Need to Know: October 16, 2019

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


You might have heard: ProPublica to further expand local reporting network with additional newsrooms (ProPublica)

But did you know: ProPublica and Texas Tribune joining forces to create new investigative unit (CNN)

News nonprofits ProPublica and The Texas Tribune are launching a joint investigative unit with $6 million in funding and a five-year commitment. Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith told CNN the organizations plan to raise $3 million more for the project and eventually hire 11 staffers, including seven reporters, a producer and a researcher. ProPublica has partnered with hundreds of news organizations since 2008 for a slew of projects, but this collaboration with Texas Tribune will be its first long-term, jointly branded newsroom.

+ Noted: Shari Redstone explores plan to launch Fox News competitor (The Hollywood Reporter); After shuttering its magazine, ESPN unveils “Cover Story” concept to report ambitious stories across its platforms (Axios); Twitter says it will restrict users from retweeting world leaders who break its rules (TechCrunch)


Trust Tip: Invite people into the newsroom (Trusting News)

According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans have never met a journalist. Lynn Walsh writes that Inviting members of the community into your newsroom is an effective way to engage directly with your audience and build their trust. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 


How to know which impeachment polls to believe – and which to skip (The Conversation)

Political studies research professor Michael Traugott writes that lawmakers’ future votes on impeachment could hinge on public opinion, but the reliability of polls depends on who participated, what questions were asked and when the poll took place. Polls tend to target groups that include either all American adults, registered voters or likely voters. Each group is progressively smaller and more conservative. Because of the characteristics of the group of likely voters, polls that target this pool tend to show more support for President Donald Trump and less support for impeachment. Tracking opinions over time and across pollsters can also be misleading, as language describing the impeachment process varies from one poll to another.

+ How publishers use free swag and perks to keep email acquisition costs lower (Digiday)


Reporting from the Philippines when the president wants to ‘kill journalism’ (New York Times)

This year, The Manila Times published what it called the Matrix, a list of journalists and other parties who are allegedly conspiring against President Rodrigo Duterte and using fake news to “manipulate public emotion.” Such outlandish claims have become a theme in a political culture where Duterte regularly calls journalists “spies” and “vultures,” and threatened the franchise renewal of the largest media conglomerate in the Philippines, ABS-CBN. The government also targeted The Philippine Daily Inquirer, which questioned Duterte’s so-called war on drugs, by strapping the paper’s owners with a tax case. “If you’re questioning Duterte’s drug war, you’re going to be targeted,” said Rappler editor Maria Ressa, who appeared in the Matrix. “You’re going to be hit by very personal attacks meant to pound you into silence.”


Machine learning can’t accurately flag false news, new studies show (Axios)

Artificial intelligence may have a knack for writing false news stories, but machine learning hasn’t caught up when it comes to identifying false news, according to several new studies from MIT researchers. Part of the catch is that machines can’t tell if stories are true, despite their ability to recognize computer-generated text. Researchers claim the problem lies in the Fact Extraction and Verification database, which uses true statements to train automated fact-checking systems. Most of the database’s false statements tend to be negative, such as, “Greg never said his car wasn’t blue.” So, fact-checking systems began to identify negative statements as false.

+ Amazon takes U.S. search advertising revenue share from Google (MediaPost) 


Devin Nunes and the power of keyword signaling (Wired)

Search engine optimization is a necessary evil in online journalism, but James Madison University assistant professor Francesca Tripodi writes that SEO can be exploited to widen the exposure of politically-loaded keywords. This happens when topics haven’t been covered much or at all online, allowing misinformation peddlers to dominate certain search terms and create information silos or even  “parallel Internets” in search results. One example is the conspiracy theory term “crisis actor,” which flourished in online searches until legitimate news organizations stepped in to debunk the concept.


Government agencies can’t stop employees from talking to the press. Here’s why. (Poynter)

It’s become increasingly common for government entities at all levels to hold their employees to policies that block them from speaking with journalists in unapproved interviews. But as Frank LoMonte writes, “Prohibiting government employees from sharing their candid observations isn’t just bad for journalism. It’s against the law.” The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information recently identified 20 cases where courts determined that policies blocking government employees from speaking publicly about their work were invalid.