Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Need to Know: September 5, 2018

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


You might have heard: Audiences are increasingly moving from public social media to closed or semi-closed platforms (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: Facebook’s private groups offer refuge to fringe figures (The New York Times)

Facebook’s fight against disinformation and hate speech will be a topic of discussion on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, will join Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Facebook has taken many steps to clean up its platform, including hiring thousands of additional moderators, developing new artificial-intelligence tools and breaking up coordinated influence operations ahead of the midterm elections. But when it comes to more private forms of communication through the company’s services — like Facebook groups, or the messaging apps WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger — the social network’s progress is less clear. Some experts worry that Facebook’s public cleanup may be pushing more toxic content into these private channels, where it is harder to monitor and moderate.

+ Noted: Tronc’s Virginia newsrooms set to unionize (NPR); The Outline lays off all of its staff writers (Fast Company); New Yorker editor explains why Steve Bannon was dropped from magazine’s annual upcoming festival (NPR); The Washington Post names Madhulika Sikka executive producer of new flagship podcast (The Washington Post); Trump threatens NBC’s license over “highly unethical conduct” on spiked Harvey Weinstein story (The Wrap); Bob Woodward stands by reporting in his book about Trump, after the White House calls its credibility into question (The Washington Post)  


News subscriptions: what works and what doesn’t (Center for Media Engagement)

A new two-part study funded by the American Press Institute and conducted by the Center for Media Engagement examines tactics newsrooms use to obtain new subscribers. CME researchers interviewed staff members from six news organizations with strong reputations for securing donations and subscriptions to understand their experiences, strategies and best practices for reaching out to potential donors and subscribers. The interviews led to two key insights: the importance of visuals (pictures of journalists working or major news events, for example) and the significance of a “ladder of engagement,” whereby people are introduced to the brand and then gradually shown the significance of the journalism before being asked to subscribe or donate.


Anticipating the daily traumas of local reporting (Columbia Journalism Review)

After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the York Daily Record launched a peer support and trauma awareness program that encourages reporters to reach out to editors or trusted coworkers when covering a tough story. It also trains staffers to be proactive about checking in on each other, both at the York Daily Record and at the paper’s sister publications in Lebanon, Hanover, and Chambersburg, Penn. The point of the program “is to prepare staff and newsrooms before something major happens,” says Scott Blanchard, the former Record editor who helped create it. The Record’s peer-support program is a rarity among American newsrooms, where efforts to assist journalists dealing with trauma are typically reactive, writes Tiffany Stevens.

+ Earlier: Are you ready for trauma in your newsroom? New research may help (RTDNA)


How Duterte used Facebook to fuel the Philippine drug war (BuzzFeed News)

Rodrigo Duterte dominated Facebook, a leading provider of news and information in the Philippines, during the country’s presidential election. He amassed a powerful following that propelled him into the presidency and ratcheted up support for his administration’s brutal crackdown on the drug trade. Part of his campaign strategy, writes Davey Alba, was using the platform to stoke anger, hope and pride among his base. “To fight with limited funds, the campaign must organize a series of dramatic events that stoke these emotions in escalating fashion,” stated one campaign document. “And Duterte’s position on the Philippine drug trade was dramatic indeed,” writes Alba. During one 2016 campaign rally, Duterte said he would dump the bodies of slain drug dealers “into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.” That remark immediately went “viral viral viral — no boosting, nothing,” bragged Pompee La Viña, Duterte’s social media director during the campaign. “He would talk about the economy for one week, but then he would go back to drugs. Always, he would go back to drugs. He’s a politician. He saw it was the thing people reacted to.”


Urban Meyer, Ohio State football, and how leaders ignore unethical behavior (Harvard Business Review)

David Meyer pulls findings from management and psychology research that can help leaders understand the biases that lead to unethical decisions. One of the most common is a tendency to value performance over principle. Another stumbling-block is a lack of language around values. “Leaders are more likely to talk about deadlines, objectives, and effectiveness than values such as integrity, respect, and compassion,” Meyer writes. On the other hand, leaders tend to use euphemistic language to describe unethical actions, which can make people less aware that certain decisions are unethical, or lead them to feel less guilty about their consequences. Deciding to simply omit information (rather than lie about it) is another common sin by leaders. “We tend to think that omitting relevant information is not as harmful as lying or doing something unethical,” writes Meyer, “but it can be just as deceptive, making it difficult to pinpoint wrongdoing and correct it.”


‘Free speech is not the same as free reach’ (Wired)

Today Facebook and Twitter will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Republican lawmakers are expected to grill them over suspicions that the platforms suppress conservative content. But the real culprit is not the executives leading the social tech industry, argues Renee DiResta — it’s the algorithms that surface our search results and have an outsize impact on individuals’ experience online and society at large. “The algorithms don’t understand what is propaganda and what isn’t, or what is ‘fake news’ and what is fact-checked,” writes DiResta. “Their job is to surface relevant content (relevant to the user, of course), and they do it exceedingly well.” The conversation we should be having, she says, is how to build better algorithms, or at least bring more transparency to how they operate. “It would be good to remind [lawmakers] that free speech does not mean free reach. There is no right to algorithmic amplification. In fact, that’s the very problem that needs fixing.”


Print is dead? Not here (The New York Times)

In The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida, nearly every one of the 50,000 residents subscribes to the daily print newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun. The Daily Sun is in the midst of a boom that few other papers can even imagine, writes Ted Geltner. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, the Sun’s weekday circulation of 55,700 is up 169 percent since 2003. Over the same time, weekday newspaper circulation across the United States has dropped 43 percent. “With its large and growing editorial staff of approximately 50, the Daily Sun newsroom operates in ways that most newspaper journalists can only dream of anymore,” writes Geltner, including a special projects team that works on investigations that can take up to a year to complete. And it’s likely to continue to grow, as long as The Villages is developing new swaths of Florida real estate and more retirees are buying in.

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