Need to Know: Sept. 10, 2019

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


You might have heard: How the MIT Media Lab concealed its relationship with Jeffrey Epstein (New Yorker)

But did you know: The broader lessons of the MIT Media Lab’s Epstein scandal (Columbia Journalism Review)

The Media Lab scandal re-ups the periodic, broader conversation about whom top universities take their money from, writes Jon Allsop. In recent times, MIT alone has accepted donations from the Kochs, fossil-fuel companies, and the government of Saudi Arabia. Kate Darling, a researcher at the Media Lab, perhaps put it best when she tweeted after Ito’s resignation: “If we end this with one person falling on their sword, nothing will change. There is so much work to do to fight the systemic problems at the Media Lab, MIT, and beyond. Today we grieve, tomorrow we roll up our sleeves.” 

+ “I get that not every fortune is clean and that it is impossible for every donor or investor or adviser or leader in tech to be perfectly pure,” writes Kara Swisher. “But if you can’t manage to say a hard no to those responsible for the dismemberment of a journalist or to a predator of young girls, I am not sure what to say.” (New York Times)

+ Noted: Podcast ad spending approaching $1 billion (MediaPost); Group Nine Media raises additional $50 million from Discovery and Axel Springer (Wall Street Journal); Poynter and The Washington Post announce members of the 2019 Leadership Academy for Diversity in Digital Media (Poynter)


‘Amplifier’ highlights Charlotte through its diverse music scene (It’s All Journalism)

When Joni Deutsch arrived in Charlotte to become the podcast lead at NPR station WFAE, she wanted to create something that captured the city’s unique identity beyond just football and banking. To that end, she launched Amplifier, a biweekly podcast that highlights the region’s diverse music scene. Joni shares how they did it with It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell. This episode is the latest in “Better News,” a podcast series from It’s All Journalism and API that shares success stories from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative

+ Hiring alert! API is looking for a PHP developer on an ongoing freelance basis to support our Metrics for News application; API affiliate Trusting News is also seeking a part-time, remote project assistant 


Beyond the hype: using AI effectively in investigative journalism (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

Much of the discussion around artificial intelligence for journalism is about using it to find patterns or make connections within reams of data. But journalists shouldn’t expect AI to sniff out story ideas for them, writes Jonathan Stray. There are problems inherent in using it for that purpose — accuracy is an issue, expensive AI code can often only be used for one story, and even the best AI technology can’t help with the painstaking process of acquiring data. Right now, Stray says, AI methods are best applied to “speed up data preparation and cleaning — the time-consuming ‘wrangling’ that every data story requires,” instead of relying on it as a tool for journalistic sleuthing.

+ News orgs can now download the Citizens’ Agenda Guide, a resource for doing voter-oriented elections coverage (We Are Hearken); The Medill News Leaders Project surveyed 54 local news leaders and innovators for their insights on the future of news (Medill Local News Initiative)


European public service media risk becoming irrelevant, researchers say (Reuters Institute)

A new study of public service media in eight European countries found that, despite their wide offline reach and typically robust funding, they struggle to reach beyond their aging, educated audience in an online environment. With traditional broadcasting in “inexorable structural decline,” there is an urgent need for public service media to reinvent itself for a digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environment, researchers write. “The alternative to this is … ultimately the very real risk of irrelevance to much of the public — an irrelevance that would undermine the legitimacy of public service media as an institution, leaving them unable to deliver on their public service mission.”


Instagram and WhatsApp are the platforms to worry about before the 2020 election (MIT Technology Review)

Facebook and Twitter received most of the attention — and blame — for spreading disinformation in the 2016 presidential election. But a new report from New York University’s Center for Business and Human Rights says that Instagram and WhatsApp may be the bigger risks to democracy in 2020. During the 2016 election, Instagram was found to be a greater tool of Russian disinformation than Facebook — and its defenses are weaker. Meanwhile, disinformation on WhatsApp has heavily influenced elections in countries like India and Brazil. At a minimum, Instagram needs to adopt all the tools Facebook is using to combat disinformation, says Paul Barrett, the report’s author. The biggest change WhatsApp can make, he adds, is to limit users so they can forward messages to no more than a single group. 


How to redesign the debates for our current political climate (Washington Post)

Our political debates can and should be redesigned to ease the current hyperpolarized environment, writes Amanda Ripley. Moderators could ask candidates questions that show their ability and willingness to work across the aisle and listen to differing views; questions like “Explain why someone might oppose abortion or gun control and still be a good person,” or “Who in your inner circle routinely challenges your beliefs?” Or we could get rid of the debate format altogether and instead give candidates an assignment, Ripley suggests. “Put them in American living rooms where they listen to people whose life experiences and beliefs challenge their own. See which candidates can stay curious, without necessarily agreeing.”


A school for scandal is a haven for student journalists (New York Times)

Students at the University of Southern California got a crash course in investigative journalism this summer by reporting on a powerful, scandal-ridden institution: their own school. The students are part of an administrator-approved program called the USC Beacon Project, which officially puts them in the role of campus watchdog. Gordon Stables, the director of the journalism school at U.S.C., said he liked the idea of students digging up facts close to campus. “I was incredibly supportive,” he said, “because I think the right way to teach students the notion of keeping institutions accountable is relevant, whether it’s Washington or Sacramento or Los Angeles.” 

+ AP sparks linguistic pandemonium with hyphen guidance update (Columbia Journalism Review)