Need to Know: April 20, 2021


You might have heard: Americans remain distrustful of mass media (Gallup) 

But did you know: The 2021 World Press Freedom Index finds deterioration in access to information, growing mistrust of journalists worldwide (Reporters Without Borders)

The latest World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders found that journalism was impeded or constrained in 73% of the 180 countries that the index evaluated. The report finds that the pandemic severely curbed journalists’ access to sources and reporting in the field. Meanwhile, the he2021 Edelman Trust barometer, which surveyed people in 28 countries, found that 58% of respondents said journalists deliberately misled the public by reporting information that they knew was false. The United States ranks 44th out 180 countries in press freedom and is rated “fairly good”; the top five countries when it comes to press freedom are Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Costa Rica. 

+ Noted: Tribune says Newslight bid for company is no longer superior to Alden’s bid, after Swiss billionaire pulls backing (MarketWatch); Editorial workers at Insider unionize with The NewsGuild of New York (The NewsGuild of New York); The Village Voice returns to print (The New York Times)  


How newsrooms can do less work — but have more impact

Most news organizations have a fraction of the staff and resources they once had, and burnout remains a major problem across the industry. So newsrooms need to get smarter about prioritizing the work that really matters — and letting go of the rest. Here’s a simple framework for identifying low-value work and cutting back on the types of stories that aren’t resonating with audiences. 

PQ: “If your staff is overworked, overwhelmed, burnt out, and now they feel like they finally have a chance to get off the hamster wheel and breathe, that is a huge win.” 


‘What kind of change could we create, if we truly came together?’ (OpenNews) 

In March, OpenNews launched the DEI Coalition Slack group with 100 partners from the journalism community. The digital space is devoted to sharing knowledge and taking actionable steps toward a more equitable and anti-racist news industry. Since launching, OpenNews has found that journalists working in the DEI space often feel isolated, and that there is a need for collective action and solidarity to relieve the burden on those doing DEI work. Journalists of color, in particular, say that focusing on diversity and equity has been costly for their careers. 


Call for journalists in the UK to receive ‘emotional flak jackets’ against worsening online abuse (Press Gazette) 

A journalist with the BBC in Britain has called for more support for journalists dealing with mental health issues that stem from online abuse and burnout. Shayan Sardarizadeh, who works for a BBC team that covers online extremism and disinformation, said eight of his colleagues had left in the course of 18 months because of the daily abuse that they faced in their work. Sardarizadeh said that, while the BBC has the resources to provide some support for journalists who suffer from death threats or doxxing, other journalists aren’t so lucky. He said that student journalists are also asking about the level of abuse he and his colleagues suffer, which he fears will discourage young people from joining the profession. 


The Supreme Court’s increasingly dim view of the news media (The New York Times) 

A new study from The North Carolina Law Review has found that, in recent years, references to the news media by the Supreme Court have been increasingly negative. The study’s authors wrote that a generation ago, justices wrote frequently of the importance of the press as a government check and of the constitutional protections afforded it. But now, there are fewer mentions of the press overall, and when there are, they are “overwhelmingly less positive.” Conservative justices have been more likely to write negative things about the press, but liberal justices are now also less likely to make positive references to it. One of the study’s authors noted one particularly stark data point — there haven’t been any positive references to the trustworthiness of the press from any justice in more than 10 years. 


Is Facebook buying off The New York Times? (Washington Monthly) 

Facebook has attracted increased scrutiny in recent years for its role in spreading misinformation and, alongside Google, its dominance in the online advertising space. But since 2019, Dan Froomkin writes, the platform has been paying major publishers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others for use of their content in Facebook News, a feature that is not integrated into users’ timelines. It’s unclear if these payments — reportedly more than $3 million per year for The Times — have any direct effect on coverage, but Froomkin argues that the deals give the impression of impropriety, help to legitimize Facebook as a partner of serious news outlets, and undermine efforts from smaller publishers to collectively negotiate with the tech platforms. 


An open letter to Substack — add a donation option (Medium, Institute for Nonprofit News)

In an open letter to Substack’s co-founder Christ Best, Sue Cross of the Institute for Nonprofit News urges the platform to allow a donation option for the platform’s writers. She writes that the change will be good for local news, especially nonprofits. Donations, Cross argues, bring in money for both writers and the platform, engage young readers in a broader community, and keep local news from disappearing behind a paywall. “And it’s the right thing to do,” she adds. Paywalls create an equity issue, while donations allow those who can pay to cover those who cannot. Donations are also a good way to ease readers into becoming paying subscribers, as one-off payments often lead to recurring support.