Need to Know: October 27, 2021


You might have heard: More news organizations are texting audiences; Subtext says texts can reduce subscriber churn (Subtext)

But did you know: USA Today launches a fact-checking program for subscribers (USA Today)

USA Today has launched a fact-checking service via SMS for digital subscribers. Subscribers who sign up can text questions and dubious claims made on the internet to USA Today fact-checkers, who will respond with clarifications or debunks. “Our mission is to provide the ultimate clarity during trending news or misinformation events, and host weekly ‘office hours’ to dive deeper into the week’s biggest topics,” editors wrote.

+ Noted: Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation approves grants to help fund seven journalism projects (Editor & Publisher); Apple News expands local news offerings to three new cities — Washington, D.C., Miami and Charlotte (Apple)


Trust tip: Consider these two ways to depoliticize your coverage (Trusting News)

News outlets need to be more deliberate about when politics and political narratives are part of a story, and when they don’t need to be. Otherwise, they risk polarizing (and alienating) audiences unnecessarily, writes Lynn Walsh. There are several questions reporters and editors should ask themselves to decide whether information truly fits into the accountability category or might be unnecessarily polarizing. Editors should also be cautious about amplifying wire stories that highlight political conflict on social media. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


Local photojournalism gets a boost from a California nonprofit (Columbia Journalism Review)

CatchLight, a California-based nonprofit that provides financial support and training for photojournalists, announced yesterday an effort to address “image deserts” — areas where there is little or no local photojournalism — nationwide. The effort is backed by five philanthropic organizations, which will invest $2 million over the next several years. The CatchLight team believes that quality photojournalism can increase engagement with local papers in addition to creating personal connections between a publication and its audience and even increase local newsrooms’ long term sustainability. CatchLight’s partner newsrooms in its pilot program found that pairing their reporting with editorial images increased their engagement, their social media followings, and donations to the publication.


European news outlets take part in effort to reduce polarization (Twitter, @mycountrytalks)

Started in 2018 by German media outlet Zeit Online as a “dating platform for politics,” My Country Talks aims to match people with opposing political beliefs for face-to-face conversations. The goal is to encourage civil debate and reduce polarization. Now, the group is launching “Europe Talks,” an effort involving 22 media outlets from 17 European countries, which will ask their readers to take part in the matching service for conversations about the biggest issues facing the continent. The conversations will be private and unmoderated, although participants are encouraged to follow Zeit’s “10 rules for a good discussion.”


Five points for anger, one for a ‘like’: How Facebook’s formula fostered rage and misinformation (The Washington Post)

Facebook’s “reaction emojis” — “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad” and “angry” — are used to decide which content gets pushed to the top of users’ feeds. The more emotional and provocative the content, the more engagement it typically received, prompting Facebook engineers in 2017 to start treating reaction emojis as five times more valuable than the classic thumbs-up “like.” Two years later, the company’s data scientists found that posts that sparked the angry-face reaction were disproportionately likely to include misinformation, toxicity and low-quality news. “The power of the algorithmic promotion undermined the efforts of Facebook’s content moderators and integrity teams,” write Jeremy B. Merrill and Will Oremus, “who were fighting an uphill battle against toxic and harmful content.”


Billionaires back new media firm to combat disinformation (Axios)

Billionaires Reid Hoffman, George Soros, and others have launched a public benefit corporation called “Good Information Inc.” for the purpose of funding new media companies and efforts that tackle disinformation. The group will be led by Tara McGowan, a former Democratic strategist who previously ran a progressive nonprofit called ACRONYM. ACRONYM ran one of the largest digital campaigns opposing President Trump in the 2020 election. McGowan says the group could invest in media outlets across the political spectrum as long as their editorial standards support fact-based information. Good Information Inc. will acquire Courier Newsroom, a local news group with a progressive perspective, from ACRONYM for an undisclosed sum as part of the deal.


Hotel magnate Stewart Bainum unveils plans for new Baltimore Banner news site (The Washington Post)

Earlier this year Bainum failed in his bold attempt to buy the Baltimore Sun and its parent, Tribune Publishing, which would have kept the newspaper chain out of the hands of hedge fund Alden Global Capital and restored it to local owners. The experience, he said, left him with a renewed conviction “that a better model for local news is both possible and necessary.” Now Bainum has hired Kimi Yoshino, a top editor from the Los Angeles Times, to help him launch the Baltimore Banner, a nonprofit news outlet dedicated to local coverage of the city, and committed $50 million of his own fortune to get it started. The plan is to hire around 50 reporters and create a “strong commercial institution for them to step into.”