Need to Know: September 2, 2020


You might have heard: In March, Facebook and Twitter suspended Russian-linked operation targeting African Americans on social media (The Washington Post)

But did you know: Facebook takes down Russian operation that recruited U.S. journalists, amid rising concerns about election misinformation (The Washington Post)

Facebook announced that it has taken down a small network of fake accounts associated with Russian operatives that had targeted left-leaning Americans. The operatives had recruited American journalists to write articles about racial justice and the presidential election. Facebook says it caught the network before it had a chance to grow a large audience; together the accounts had about 14,000 followers. The network, which directed readers to a site called Peace Data, which seemed designed to sow left-leaning ambivalence towards Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Facebook said it plans to inform 200 or so journalists who were recruited by the Russian operatives. One of the journalists who wrote for Peace Data said that an editor reached out to him in a direct message on Twitter in July, offering $200 per article.

+ Peace Data recruited journalists on the freelance networking website Guru, calling for “writers for the following topics: anti-war, corruption, abuse of power, human rights violations, and such like.” Its “editors”  were in some cases digital personas whose profile pictures were deepfakes, or algorithmically generated. (NBC News)

+ Noted: Membership Puzzle Project extends work for another year, will focus its research and funding overseas (Membership Puzzle Project); Boston’s WCBH drops the “W” in rebrand (Boston Business Journals); Colorado-based High Country News to invest $10 million for expanded staff and technology (High Country News); Facebook says it can block content to avoid regulatory risk (Bloomberg)


Apply for immediate election project funds or coverage support

API is offering micro-grants and free expert support to news organizations seeking to strengthen their coverage of Election 2020 in service of the American electorate. The grants are part of API’s Trusted Election Network, a consortium of more than 200 journalists and experts focusing on election-related challenges, including misinformation and election administration. Learn more and apply by September 14.

+ Trust Tip: If your coverage is nonpartisan, explain and defend that (Trusting News)


People who feel connected to their news outlet trust the overall media more (Medium, Trusting News)

The latest research from the Pew Research Center may seem bleak, with plenty of Americans saying they’re distrustful of the media. But hidden within it are clues for how newsrooms can gain back that trust. One way is to encourage people to feel connected to your organization by demonstrating that you’re listening to their voices and valuing them as consumers. Only 21% of adults say they’ve been interviewed by a local journalist, and those numbers are even lower for people of color, younger people, and the less affluent and educated. Making an effort to be inclusive — be easy to contact, invite feedback, invest in online interactions — can pay dividends in building connections and trust with your audience.

+ Earlier: Our research found that people who have had interactions with news reporting mostly think it was unbiased and fair (American Press Institute)

+ The New York Times turned over the letters section to readers’ suggestions on how to improve political debates (The New York Times)


How the Daily Maverick is selling memberships for hard-hitting journalism in South Africa (Digiday)

In South Africa, paywalls and digital subscriptions for news have largely failed, so the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick has instead followed The Guardian’s model of asking for support while giving away its content for free. The site, which covers politics and business, asks readers to contribute so that others who cannot afford to pay can still read; founder Branko Brkic hopes people will make “an emotional decision.” The site has gained 13,000 paying members over the past two years, each paying at least 75 Rand ($4.50 USD) per month. The website has focused on shoe-leather reporting, including an award-winning investigation into the police killing of striking miners.


When you’re supposed to stay at home all the time, service journalism fills a new role (Nieman Lab)

Service journalism has been on the rise for a long time, but the pandemic has made it a staple of everyday news. Broadly defined as content that offers actionable advice or answers questions, these types of stories used to be common in lifestyle magazines, but are uniquely suited to an on-demand, search engine-driven media. During the pandemic, much of service journalism has focused on the “new normal” at home. Even Wirecutter, an established product review site, switched focus from long-term, in-depth reviews to advice on dealing with shipping delays and home workouts.

+ Earlier: All journalism should be service journalism (Nieman Lab)


Journalists need to remember that not all news readers are white (Nieman Reports)

It can be easy for white reporters to imagine that their readers are also white, and Marc Lacey at The New York Times argues that it’s time for journalists to stop making such assumptions. Reporters should also mention a person’s whiteness as an issue when it comes to politics, he says. Lacey sites, as a positive example, a Times article that highlighted the tricky position of California Governor Gavin Newsom, a white man who will appoint a replacement for Kamala Harris if she is elected vice president, because Newsom’s whiteness in replacing a Black and Asian woman will likely be a factor in how he makes his decision.


How the coronavirus pandemic changes weather reporting (Axios) 

COVID-19 has changed a lot about American life, and the way that meteorologists cover the weather is one of them. The Weather Channel will start using more drones and 360-degree cameras to do in-the-field reporting while maintaining social distancing, while Accuweather is working on products that advise users about air quality. Both are investing in products that will be useful for pandemic life, like forecasting that allows outdoor testing centers to have real-time information about weather and educational resources for parents who are home with their children.