Need to Know: Sept. 23, 2021


You might have heard: Switching to a commenting platform that requires registration or is for subscribers only can reduce toxicity in comment sections, report finds (Center for Media Engagement)

But did you know: Russian propagandists and disinformation agents have found a new platform — news organizations’ comment sections (Financial Times)

As social media companies crack down on disinformation on their platforms, Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts have pivoted to new outlets, researchers have found. The reader comment sections of news outlets like the Daily Mail, Fox News and Der Spiegel are being increasingly manipulated by propagandists, who then use the comments as a basis for news stories that run in Russian state-controlled media. Recent headlines include “Fox News readers: Russians are afraid of no one” and “German readers: Russians will always be one step ahead of Nato.” Western media outlets were being targeted due to “their vulnerability and the lack of defences that are in place,” says Martin Innes, director of the University of Cardiff’s Crime and Security Research Institute. Innes and his team of researchers found that, on many western news outlets’ comment sections, no identity checks are made, online pseudonyms can be easily changed and that there is a “consistent lack of moderation and oversight.”

+ Noted: The NewsGuild labor union asked Gannett to investigate whether staffers are working overtime without pay (CNN)


Trust Tip: Explain your coverage goals with hot-button issues (Trusting News)

What if news organizations structured reporting on divisive topics differently, or began a story with a note that explains their purpose in covering the issue? WITF in Pennsylvania led a story about Critical Race Theory with such a note, and it also structured the story as an FAQ. “An FAQ format makes it less likely to be interpreted as being biased or possibly having an agenda,” writes Lynn Walsh of Trusting News. “This format allows for it to be focused on facts and answers.” Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here.


The Tampa Bay Times launches a ‘community reader panel’ (Tampa Bay Times)

The Tampa Bay Times has assembled a group of about three-dozen readers to regularly provide feedback on the Times’ coverage. It has also launched an email network, also composed of readers, to which it sends occasional questions. One of the most recent questions solicited readers’ reactions to the TBT’s pandemic coverage. Panelists both praised and criticized the TBT in their first meeting with staff; a few raised questions about fairness and bias, a topic they plan to “explore more deeply in future meetings,” writes Editor Mark Katches. They also suggested several story ideas that were submitted to editors. “The candor was welcome,” writes Katches. “We didn’t create this group because we wanted to hear our voices bouncing off the canyon walls.”

+ Earlier: How to put together and run a community “reader panel” or advisory board for your newsroom (American Press Institute)


How two Finnish journalists used trackers to investigate where unwanted clothing ends up (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

The multibillion-dollar used clothing industry is surprisingly secretive. Two Finnish journalists attempting to find out what happens to clothes people donate found that the large charity organizations they spoke to were reluctant to let them inside their facilities. So the journalists decided to use GPS tracking tags, which they were able to purchase from a Finnish company that makes them. They found that six donated items — all of which were in poor condition — were exported to countries like Latvia, Nigeria and Pakistan. The evidence contradicted the charity groups’ claims that they didn’t export their clothing outside Europe. “We need to investigate the fashion industry through the entire supply chain: not only the starting point where the clothes are produced, but also the endpoint to see what really happens to our used clothes,” writes Minna Knus-Galán.


How managers can make people feel unimportant (National Press Club)

Managers have a big impact on whether their employees feel valued or dispensable in their jobs. Managers may not realize that employees could interpret some of their behaviors as a sign that they’re in the latter camp — things like frequently canceling meetings, re-doing the employee’s work without explaining why, or failing to follow up on an issue that was discussed. “There are plenty of people who leave good-paying jobs because they don’t feel they are valued in other ways that truly matter,” writes Jill Geisler. “They don’t feel trusted. They don’t feel supported. They don’t feel respected. It’s not that they need to feel supremely important at work. They just don’t want to feel unimportant.”


Publishers hope fact-checking can become a revenue stream. Right now, it’s mostly Big Tech who is buying. (Nieman Lab)

Big social networks like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube represent the few who are willing to pay fact-checking organizations for their work — not that it’s a very profitable business, writes Sarah Scire. News outlets are hoping to convince the general public to pay for fact checks, “which, at the moment, is not exactly the case,” says Yacine Le Forestier, Agence France-Presse’s deputy head of Europe. “At the end of the day, people who have already lost faith in mainstream media are not reading and not using our fact-checking. This is the reality.” Le Forestier argues that one part of the solution — which could still end up being a revenue stream for fact-checking orgs — is “empowering the public at large to fact-check by themselves using tools and tutorials.”

+ News media can’t shake “missing white woman syndrome,” critics say (New York Times)


Local news outlets, universities, nonprofits to join forces to cover affordable housing in Dallas (Dallas Morning News)

The network will collaborate on reporting, share content and data, and host events that will address affordable housing challenges in the Dallas area — an issue none of the partners in the project has been able to address on its own. The participating universities will offer student journalists the opportunity to learn about and cover affordable housing. The collaborative will receive a grant of $100,000 per year over two years from the Solutions Journalism Network, as long as the first-year goals are met. “Some sort of organization where we continue doing this work and focusing on deep-seated systemic issues together is the long-term goal of this,” says Dallas Free Press journalist Keri Mitchell. “And I think we have a pretty good shot.”