Need to Know: Sept. 6, 2019

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


You might have heard: More than 80% of journalists have admitted to falling for false information online (Poynter)

But did you know: How source hacking tricks journalists into amplifying misinformation (Data & Society)

Fake news purveyors often use a strategy called “source hacking” to hide the source of the false or problematic information they’re circulating. The techniques — often deployed during breaking news — are designed to encourage media amplification. They include repackaging reactionary talking points, sharing forged documents, and manipulating images, keywords and social media accounts. Their ultimate value comes from “buy-in from audiences, influencers, and journalists,” write Joan Donovan and Brian Friedberg. In a new report, they suggest that newsrooms instate a desk dedicated to evidence and metadata verification, to help journalists corroborate source material before reporting on it.

+ Noted: NPR names veteran media executive John Lansing as its new CEO (NPR); Reporters Without Borders announces $1.5 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies to support transparency and ethics in news and media (Reporters Without Borders); City Bureau is again expanding its government transparency program, this time to Cleveland and Akron (City Bureau); The Compass Experiment introduces its first local news site, Mahoning Matters, which will cover Mahoning Valley and Youngstown, Ohio (Medium, The Compass Experiment)


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: three questions about a Pentagon anti-disinformation project; why Pinterest’s efforts to combat vaccine misinformation is earning praise; and The Washington Post Fact Checker’s guide to verifying campaign ads.


Why evergreen lists are good for loyalty, traffic, social media and more (Local Media Association)

The Fayetteville Observer uses evergreen lists as a way to actively engage readers around community topics. The lists are often pegged to larger news items, events or seasons, and they’re typically based on reader input. The editorial team uses a spreadsheet to track lists they’ve done, making it easy to refresh and reuse the content. It also doesn’t hurt that the lists are reliable traffic drivers. “People are always looking for something to do or somewhere to eat, so these lists in particular are providing our readers with content they can actually use,” said newsroom editor Beth Hutson. “If the readers love what you’re giving them, it makes them more likely to check out more of your content, whether it’s evergreen lists or hard news.”


U.K. print media grows amid Brexit news cycle; digital subs see increase too (MediaPost)

The Brexit news cycle is breathing new life into U.K. legacy media, giving their digital subscriptions a healthy boost in the process. In the last year, the Financial Times’ profits increased by 68%, and its digital subscriptions grew 11%. The Times and Sunday Times parent company News UK hit its 300,000 digital subscriber milestone, and is calling 2019 its most successful year since it launched a digital revenue model in 2010. And in August, the Guardian announced that it broke even in the 2018-2019 financial year, citing digital revenue growth and contributions from readers. “I call it Brexit bump,” tweeted Axios’s Sara Fischer.


Employees have given rise to something far more powerful than ‘CEO activism’ (Quartz)

Corporate activism is on the rise — but media coverage of powerful businesses taking a stand often focuses on leaders, overlooking the increasingly important role employees play in urging action. As employees demand more value-driven actions from their leaders, they’re beginning to dramatically shift how their companies operate, writes Alison Taylor. “More and more staffers want private-sector companies to operate like democracies, not autocracies. They want their values and beliefs to impact core strategic and commercial decisions. And they are challenging sustainability efforts that are disconnected to — or contradict — core business decisions.”


What if we gave every American $50 to donate to news orgs? (Poynter)

A group of academics wants to know what would happen if every adult American received $50, via an income tax checkoff, to donate to his or her favorite news outlet. While the idea is unlikely to ever take off, it’s not without precedent, notes Rick Edmonds: For the last two local election cycles, Seattle has given citizens tax-funded vouchers to pass on as campaign contributions to a city candidate of their choice. In a still-unpublished white paper, the group set down some guidelines — for example, no news org could receive more than 1% of the total, and only “serious” news orgs would be eligible. The approach lets the flow of money be controlled by the public at large, said Guy Rolnik, one of the paper’s authors.

+ CNN’s climate town hall was a step forward. But we still need a climate debate. (Columbia Journalism Review)


Inside The Salt Lake Tribune’s plans to become a nonprofit (Medium, Lenfest Institute)

In July, the IRS approved the tax-free status for the Utah Journalism Foundation, a new entity created by the Salt Lake Tribune to provide an endowment that would support the paper and other local outlets. It’s the latest milestone in the legacy paper’s quiet — yet unprecedented — journey to become a nonprofit newsroom. The next step is securing approval for the Tribune’s own nonprofit status, which could mean making some changes to its journalism. Political endorsements, for example, must go — but Fraser Nelson, the Tribune’s vice president of business innovation, says other forms of coverage will remain, only more actively shaped by readers. “The argument we’re making to the IRS is that all of that, in total, builds community,” she said. “We’re not jettisoning any element of our current product, either the way it’s developed or the things that it says.”


+ When the “whisper network” goes public: The “S****y Media Men” list, two years on (NPR) 

+ Tracing disinformation with custom tools, burner phones and encrypted apps: As the 2020 race heats up, here’s how Matthew Rosenberg, a politics reporter, is preparing for an onslaught of intentional falsehoods. (New York Times)

+ A glimpse under the hood of “Alexa, play Morning Edition” (Medium, Technology at NPR)