Need to Know: October 8, 2020


You might have heard: Local news, critical during a public health crisis, has been hit hard during the pandemic (Brookings)

But did you know: The decline of local newsrooms could make it harder for us to detect the next disease outbreak (Columbia Journalism Review)

The dwindling number of local news outlets is making the job of epidemiologists harder. Disease-monitoring organizations rely on local media to provide information on outbreaks, and these groups often monitor several news outlets to keep an eye out for regional trends. Because local news often has the first reports of unusual diseases, that information can be valuable if epidemiologists are looking to trace the origins of an infectious disease outbreak. And the more local the news, the more likely an outbreak is reported early, giving doctors the chance to catch it before it spreads.

+ Noted: Newly launched app empowers journalists to fight against harassment and assault (Reynolds Journalism Institute); California Sunday Magazine is shutting down (WWD); BuzzFeed News pulls reporter from White House, citing virus risk (The New York Times); CBC to lay off dozens of journalists and management across multiple divisions (National Post)


How community-based initiatives helped The Keene Sentinel generate $140,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic (Better News)

As the pandemic hit advertising revenue, The Keene Sentinel of New Hampshire used its email database to generate additional revenue through a “grocery giveaway” sweepstakes, an online talent contest and a pets photo contest. The Sentinel exceeded its goals, generating $140,000 in new revenue, including $88,000 from email appeals. This story is part of a series on Better News that showcases innovative and experimental ideas that emerge from Table Stakes, the newsroom training program; and shares replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole.


How Torstar launched 10 hyperlocal news brands in less than a year (Local Media Association)

Canadian media group Torstar has launched 10 community engagement hubs, in the form of a website and app, in the past year, with more planned for 2021. Torstar Local is an app-first project, which features a mix of local journalism, user-generated content and local marketing. The key has been finding ways for operations to be shared between the brands, which allows for scalability and sustainability. Currently, the brand’s revenue model is advertising, but subscriptions are likely to come in the future.

+ How not to cover voter fraud disinformation (Nieman Reports)


How Russia Today skirts high-tech blockade to reach U.S. readers (Wall Street Journal)

Since 2016, when Russia Today was found to be one of the key players in Russia’s attempt to disrupt the U.S. presidential election, social media companies have curbed its influence on their platforms. But several prominent U.S.-based conservative websites have joined a network of right-leaning publications called Mixi.Media, which includes RT and another Russian outlet, Sputnik. In this network, articles from one site are suggested on the others’ websites, often without the original publisher being identified. This has allowed Russia Today to spread its propaganda far and wide; Mixi is RT’s largest source of referral traffic in the U.S.


The news site was bogus. Facebook still let it build a real audience. (BuzzFeed)

Only two months ago, a website called The Globe Independent launched, filled with plagiarized stories from outlets like NBC News and The Washington Post. After buying dozens of ads on Facebook, including some that were critical of China’s treatment of Uighers, its Facebook page amassed 30,000 likes, despite breaking the company’s own rules about fake accounts and political ads. The site remained on Facebook until BuzzFeed reported it; the website has now disappeared, and it’s not clear who was behind it. Visitors to the Globe Independent’s Facebook page were shown related pages that led to a network of fake news sites that peddled a cryptocurrency scam.

+ Slack is getting Instagram-like stories and push-to-talk audio calls for the pandemic era (The Verge)


Questioning journalism’s heroes isn’t disrespectful — it’s just good reporting (Substack, The Objective)

After Bob Woodward’s new book revealed that President Trump was more aware of the dangers of COVID-19 than he let on in early 2020, some journalists questioned the ethics of sitting on that information in the midst of a deadly pandemic. When asked about it by two female reporters, Woodward was dismissive, and seemingly offended, by the line of questioning. But, Hannah Chinn writes, it shouldn’t be controversial to question another journalist’s decisions — it’s what reporters do all the time. Journalistic heroes like Woodward, she argues, need to be viewed as fallible human beings who succeeded, in part, because they were working within a system built for white men.


Two-thirds of Brits say COVID-19 pandemic has made them appreciate journalism more (Press Gazette)

A study in the U.K. has found that two-thirds of Brits appreciate journalism more now than they did before the pandemic. The jump was highest for those under 35, with 77% of youngsters saying they now value the work of journalists more than before. The study, commissioned by a marketing group formed by various U.K. newspapers, found that people “appreciate and value journalism more since the global coronavirus pandemic began.” The study also found that younger people increasingly turned to established news brands to verify information they’d seen on social media.