Need to Know: September 18, 2018

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


You might have heard:In 2015, the Justice Department introduced changes to its media guidelines that aimed to protect journalists, after widespread criticism of the Obama administration’s journalist surveillance policy (The Washington Post)

But did you know: The Justice Department still has secret rules for targeting journalists with FISA court orders (The Intercept)

Yesterday the Intercept revealed documents obtained through a FOIA lawsuit, brought by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute, that list the Justice Department’s rules for targeting journalists with secret FISA court orders. “While civil liberties advocates have long suspected secret FISA court orders may be used (and abused) to conduct surveillance on journalists, the government — to our knowledge — has never acknowledged they have ever even contemplated doing so before the release of these documents today,” writes Trevor Timm. The media guidelines adopted by the Obama administration in 2015, after several scandals involving the administration’s surveillance of journalists, do not apply to FISA court rules, and FISA court orders are inherently secret, so targets are almost never informed that they exist. The fact that these documents were kept secret during the Obama administration is cause for great concern, writes Timm. Now, press freedom advocates are demanding to know whether the Trump administration has used FISA court orders to target journalists with surveillance.

+ Noted: USA Today and CBS partner to report on solutions to education challenges in the U.S. (USA Today); Poynter announces nine schools selected for the 2018-19 College Media Project, which provides in-newsroom training for students (Poynter); Family selling 120-year stake in Arlington Heights newspaper to employees (Daily Herald); New owner Bryan Goldberg plans to spend at least $5M in the first year of the site’s relaunch, mostly on editorial costs (The Wall Street Journal); Marc Benioff explains why he is buying Time magazine (The New York Times)


How to track your goals effectively with a small newsroom (Poynter)

Bad goals — yes, there’s such a thing  — are vague. They value things like “urgency” and “audience growth,” writes Josie Hollingsworth. Good goals, on the other hand, are specific, measurable and numerical, like, “In the second half of 2018, post on average one piece of breaking or developing news a day,” or “Grow average monthly users by 30 percent.” Consultant Tim Griggs recommends keeping track of progress toward measurable goals with a scorecard, which could be as simple as a Google sheet that everyone in the organization shares. A news organization cannot achieve goals if everyone (reporters, editors) doesn’t know what they are, said Griggs. “[A scorecard] is an easy, powerful tool to check in.”


Citizen journalists and scholars are teaming up to investigate Chinese internment camps (The Atlantic)

Citizen journalists and scholars are in a race against time, scouring the internet for evidence of China’s secret internment camps for Muslim citizens. Facing international condemnation, the Chinese government has vigorously denied the camps’ existence, but “it left behind electronic traces, such as government web pages and social-media posts containing images and details of the camps” in the scramble to erase documentation online, reports Sigal Samuel. Now, a handful of people around the world are rushing to capture and archive these clues before they can be scrubbed. Compared with China’s high-tech surveillance state, their tools are simple: Google. Twitter. The Wayback Machine.

+ Related: 10 investigative tools you probably haven’t heard of (Global Investigative Journalism Network)


How the Weather Channel made that insane storm surge animation (Wired)

The Weather Channel’s visualization of storm waters rising to nine feet, swelling around meteorologist Erika Navarro “fills in the gaps of your imagination, and hopefully underscores for anyone in a flood zone all the reasons they should not be,” writes Brian Barrett. And the technology was made possible just in time for Hurricane Florence: The Weather Channel only finished the new “green screen immersive studio” at its Atlanta headquarters last week. Working with The Future Group, a company that specializes in “interactive mixed reality,” TWC began building out the various elements it would need to make extreme weather events feel like they were happening in-studio. “The National Hurricane Center puts out a live feed of their inundation data,” says Michael Potts, TWC’s vice president of design. “We ingest that data, and that allows us to paint pictures, if you will. Prior to that, we imagined what the different environments could be. You see the typical American street corner … We rapidly operationalized this one so that we could get this out and make sure we had the right safety messages out for this storm.”


Could a McClatchy-Tronc merger help local newspapers transition to digital? (Nieman Lab)

As the Chicago Tribune reported Friday, McClatchy has emerged as a bidder for the Chicago-based newspaper chain Tronc. The news “opens up an array of fascinating scenarios for the fast-paced consolidation of daily newspapering amid its continued business downturn,” writes Ken Doctor. Although there are many possible outcomes, a McClatchy-Tronc merger would make Patrick Soon-Shiong, the new billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times and owner of one-quarter of Tronc, the newspaper industry’s “West Coast Bezos,” with the power to play a leading role in the remaking of local news.


Obsessing over one year of the Quartz Obsession email (Nieman Lab)

Obsession, Quartz’s weekday newsletter that takes a deep dive into single topics that may or may not be connected to the day’s news, turns a year old this month. Since its launch the newsletter has been drawing followers for its design and the intriguing, reader-sourced topic areas. (More than 10,000 users have responded to the “what should we obsess over next” prompts in Obsession emails over its first year.) “Through the sandbox of the Obsession email, the editors can test out audience engagement strategies like a subreddit for subscribers and in-email quizzes,” writes Christine Schmidt. In addition to its built-in engagement tactics, the Obsession email complements the rest of Quartz’s email products by offering “a little bit of breathing space away from the news cycle,” said editor Jessanne Collins.

+ Missed danah boyd’s talk at ONA18 on “media manipulation, strategic amplification, and responsible journalism”? Here you go. (Medium, danah boyd)