Need to Know: October 30, 2020


You might have heard: Machine learning offers possibilities for journalists (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: ‘Smart paywalls’ use machine learning to find the right moment to ask a reader to subscribe (Nieman Lab)

At the Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s Local News Lab, a team of journalists, engineers, data scientists and designers are developing “smart paywalls” for small and medium-sized local newsrooms. The idea is to shift when a reader hits a metered paywall depending on their reading habits, to find the optimal time to offer them a subscription option. That could mean estimating a reader’s likelihood to subscribe based on browser history and other known information, or it may mean putting certain stories behind a paywall that are particularly interesting. The lab plans to open-source the code so that other newsrooms can replicate the model.

+ Noted: Los Angeles Times introduces the Latinx Files, a newsletter dedicated to the American Latinx experience (Los Angeles Times); Spending on Maine’s Senate contest has increased the Bangor Daily News’ revenue from political ads by 3000% (Buzzfeed News)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

Turning human error into election ‘fraud’, disinformation about Hunter Biden and Alex Jones meets Joe Rogan. Factually is a weekly newsletter produced by API and the Poynter Institute that covers fact-checking and misinformation.


Three ways The Baltimore Sun used systems thinking to deepen their reporting on child support (Journalism + Design)

Before the pandemic, Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger spent nine months putting together a series of stories about how the city’s child support system further hurts families, with a focus on noncustodial parents, normally fathers. To help, the Journalism + Design team at The New School led Wenger through  a series of systems thinking tools that helped guide the reporting. The first was to identify key stakeholders and their needs, which helped focus the reporting on the people most affected and expand the pool of potential sources and perspectives. This information then led to a map of the policies and other forces that were contributing to how the child support system functioned. The final step was creating visualizations of various elements of the story and how they related to each other, allowing patterns to emerge.

+ In a note to readers, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editor explains the paper’s commitment to fact-based, non-partisan election coverage (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel); Free Press has developed a database of resources to help journalists keep communities informed and safe during the volatile weeks ahead (Free Press); Newsletter launches application that pushes daily updates on Slack (Anti-Racism Daily)


French-speaking journalists in Washington launch a podcast to bring U.S. news to a global audience (International Journalists’ Network)

When Francophone journalists from around the world who work in Washington, D.C., first launched a podcast, Washington D’ici, the goal was to keep a global audience abreast of American politics. One of the unexpected joys has been the exchange of cultures, such as European listeners learning that the Quebecois word for podcast is “balado.” The five hosts, who hail from Switzerland, France, Belgium and Canada, have found time to record every other week for the past year, and have increased their recording schedule to weekly in the run-up to the U.S. election. The podcast is committed to running through the inauguration in January.

+ BBC issues staff new social media guidance (BBC News)


A COVID-19 vaccine is coming. Will public health messaging be enough to convince Americans to get it? (Undark)

With a vaccine for COVID-19 on the horizon, public health officials are now working to ensure that when a vaccine becomes available, Americans will agree to receive it. Learning from vaccines that did not see widespread adoption initially, such as the HPV vaccine, the CDC has announced a plan to build confidence in the vaccination program, including a widespread communication campaign featuring partners and collaborators across the media. But experts are worried that traditional “fact-based” messaging may no longer work, especially in the face of anti-vaccination ideas that have proliferated online. One key to convincing Americans of the vaccine’s safety will be transparency at every level of production and distribution.

+ Google News Initiative releases its 2020 impact report (Google News Initiative)


Glenn Greenwald quits The Intercept over what he claims is ‘repression, censorship’ (Substack, Greenwald)

Glenn Greenwald, a controversial journalist and co-founder of The Intercept, announced that he is leaving the outlet after he says a piece he wrote was “censored” when he refused to remove all criticisms of Joe Biden. He also claims that he was forbidden from publishing this article, which he says “raised critical questions about Biden’s conduct,” at another outlet. (He has published it on his own. ) Greenwald will now write on a personal Substack newsletter, which he says will free him from “the increasingly repressive climate that is engulfing national mainstream media outlets.”

+ Related: In response to the resignation, The Intercept writes that Greenwald’s post is “teeming with distortions and inaccuracies” and that the site’s only goals in editing his piece were to ensure accuracy and fairness. Reactions online were split, with journalist Lara Logan and Green party candidate Jill Stein supporting Greenwald, while many journalists found the concerns of Greenwald’s editors valid.


‘Infomemes’ offer quick Election Day facts, tips on building civil conversations (Facebook, ASU News Co/Lab)

The Arizona State University News Co/Lab and Spaceship Media have created a series of “infomemes” with facts about the election and related issues. The images and gifs cover both national and local election issues, and they’re intended to quickly and concisely answer readers’ most pressing questions about voting rules and laws. Other memes focus on building civil conversation online by encouraging people to honestly engage with people who disagree with them.


+ The 19th*’s editor-at-large, Errin Haines, talks about newsroom diversity, LGBTQ issues, and Breonna Taylor’s killing (Nieman Reports)

+ News deserts are democracy deserts, too (Democracy Works, The McCourtney Institute for Democracy)

+ The Journalism Creators Program at CUNY teaches participants to launch their own news products, from wherever they are (Nieman Lab)

+ Reporters of color are declaring independence (Washington Monthly)

+ Examples of collaboration between ethnic media and mainstream media in California in California’s diverse journalism ecosystem (California Health Care Foundation)