Need to Know: September 4, 2019

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


You might have heard: Lies spread faster on social media than truth does (NBC News)

But did you know: New NYU report urges social media companies to take down ‘provably’ false information (The Washington Post)

Technology companies have gone out of their way to avoid booting misinformation from their platforms, but a new study from the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights urges social media platforms to do just that. The report suggests that Russia or other countries, such as Iran and China, could use social media to spread misinformation, possibly with emerging techniques like deepfake videos, leading up to the 2020 election. However, most disinformation originates in the United States, according to the report, which also predicts Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram may be used to spread false information during the election.

+ Noted: New Yorker fact-checkers win employee status after union push (Bloomberg); Editor and Publisher sold to media consultant Mike Blinder (Editor and Publisher); Washington Post to debut personalized newsletters, dynamic paywalls (Axios)


Trust Tip: When you’re right and other news outlets are wrong, tell your audience (Trusting News)

WMBB in Panama City, Florida posted a brief video on Friday explaining to viewers that national outlets were inaccurately reporting that Hurricane Dorian could be the worst hurricane to hit the state since 1992. Joy Mayer of Trusting News recommends news organizations correct inaccurate information put forth by other outlets to address misconceptions and show loyalty to your audience. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 


How The Times uses FOIA to obtain information the public has a right to know (The New York Times)

During the last decade, The New York Times has filed more lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act than any other mainstream news organization. That standing includes 31 Obama-era lawsuits and 27 filed during the Trump administration. The lawsuits have yielded public documents on gun control, foreign lobbyists and state agencies after FOIA officials initially denied the requests. Times deputy general counsel David McCraw writes, “If requesters always shrug and walk away at that point, it means we are leaving it to federal bureaucrats to decide just how secret our government is going to be. That was never part of the plan for democracy.”


Opinion: The challenges of being a foreign reporter in China (National Public Radio)

According to a study from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, almost half of those surveyed had experienced being followed or having their hotel rooms entered without permission while reporting in the country. Frank Langfitt, a London-based NPR correspondent and former Shanghai reporter, writes that Chinese agents previously followed him while reporting, as well. As harassment of international reporters in China has worsened in recent years, Langfitt writes that Chinese professors and other nationals are practicing self-censorship to avoid potential consequences of political speech. He found a loophole running a free taxi service where passengers could feel comfortable talking about controversial subjects.

+ Why the press struggles to cover the war in Yemen (Columbia Journalism Review)


What can journalists learn from community organizers? (Lenfest Institute for Journalism)

Residents from Philadelphia’s Germantown often complain that coverage of their community relies on stereotypes. Through a project from the organization Free Press that aims to make local news coverage more representative, Germantown Info Hub held weekly table sessions to hear residents’ concerns and feedback on local news coverage. When it became clear that litter was a huge issue for residents, Germantown Info Hub held a solutions-focused community discussion on the topic. “We learned things I would have never considered on my own without the help and expertise of community members,” said Andrea Wenzel, head of Germantown Info Hub and an associate professor at Temple University.


Democracy dies from bad fact-checking (The Nation)

Fact-checking can be deceptively subjective, as illustrated by multiple fact-checks that have garnered criticism for The Washington Post. Jeet Heer claims that the publication “is trying to use fact-checking as an ideological weapon” after the Post labeled several statements from Sen. Bernie Sanders as misleading, when the facts don’t bear that out. In one example from July, fact-checker Glenn Kessler concluded that Sanders’ comparison of the wealth of the three wealthiest Americans with that of the bottom half of the country wasn’t “especially meaningful,” although the statement was “based on numbers that add up.” Heer writes: “Sanders is under attack not for making false statements, but for calling attention to facts that are politically unpalatable for those who are happy with the economic status quo.”


More than 17,000 YouTube channels removed since new hateful content policy implemented (The Verge)

YouTube announced yesterday that the platform has taken down more than 17,000 channels and 100,000 videos for hate speech violations from April to June. This year, the company put in place more stringent hate speech policies, leading to the spike in removals. Although the policy update bars supremacist content, CNN reported that YouTube hasn’t removed videos from white supremacist Richard Spencer, former KKK leader David Duke and other accounts known to promote racism.