole premise of bundling together hard news and opinion content under the same brand names and domains,” he suggests. “If we believe there’s something special about the processes and norms that create journalism (and I do), publishers should draw a brighter line around it — a line that both people and algorithms can understand.”

+ Related: “Good luck separating ‘journalism’ and ‘opinion’ in the age of Trump” (White House Watch) … but if you want to try, here are our tips for helping readers distinguish news and opinion


Want to understand disinformation? Ask the people formerly known as your audience (Zombie Journalism)Much of the study of disinformation is focused on the overall system, writes Mandy Jenkins. In her fellowship year at Stanford, Jenkins wants to tackle the problem from another perspective: How might news organizations fight misinformation by learning from the people who believe it and share it? “I’m not particularly interested in giving its perpetrators more of my time,” she writes. “Instead, I want to better understand those at the receiving end of these campaigns — the regular people who happen to get caught up in spreading false stories — and what we in media can learn from their experiences.” In the course of her research, Jenkins plans to interview consumers of disinformation in their communities and homes to better understand their media habits, motivations and struggles to understand what is going on in the world.

+ “I fundamentally believe that my time at Reddit made the world a worse place”: A conversation with former Reddit product head Dan McComas (New York Magazine); A reporter sought a public record, ended up in a two-year legal battle. She won. (Poynter)