Need to Know: September 21, 2018

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


You might have heard: Google searches can be a good indicator of the public’s interests, concerns or intentions, but these searches do not necessarily represent users’ opinions (Pew Research Center)

But did you know: Ahead of the midterms, Google News Lab created a way to see what’s trending at the state, county and city level (Poynter)

On Wednesday the Google News Lab launched Google Trends Midterm, which allows journalists to examine real-time Google search trends at the state, county and city level. Trends can show local journalists what issues matter where they live that may not be reflected in polls, said Simon Rogers, News Lab’s data editor. It doesn’t replace polling, he stressed, “but you can get a real sense of the key issues.” The News Lab is currently working with two local newsrooms, KQED and, to customize data, writes Kristen Hare. In California, that means offering insights at the district level. In Ohio, the News Lab built “a more targeted, politically focused version of its public Trends tool,” according to The News Lab is willing to work with other local newsrooms that have special requests, Rogers said. The News Lab has also partnered with ProPublica to build an Election DataBot, which pulls together Google Trends data, candidate spending data, campaign ads, deleted tweets and campaign statements, which can be a boon to journalists covering local elections.

+ Noted: Journalism funders call on newsrooms to respond to ASNE diversity survey (Democracy Fund); BuzzFeed News cuts podcasting team to focus on video (The Wall Street Journal); Twitter tests Timeline Ads, which places ads in Timelines embedded in publisher sites (Yahoo! News); Online advertising will account for more than half of all U.S. ad sales this year, surpassing $100 billion for the first time (Bloomberg)


The week in fact-checking

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 “The Week in Fact-Checking” newsletter, why Facebook is fighting misinformation better than Twitter; a behind-the-scenes look at Verificado 2018 during the Mexican presidential election; and apply for the International Fact-Checking Network’s flash grant by Oct. 1.

+ API is hiring a Director of Accountability Journalism to help newsrooms report on people and institutions in power


What the Financial Times is doing to get the ‘bossy man voice’ out of its opinion section (Nieman Lab)

Changing and diversifying a newspaper’s op-ed section is a challenge — particularly if that newspaper is the Financial Times. The FT’s 130-year-old opinion section has been dominated by male policy experts; now, it’s up to editor Brooke Masters to bring in more diverse voices. “When I started, you never got anything about how people live,” said Masters in an interview with Nieman Lab. “It was very much [she puts on a deep voice] ‘I want to talk to you about Middle East policy.’ Well, we still get a lot of ‘I want to talk to you about Middle East policy,’ but there are definitely people who are, like, ‘I want to tell you about my life as a trader’ — actually, that was one raging success that came from the callout box.” Masters said that changing the callout for the opinion section, making submissions seem more accessible, has resulted in more diverse and popular stories.

+ Rethinking your opinion section to lift up diverse voices is one of the steps we recommend to reduce people’s confusion over what is news and what is opinion


Old media giants turn to venture capital for their next act (TechCrunch)

Aside from Hearst, the major U.S. newspaper and magazine chains haven’t made many investments in startups, writes Eric Peckham; perhaps due to financial straits that leave little cash for VC investments that won’t pay off until years in the future. But in Northern and Central Europe, where news readership and even print publishing remain healthy by comparison, the leading media groups have been aggressively investing in marketplace and e-commerce startups over the last decade. “The challenge for traditional media companies investing in startups beyond the realm of media is that even if wildly successful, those investments neither give them a distinct advantage in media itself nor make their business model like that of a tech company by way of osmosis,” writes Peckham. “The best case scenario in this strategy seems to be that these companies find enough financial success that they just transition out of the content game.”

+ Former Soviet republic goes to court in bid to “export censorship” beyond its borders (Columbia Journalism Review); The U.K. government is planning to set up a regulator for the internet (BuzzFeed)


This library is using backpacks to help communities record their histories (Lenfest Institute)

In a lot of ways, historians are confronting many of the same issues as journalists, writes Joseph Lichterman. Just like reporters dive into communities to cover stories, archivists will often go into a community, conduct interviews or collect materials, and then head back to their academic institutions where they’ll publish their findings. While many journalists have tried to address the challenges of parachute reporting, a group of archivists at the University of North Carolina has been trying to do the same for their field. The group runs a program called Archivist in a Backpack, which provides kits and instructions to communities across the South to help them record and document their histories. “We really are trying to … create a model where communities are actively curating their own history,” said director Bryan Giemza.


Silicon Valley won’t promise to protect journalists. Lawmakers, you’re up. (Columbia Journalism Review)

“Will I go to prison for violating the terms of service?” This is the question journalists must ask themselves, now, when writing data stories based on public information collected from a website, such as Facebook or Twitter. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, violating a terms of service that prohibits scraping can mean possible criminal liability, writes D. Victoria Baranetsky. Although Silicon Valley leaders, under pressure from Congress to resolve issues regarding data misuse and misinformation on their platforms, have acknowledged the need for transparency, it will likely be up to lawmakers to protect journalists — particularly as scraping becomes an increasingly critical tool in journalistic investigations of these platforms.

+ Earlier: “Facebook wanted us to kill this investigative tool” (Gizmodo)


See how other news organizations’ Facebook Groups are faring (Nieman Lab)

When Facebook last year announced its pivot to Groups in the algorithm, publishers obediently pivoted as well, writes Christine Schmidt. To see how well publishers have since used Groups to create communities around their content, Nieman Lab analyzed the data of about 30 groups — as large as 40,000 members and as small as 300, from international organizations to local publishers. It found that these groups increased their total membership by about 60 percent since the changes to Facebook’s algorithm, with a 36 percent increase in active members. It also found that closed groups (open only to subscribers or specific demographics) seemed to have more stable dialogue and active members than public groups.

+ Campaign by golf publication helps free wrongfully convicted man (Poynter); How a payment portal used by many big publishers requires freelancers to pay a fee to get their money (Welcome to Hell World)


+ In the past week, at least five pieces of journalism have been published as residue of the #MeToo movement. As women’s accounts are wrapped, gently, with cotton batting, the men’s roll like boulders through public discourse. (Columbia Journalism Review)

+ Could video games be the answer to the news industry’s audience engagement challenges? Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong thinks so. (The Washington Post)

+ R.I.P., the celebrity profile (The New York Times)