Need to Know: Sept. 27, 2019

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


You might have heard: Whistleblower accuses White House of Ukraine call cover-up (Associated Press)

But did you know: New York Times responds to reader concerns that publishing details about the identity of the Trump whistleblower endangers the whistleblower (New York Times)

Executive Editor Dean Baquet explained that the Times decided to publish limited information about the whistleblower — whose information was the basis for the formal impeachment inquiry now facing President Trump — “because we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible.” Trump and his supporters have called into question the whistleblower’s credibility and objectivity, and Trump himself referred to the official complaint as a “political hack job.” The Times described the whistleblower as a CIA official who was previously detailed to work at the White House and has direct experience with Ukraine.

+ Related: “Inside Fox News, tensions over Trump are becoming harder to contain as a long-running cold war between the network’s news and opinion sides turns hot.” (Vanity Fair)

+ Noted: Coursera launches free database that connects journalists with academic experts — no subscription, no sign-in needed (Coursera); At least 70 countries have had disinformation campaigns, study finds (New York Times); At the U.N. General Assembly, 43 claims were verified in 24 hours — and only 13 of them were true (Poynter)


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: how misinformation makes money; WhatsApp forwarding limits are throttling fake news (and real newsletters); and Twitter archives make it possible to research state-backed information operations. 

+ Apply by Monday (!) for subsidized access to API’s Metrics for News software and consulting services.


Resources for localizing the story of climate change (Knight-Cronkite News Lab)

As audiences begin to engage more with climate stories, it falls on local news outlets (and in particular, weather reporters), to connect the global story of climate change to the impacts audiences are seeing in their own backyards. Frank Mungeam points to two useful resources for localizing coverage: The interactive Climate Opinion Map, a tool that enables local news outlets to drill down to see climate survey results at a hyper-local level for their communities; and Climate Central, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that employs its own meteorologists and uses NOAA weather data to create relevant local visualizations that are free to use for local newsrooms. 


Google plays hardball with European news publishers (Columbia Journalism Review)

Rather than pay French publishers for using short excerpts from their news stories on its search results, Google announced this week that it will stop pulling the excerpts completely; leaving a big white space under news headlines that definitely does not induce readers to click on them. Google has already been through the “link tax” battle with Germany and Spain, and came out on top both times. In Germany, publishers refused to let Google link to their content at all if it didn’t pay, but then relented after their traffic plummeted by up to 40%. Later, Google kicked Spanish publishers off the Google News index completely. “The unfortunate reality for most digital publishers is that they rely on Google’s traffic whether they like it or not,” writes Mathew Ingram, “and the company’s flexing of its muscles in France is only the latest evidence.”

+ Financial Times closes its Whatsapp group as platform clamps down on bulk messaging, which includes newsletters. (Press Gazette)


‘Open offices are a capitalist deadend’ (New York Times)

Could one of the reasons that WeWork failed so spectacularly be that open-plan offices are a terrible idea? Modern office plans, which have been shrinking in recent years, are simply not designed for deep work, writes Farhad Manjoo. “Much will be written in the coming weeks about how WeWork failed investors and employees. But I want to spotlight another constituency. WeWork’s fundamental business idea — to cram as many people as possible into swank, high-dollar office space, and then shower them with snacks and foosball-type perks so they overlook the distraction-carnival of their desks — fails office workers, too.”


‘We hear you. You’re angry. Here’s what we are doing about it.’ (Des Moines Register)

You may have heard about the scandal: A 24-year-old man in Iowa asking for beer money on ESPN’s “College GameDay” received so much money that, with bankrolling from Busch Light and local businesses, he ended up donating more than a million dollars to an Iowa children’s hospital. Then the story took a couple unpleasant twists when a Register reporter found racist tweets that the man, Carson King, had posted at age 16. He wrote about them in a profile of King; then readers found racist tweets on the reporter’s social media profiles. Executive editor Carol Hunter does an excellent job of explaining to readers why King’s tweets were exposed in the first place (King had actually already acknowledged the tweets in a press conference), what happened to the reporter, and how the Register will change its policies on backgrounding individuals in stories, as well as screening and social media vetting during hiring.


This company opens up the black box of what print newspaper subscribers are actually reading (Nieman Lab) 

German analytics company Lesewert gathers focus groups of up to 100 people and gives each person a digital pen to mark the last line of text in each article they read. The pen transmits the data to an app, which compiles it into a dashboard for each newspaper client. The famed German news magazine Der Spiegel moved its print publication day from Monday to Saturday after seeing Lesewert’s data; Luxemburger Wort began publishing fewer articles in its print edition and then watched reading times go up. Sächsische Zeitung, another Lesewert client, discovered that almost half of its print subscribers are approaching their 80s or 90s, and the average age of new print subscribers is 64. “We call this in Germany the Chart of Silence,” said editor-in-chief Uwe Vetterick, referring to the dashboard, “because when you show it for the first time, all of a sudden everyone was so silent.”


+ When is a frog not a frog? Building a new digital tool to help journalists track political symbols (Columbia Journalism Review) 

+ “Hey journalists, how much of an effect do you think your personal appearance (in terms of level of “polish”/“professional attire”) has on your interview subjects? How does that impact the interview? Asking as someone whose most recent subject was visibly startled when they saw me.” (Twitter, @GrimKim)

+ A chat with ClimateAdam: the YouTuber who uses gin & tonics to explain rising sea levels (Medium, European Journalism Center)