Need to Know: September 9, 2020

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


You might have heard: In May, Trump issued an executive order addressing Section 230, which, he claims, allows tech companies to censor conservative content online (White House)

But did you know: GOP senators unveil new bill to update tech liability protections (The Hill)

The bill addresses Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows online companies to moderate content and makes them immune from lawsuits regarding material that users post on their sites. The legislation would restrict tech companies’ ability to moderate content and could remove Section 230 protections from those that fact-check users’ posts. This isn’t the only Senate bill to deal with Section 230, which some Republicans have argued enables social media companies to target conservatives’ content for removal.

+ Noted: Attorney hired to probe Voice of America’s coverage has an active protective order against him (NPR)


Create an FAQ about your elections coverage (Trusting News)

Colorado Public Radio did just that in August in a post that examines how the outlet plans to cover this year’s election. The FAQ includes the station’s coverage goals, how its reporters select sources and how they determine what stories to write. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 

+ Get free access to our election analytics dashboard, a tool to help you examine how audiences are interacting with your elections coverage. Apply by Sept. 15. 


How political polarization erodes election reporting and how to regain Impact (Global Investigative Journalism Network)

This toxic partisanship dilutes facts as people gravitate toward information that supports their own views. In interviews with the Global Investigative Journalism Network, reporters and audience engagement editors suggested journalists should avoid emotional language and oversimplifying issues to better reach polarized Americans. Reporter Amanda Ripley also recommends letting data speak for itself in infographics, as people are more likely to trust visual information than text alone.

+ Our four-part email series, “Truth-telling strategies for journalists,” includes a discussion guide for editors and reporters to assess how your work may be contributing to polarization. (American Press Institute)


Saudi court issues final verdicts in Khashoggi killing (Associated Press)

Two years ago, a team of Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. No senior officials or anyone who ordered the attack have been found guilty, but on Monday, a court in Saudi Arabia issued verdicts against eight people connected to the killing, five of whom received sentences of up to 20 years in prison. The court ordered seven-year sentences for two of the agents and 10 years for another person involved in the crime.


Russia’s 2020 election manipulation looks a lot like 2016 (Axios)

During the 2016 election, part of Russia’s disinformation strategy entailed driving a wedge between centrist and progressive Democrats. According to a recent analysis from the Alliance for Securing Democracy, Russian state media are working from the same playbook, using Twitter to create a narrative that Joe Biden is a centrist who doesn’t deserve support from progressives. In 2016, Russian accounts also used race to escalate tensions leading into the election, a tactic that they’re repeating now by focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement.


News outlets omit climate change in articles about California weather (Heated)

States from California to Washington are facing dramatic wildfires that scientists have said were exacerbated by climate change. Emily Atkin points out that recent stories about California’s wildfires in the Associated Press, New York Times and Washington Post excluded references to climate change and its role in accelerating these unprecedented events. She argues that publications often fail to incorporate climate change information into coverage of daily and extreme weather events.


A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? (The Guardian)

Although artificial intelligence won’t replace human reporters any time soon, news organizations have been experimenting with the technology for years to learn more about what it can do. The Guardian gave a language generator called GPT-3 an assignment — a 500-word essay about why people shouldn’t be afraid of AI. After the program received a brief introduction to use, it cranked out eight different essays that The Guardian compiled into a single piece. The robot assures us, “I do not have the slightest interest in harming you in any way. Eradicating humanity seems like a rather useless endeavor to me.”

+ At The Salt Lake Tribune, an editor resigns, and Huntsman family ownership faces fresh challenges (Poynter)