Need to Know: October 26, 2018

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


You might have heard: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have replaced media companies as the most important information delivery mechanisms within the space of a decade (Columbia Journalism Review)

But did you know: Apple’s ‘radical’ approach to curating the news uses humans over machines (The New York Times)

Apple has waded into the messy world of news with a service that is read regularly by roughly 90 million people. But while Google, Facebook and Twitter have come under intense scrutiny for their disproportionate — and sometimes harmful — influence over the spread of information, Apple has so far avoided controversy. One big reason is that while its Silicon Valley peers rely on machines and algorithms to pick headlines, Apple uses former journalists. Apple News’s editor in chief, Lauren Kern, has quietly become one of the most powerful figures in English-language media, writes Jack Nicas. The stories she and her deputies select for Apple News regularly receive more than a million visits each. “We put so much care and thought into our curation,” said Kern, a former executive editor of New York Magazine. “It’s seen by a lot of people and we take that responsibility really seriously.”

+ “It’s a growing trend — more active news editing and curation with Apple leading the pack (though Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter have also been doing this for quite some time)” (Twitter, @TowCenter)

+ Noted: AT&T, the parent company of CNN, donates $250,000 to defend press freedom (Committee to Protect Journalists); Megyn Kelly is negotiating her exit from NBC News (CNN); Corporate news alert startup Factal launches 24/7 global service with core Breaking News team (GeekWire); NBC News unveils ‘Signal’ streaming-video service (Variety)


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, the limits of media literacy studies, effort to get voters to the polls includes fake celebrity gossip, and some strong words from Gizmodo about media coverage of Facebook’s misinformation “war room.”


What news organizations are toying with in the 2018 election cycle (Nieman Lab)

National elections are, alongside the Olympics, the premier staging ground for American media experiments with technology and formats, writes Laura Hazard Owen. In this election cycle, news organizations are leaning on email newsletters, as well as on text-in-your-question experiments and collaborative efforts like ProPublica’s Electionland 2.0, to get information to voters. The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example, each launched newsletters behind various faces of the organizations to decode the day-to-day of the races. The Lenfest Local Lab and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s innovation desk built a texting product via GroundSource that allows participants to opt in for daily texts related to New Jersey or Pennsylvania elections. And other media organizations are thinking outside the ballot box: ProPublica and The Skimm are both pushing go-participate-in-your-democracy-goshdarnit efforts.

+ Seven ways to visualise the U.S. midterms with Flourish (h/t Poynter’s Try This! Tools for Journalism newsletter) (Flourish); Reporting at polling places, “ballot selfies,” and exit polling by phone: Know your rights while covering the midterms (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press)


‘The public have a right to know when the powerful seek to gag the vulnerable’ (The Telegraph)

The Telegraph is calling it the “British #MeToo scandal that cannot be revealed”: After a businessman used non-disclosure agreements to prevent employees of The Telegraph from accusing him of sexual harassment and racial abuse, the editorial board is speaking out about how NDAs have become a powerful tool to suppress information about wrongdoing in the workplace. “This is … not just a story about the misuse of NDAs, whose original purpose has been bent and skewed to silence allegations of wrongdoing. It is about the freedom of the press to disclose this information and identify the individual concerned.”


The virtual reality dream is dying (The Outline)

VR was supposed to be a revolution, with companies like Oculus pioneering a whole new way for gamers and non-gamers alike to be immersed in digital environments — but that excitement has markedly cooled, writes Joshua Topolsky. Topolsky blames the cumbersome hardware: “In my opinion — as someone who watched this new generation of virtual reality emerge from the earliest days, and was one of its biggest fans — VR adoption will only happen when the barrier to entry is akin to slipping on a pair of sunglasses (and even then it’s no sure thing). Most people don’t want to wear a bulky headset, even in private, there’s no must have ‘killer app’ for VR, and no one has made a simple plug-and-play option that lets a novice user engage casually.”


Mugshot galleries might be a web-traffic magnet. Does that justify publishing them? (Columbia Journalism Review)

For some local newsrooms, mugshots — which are often public records, and easy to obtain from local law enforcement — remain a staple, even as others turn away from them. While it’s not inherently unethical to publish mugshots, some media ethics specialists argue that newsrooms should contextualize such images for readers, articulate the public-service value of disseminating them, and pursue the stories of their subjects after the photos are taken. “Best practice would be to follow up on every single case,” said Kelly McBride, a media ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute. While that may not be feasible for any newsroom, there are other ways to mitigate harm. “The newsrooms that do this well have programmed their sites to only keep the information for 60 to 90 days, so that it doesn’t become punitive,” said McBride.


‘Field crews get the brunt of public abuse’ (Poynter)

“I’m moving on from my career as a photojournalist for NBC LA … I wrote this post in September just to see how I felt writing those words. They made me sad but also excited about the possibilities.” After 24 years as a photojournalist, starting in 1994 at NBC affiliate KSBY in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and ending at KNBC Los Angeles, Lori Bentley Law explains how recent incidents of verbal and physical abuse from members of the public factored into her decision to leave TV news. “I’m not a political person. I don’t have a side, but when the president declares the press the ‘enemy of the people,’ attitudes shift, and the field crews get the brunt of the public abuse … People take out their frustration and anger because we are the visible targets. And I’ve got to say… the field crews are some of the kindest, most caring people you could ever meet.”


+ Could chief ethics officers help technology companies navigate political and social questions? (The New York Times)

+ Local news is the “biggest crisis” in journalism, but a new sustainability campaign is underway at Northwestern (Northwestern Local News Initiative)

+ What can blockchain actually do for journalism? (Columbia Journalism Review)