Need to Know: October 5, 2020

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


You might have heard: During the pandemic, the White House has disregarded social distancing at press conferences (Axios)

But did you know: Three journalists who work at the White House tested positive for COVID-19 (CNN)

An outbreak at the White House also has impacted the journalists who work there, often in crowded conditions with other reporters and spokespeople. The White House Correspondents Association said in an email that three journalists tested positive on Friday, and some who work there plan to self-isolate while waiting for their own results. News outlets, including CBS News, are contact tracing to determine if staffers came in contact with White House officials who may have been infected.

+ Related: Fox News anchors, reporters and staff to be tested after attending last week’s presidential debate, where a son of Rupert Murdoch was also present (The New York Times); ABC News staffers plan to quarantine after a set visit from former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, who has tested positive for COVID-19 (CNN)

+ Noted: Supreme Court agrees to hear longstanding FCC case on relaxing media ownership rules (Deadline); Calif. Gov. Newsom vetoed a bill that would have further protected journalists covering protests (Los Angeles Times)


Providing nuanced information to voters to address voting disparities and difficulties

For news outlets looking to cover the election from an audience-centric perspective, it’s important to think about who in your community might be overlooked or neglected in your election reporting, and what types of questions those voters may have. API’s John Hernandez offers tips for addressing their information needs, like using automated social media posts to remind the public frequently about voting, centralizing voting information on your website and in newsletters, and creating materials that can be shared on social media.


How to focus your coverage on audience needs after Trump’s positive COVID test (Medium, Hearken)

Bridget Thoreson offers some tips on engaging readers to better understand what they want to know about Trump’s diagnosis, tactics that local journalists can apply to any breaking-news scenario in their own communities. Thoreson recommends newsrooms ask for audience questions on Trump’s COVID-19 test, then answer the most important ones in a post that can be updated to encourage people to return to the site. Some questions will be more complex and require more reporting, which you can share with your audience with a reminder of how their input has impacted your coverage.

+ From Joy Mayer, a golden rule for breaking-news coverage: “Use a measured tone and don’t highlight chaos or spend more time than is needed on speculations.” (Trusting News)


First Draft analyzed 9,722 fact checks to tell the story of COVID-19 misinformation (Nieman Lab)

First Draft followed the trends in misinformation through fact checks from around the world as what we knew about the coronavirus evolved this year. Early into the pandemic, the public lacked much reliable information on the illness, leading to a large number of conspiracy theories about its origin. In March, as COVID-19 began spreading around the world, fact-checkers responded to false cures and treatments. Bethan John predicts that an upcoming challenge for fact-checkers will be the rollout of a vaccine.


865,000 women left the workforce last month, compared to 216,000 men (The 19th)

Those numbers are emblematic of the challenges that women face at work this year, including fewer job opportunities in female-dominated fields like retail and tensions between working and parenting. During the pandemic, mothers have been more than three times more likely than fathers to be responsible for most housework and child care, which could include virtual education for school-age children. A recent report from Lean In said that a quarter of women were considering leaving the workforce or downsizing their careers because of COVID-19.

+ Earlier: The coronavirus pandemic has affected women journalists disproportionately (Nieman Lab)


The New York Times played up drama in early coverage of Trump’s diagnosis (Twitter, @gravesmatter)

Lucas Graves, associate professor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, called attention to the difference between two ledes introducing this news to readers — this one from the Times and this from The Washington Post. Before knowing Trump’s symptoms, the Times reported that the test result would “(throw) the nation’s leadership into uncertainty and (escalate) the crisis” presented by the pandemic. Graves argues the Post’s lede adds context without emphasizing the drama of the moment. “The facts here are plenty dramatic, and that comes through more clearly without the vague, breathless language,” he writes.

+ Related: On Friday, BuzzFeed politics editor Matt Berman admitted he wasn’t sure what would happen next and shared his own questions about Trump’s diagnosis with readers (BuzzFeed News)


Television is making more documentaries than ever — but skipping the journalism (Columbia Journalism Review)

Danny Funt interviewed more than 20 people about streaming services’ embrace of documentaries, finding that the trend has come with a cost for filmmakers who are giving up editorial independence in exchange for access. He writes that it’s become common for filmmakers to pay for access to subjects and get clearance to use clips. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon don’t have rules against giving producer credits to companies connected to the subject of a film. Those streamers, as well as Apple, HBO and Showtime, don’t vet financiers behind documentaries for ethical issues.

+ Related: PBS’ editorial standards require producers to disclose conflicts of interest (PBS)

+ How Jiquanda Johnson is building Flint Beat from the ground up (Medium, The Engaged Journalism Lab)