Need to Know: Sept. 20, 2019

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


You might have heard: The latest on Edward Snowden includes the Justice Department suing, seeking profits from book (NPR)

But did you know: The same news organizations that do a great job of reporting on privacy problems — have privacy problems (The New York Times)

“The press has performed admirably in reporting on privacy violations by the National Security Agency and major internet companies,” writes Tim Limbert. “But news sites often expose users to the same surveillance programs and data-collection companies they criticize.” Limbert used a recent article from The New York Times to show how readers’ data is tracked and what tracking companies could do with that data. “The Times’s privacy policy does not disclose the vast majority of tracking companies on its site, requires users to accept cookies to fully use the site and explicitly states that The Times ignores the ‘do not track’ browser setting. This type of tracking is standard practice in the news industry, and The Times is far from the worst offender.”

+ Noted: Reuters will deliver Amazon more than 45,000 stories each month to help answer users’ questions (Reuters); McClatchy to drive subscriptions through new nationwide opinion initiative (MediaPost)


In this week’s edition of ‘Factually’

As part of a fact-checking journalism partnership, API and the Poynter Institute highlight stories worth noting related to truth in politics and on the Internet. In the latest edition of Factually: why people aren’t more outraged by disinformation; California lawmakers propose a bill that would make it illegal to distribute fake videos or photos within 60 days of an election; and the U.S. Census Bureau is asking Americans to report any Census-related rumors or misinformation.


The Financial Times promotes ‘the new agenda’ marketing campaign, while dropping paywall (Digiday)

This week the FT launched a global brand-awareness campaign that aims to drive subscriber acquisitions, dropping its paywall for a day to show off what it calls its values-driven reporting. “This is big for us because it’s the FT updating what it’s for,” said Finola McDonnell, chief communications and marketing officer. “It’s not repositioned itself in over a decade … hence the merit of dropping the paywall to show an authentic representation of the brand. We want to be out there in a more value-driven space.” Ads will feature copy from the FT’s journalism on issues like making air travel sustainable and feeding the planet; carefully-chosen content that shows its dedication to covering business and political disruption.

+ Related: Publishers are beefing up ad buying chops to support subscription ambitions (Digiday)

+ Every working journalist in the U.S. needs to understand the 2020 Census. The Center for Cooperative Media wants to help your newsroom host a workshop on it. (Center for Cooperative Media)


Google expands its local news experiments project to the U.K. (Press Gazette)

British publisher Archant will receive “millions of pounds” in funding from Google to start up three news websites in areas identified as news deserts. The three-year partnership, called Project Neon, is similar to the Compass Experiment that Google is currently running in the U.S. with McClatchy. Archant will try to make the news sites profitable by the end of the third year, and successes and failures from the project will be shared with others in the industry. The goal, said the publisher, is to “rethink local news from every perspective,” including its business models, website designs, layout and storytelling methods.


Why Americans don’t fully trust many who hold positions of power and responsibility (Pew Research Center)

A recent Pew survey examined public trust in individuals and institutions of power, including members of Congress, local elected officials, journalists and police officers; finding that trust levels depend on whether members of the public believe these groups care about people, handle resources responsibly and provide accurate information to the public. Overall, journalists did not fare well in the survey, which serves as a reminder that the public generally sees journalists as abusing, to varying degrees, their position of power. 

+ Earlier: Why Americans are afraid of talking to reporters (Zocalo Public Square)


Why you might not want to start a nonprofit newsroom (Medium, Phillip Smith)

Despite the surge in nonprofit news, and the rise (within journalism circles) of our fascination with it, there are plenty of good reasons not to go the nonprofit route, writes Phillip Smith. One is that it could inhibit innovation and the variety in business models that the industry needs badly. Another is that the nonprofit model could prop up a system of white privilege in the U.S., where minority-led projects struggle to access the same networks of wealthy people and foundation support. Finally, writes Smith, going nonprofit could serve as a tacit acknowledgment that audiences don’t value our work enough to pay for it. “What message does it send to readers when the crux of the relationship is appealing to a person’s altruism vs. an exchange of value for services rendered? I believe that it’s worth digging into this further before throwing the for-profit model out the window.”

+ Earlier: The Institute for Nonprofit News’ new report shows outlets relying less on foundation funding, with a majority maintaining three or more revenue streams (Nieman Lab)


PBS NewsHour provides a fantastic example of countering bad science reporting (Twitter, @MoNScience)

You may remember the reporting that went viral a few months ago about a science journal’s finding that spending long hours looking at smartphones was causing “horns” to develop at the back of people’s necks (the study looked specifically at Millennials). Now the journal has walked back its finding, and PBS NewsHour producer Nsikan Akpan has a great thread showing how his team first spotted flaws in how the research was presented; how they reached out to experts to question its validity; and, finally, how they used CrowdTangle to trace how the misinformation spread across social media. (The Washington Post article arguably made the story mainstream, says Akpan.) (H/t to Kristy Roschke for pointing out this thread on Twitter.)


+ Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more? (The Guardian)

+ A thoughtful essay from Paul Michelman, editor of the MIT Sloan Management Review, about the “crisis of agency” and how to overcome feelings of powerlessness. It’s worth reading from the angle of how journalists can give back a sense of control to their audiences. (MIT Sloan Management Review)  

+ “The first question you ask yourself when putting together broadcasts shouldn’t be ‘where’s the argument?’ but who has good ideas”: journalism lessons from Cokie Roberts (RTDNA)