Need to Know: October 6, 2020


You might have heard: Many Americans believe false election narratives (Indiana University)

But did you know: A new study shows how Trump and the RNC duped traditional media into covering mail-in voter fraud (Nieman Lab)

The safety of mail-in voting during this pandemic election became a national issue not because of social media bots or Russian spammers, but because of mainstream news outlets, according to a new study out of Harvard. Analyzing thousands of articles, tweets, and Facebook posts, the study’s writers found that President Trump took advantage of three “core standard practices of professional journalism” that allowed unverified claims about mail-in voter fraud to spread wildly. These three practices are a focus on elite institutions, like the presidency; a desire for attention-grabbing headlines; and the striving for balance, or at least the appearance of balance. Trump and the Republican Party then coordinated a campaign that would primarily confuse less politically-engaged audiences.

+ Noted: The Chicago Reporter on “hiatus” following publisher’s removal, ex-staffers say (Chicago Sun-Times); VOA White House reporter investigated for anti-Trump bias by political appointees (NPR); The Boston Globe’s digital subscriptions approach the 270,000 mark (Media Nation); L.A. Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine to step down (Los Angeles Times); New Yorker union wins fight for just cause in contract (CNN)


Announcing the first round of grantees for the Trusted Elections Network Fund

API’s Trusted Election Network is excited to announce the first round of micro-grants to support local news outlets working to provide accurate information to voters or address election misinformation at the local level. The 20 grant recipients stood out for their commitment to helping communities navigate an election fraught with new complexities and uncertainty. They include the Bangor Daily News in Maine, Black Girl Media / First Draft in Cleveland, and Missoulian in Montana.


New Appalachian journalism outlets tackle stereotypes, media economy (WFPL)

When 100 Days in Appalachia launched its Appalachian Advisors Network, the project had three goals. One was to create a database of local freelance writers who could cover regional stories for larger outlets. Another was to provide a guide for outside journalists to understand the area better. And the third goal was to counter parachute journalism by gathering community leaders from around Appalachia to serve as resources for national journalists, and encourage more diverse stories about the region. The project joins other Appalachian-focused endeavors, such as the investigative journalism site Mountain State Spotlight and the Kentucky-based Country Queers podcast focusing on “rural and small-town LGBTQIA+ folk.”

+ Rest of World, an international nonprofit news outlet, celebrates its first 100 stories with “greatest hits” list (Rest of World)


‘No laughing matter’: Google enlists comedian to help in fight against Australia’s news code (The Guardian)

The Australian government is moving ahead with a plan to make Google pay news publishers to feature their content in search results, and the tech giant is fighting back with a campaign featuring comedian Greta Lee Jackson. In a video, Jackson compares the policy to forcing a bus driver to pay a restaurant for delivering customers to its door. It’s part of Google’s larger media blitz to convince the Australian public that the proposed law is unworkable and could potentially threaten the country’s access to Google products.

+ Russian journalist dies after setting herself on fire outside interior ministry (Reuters)


Thank you for posting: Smoking’s lessons for regulating social media (MIT Technology Review)

As regulatory agencies around the world turn their attention to social media, and particularly Facebook’s role in disseminating misinformation and disinformation, Joan Donovan writes that there are lessons to be learned from the crackdown on the tobacco industry. Governments began stepping in when the dangers of secondhand smoke became clear, elevating it to a public health issue. With social media, the spread of propaganda and disinformation harms society at large, putting the burden on civic institutions and individuals to filter out false information from genuine news. Smoking was widely curbed after it was banned from public spaces; the lesson may be to force platforms to redesign their products so that misinformation cannot spread as widely.


How the media should cover America’s elderly leaders (The New York Times)

Following President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Ben Smith explores how the press should cover a government that is increasingly led by octogenarians. Members of the press corps may feel uncomfortable asking prying questions about a politician’s health or mental status, but that information is vital for citizens to understand who is leading the country. Understanding the medical conditions that are most likely to impact the elderly will help journalists ask the right questions, both of politicians and outside experts who can provide context. And reporters must share the “open secrets” of D.C. backrooms, about who is and is not up to the job.


Corporate folly and the collapse of queer media (Study Hall)

In 2017, several corporate brands launched Gen Z-focused, queer media outlets as a way of engaging — and marketing to — the growing community of queer-identifying young people. Both Grindr’s INTO and Condé Nast’s them focused on more diverse LBGTQIA+ communities than traditional gay media outlets like Out and The Advocate. Early this year, INTO disappeared, while them has lost key writers and failed to capitalize on its initial buzz. Chris Erik Thomas writes that the queer media is still struggling because advertisers are too cautious about being associated with LGBTQIA+ stories, and the future likely lies in subscription-based outlets that are made by and for queer people.