Need to Know: October 18, 2018

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


You might have heard: A pivot to video is really a “pivot to declining page views” (Digiday)

But did you know: A new lawsuit alleges Facebook knowingly misrepresented data that brought on the disastrous ‘pivot to video’ (Nieman Lab)

Two years ago, even as Facebook executives were insisting publicly that video consumption was skyrocketing, it was becoming clear that some of the metrics the company had used to calculate time spent on videos were wrong — very wrong. (By one Wall Street Journal estimate, they had overestimated users’ time spent on videos by 60 to 80 percent.) Now, a lawsuit filed by a group of small advertisers in California argues that Facebook had known about the discrepancy for at least a year — and behaved fraudulently by failing to disclose it. If that is true, it may have had enormous consequences for news publishers, whose “pivot to video” was driven largely by the belief that if Facebook was seeing users, in massive numbers, shift to video from text, the trend must be real for news video too. Many publishers laid off significant chunks of their editorial staffs to bring in people with video skills; although it’s difficult to confirm, as the lawsuit alleges, that these decisions were based on the faulty data provided by Facebook.

+ Noted: Chartbeat: Facebook and Twitter are declining as news referral sources on mobile, as users are increasingly finding news through search as well as migrating to publisher and news aggregation apps (Axios); Facebook News Feed now downranks sites with stolen content (TechCrunch); The New York Times teams up with e-book service Scribd for joint subscription offering (Variety); Washington Post told lobbyist: Quit working for Saudis or stop writing for us (Politico)


To drive subscriptions, keep it simple and ‘pick the low-hanging fruit’ (International News Media Association)

Peter Gray, vice president of optimization for The Wall Street Journal, says he’s always asked about the role audience segmentation or personalization plays in driving subscriptions. The answer is a very small one. Gray’s team has instead relied on one-size-fits-all changes to architecture, navigation, copy, and design. For example, adding “You can cancel anytime” to the subscription offer page increased subscriptions by 10 percent. Updating article roadblocks with a straightforward “Continue reading your article with a WSJ membership” drove up subscriptions by 37 percent. And getting new subscribers to download the WSJ app (which has been shown to dramatically extend tenure) by adding a simple “link-texting” widget to the website (where they’re most likely purchasing a subscription) has nearly doubled the rate at which new subscribers download the app. “If your experimentation programme is in its infancy, put segments aside. Look at your data, look at competitors, stare at your experience, and ask yourself: Is each component helping visitors do what you’d like them to do?”


Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression (The Washington Post)

Submitted one day after he was reported missing, journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s last column for The Washington Post demonstrates his passion for and commitment to freedom in the Arab world — a freedom he apparently gave his life for, writes editor Karen Attiah. In his column Khashoggi traces the short-lived impact of the Arab Spring, and how many of those societies either fell back into the status quo or face harsher conditions than before. “The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power,” he writes. “During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe, which grew over the years into a critical institution, played an important role in fostering and sustaining the hope of freedom. Arabs need something similar.”


Will deep-fake technology destroy democracy? (The New York Times)

Deep fake technology now makes it possible to show people saying things they never said, doing things they never did. “As a result, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new world — one in which it will be impossible, literally, to tell what is real from what is invented,” writes Jennifer Finney Boylan. “Imagine the effect of deep fakes on a close election,” she adds, in which a fake video of a candidate goes viral and enraged (or galvanized) voters go to the polls before it can be corrected. “It is possible, however,” writes Finney Boylan, “that some good will come out of the deep fakes menace. Maybe we will better understand that the truth is both precious and endangered. Perhaps we will learn to pause before giving in to internet-stoked spleen. Above all, we have to more fiercely call out and refute manipulative liars — as well as the people who insist on believing their fictions.”


Fact-checking arrives on Broadway — but not my kind of fact-checking (Poynter)

A new Broadway play starring British actor Daniel Radcliffe promises to bring new attention to the importance of fact-checking — but could add to the confusion about the unique form of political journalism that has the same name, writes Bill Adair. “This is a good moment to set the record straight. Editorial fact-checking [is to] go line by line through articles before publication and make sure they’re accurate … Fact-checking statements by politicians and others is a unique form of journalism in which reporters research claims by politicians and political groups and assess how accurate the claims are.” The latter form of fact-checking is a relatively new phenomenon in journalism, writes Adair, and didn’t really hit the mainstream until the 2008 U.S. presidential election. “Ten years later, lots of people still confuse the two types of fact-checking, including a fair number of people who work in journalism.”


Craig Newmark, once a disruptor of newspaper revenue, is working to save journalism (The New York Times)

Craig Newmark, so often accused of disrupting one of journalism’s core revenue streams, is now doing his best to revive it, writes David Streitfeld. His online classifieds platform, Craigslist, is estimated to have drained $5 billion from American newspapers over a seven-year period. Now Newmark is trying to stop the bleeding, by giving philanthropic support to media organizations and journalism schools that, as of last year, adds up to $50 million. His media ventures differ from those of his billionaire peers — Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff and Laurene Powell Jobs — who have stepped in to buy struggling media companies. “I’m not the kind of guy to own an operation,” Newmark said. “I help, then I get out of the way, then I stay out of the way. That’s my strength.”

+ Study: Fake news is making college students question all news (Poynter); Our earlier study found that a majority of adults under 30 think most news reports are fairly inaccurate