Need to Know: June 15, 2022


You might have heard: Journalists are feeling pressure from the pandemic (Medill Local News Initiative) 

But did you know: Journalists sense turmoil in their industry amid continued passion for their work (Pew Research Center) 

In a new Pew Research Center survey of more than 12,000 working journalists in the U.S., 77% said they would pursue a career in journalism again, and 75% said that they’re “extremely” or “very” proud of their work. But more than half of journalists worry about press freedom and misinformation, and 72% used a negative word — like struggling or chaos — to describe the industry. On the whole, journalists are much more likely than the general public to believe that the news industry does a good job of covering major stories, reporting the news accurately and serving as a watchdog over elected leaders. 

+ Noted: NYT CEO outlines plans to reach 15 million subscribers by 2027 (Axios); The Marshall Project announces Cleveland local news team (The Marshall Project); Baltimore Banner officially launches, plans to expand to 70 journalists by end of year (Baltimore FishBowl)  


How the Star Tribune added clarity to opinion content (Medium, Trusting News) 

It is far too easy for users to consume opinion content and genuinely confuse it with straight news — they can’t tell the difference. This year, the team at the Minneapolis Star Tribune decided to label and succinctly explain each piece of opinion content, every time. To accomplish this, they added a two-sentence explanation to the top of each opinion item explaining what editorials, reader letters, commentaries, etc., are. “Readers don’t learn about different types of journalism through mind-reading,” says Elena Neuzil, the Star Tribune’s letters editor. 

+ Trust Tips: Clearly label opinion content (Trusting News) 


How journalists can best cover red flag laws (Poynter) 

With support for “red flag laws” — statutes that allow for the removal of guns from a person who is deemed a danger — growing around the country, Amy Sherman and Hana Stepnick offer tips for journalists on covering the new or expanding laws. When covering state red flag laws, read the statute and talk to officials about how the law is used and how cases are documented. The Indianapolis Star looked at documentation of cases and found that police and prosecutors had failed to fully enforce the laws, leading to preventable gun deaths. (The Star was a finalist for a Pulitzer for this reporting.) Other things to look for includes which counties are filing the most petitions, misinformation spreading about how these laws are applied and research on existing gun laws. 


Meet the fact-checkers decoding Sri Lanka’s meltdown (Rest of World)

Watchdog is a Sri Lankan research collective that is using fact-checking and open-source intelligence to document the ongoing political and economic crisis in the island nation. The group’s public dataset, which tracks demonstrations and conflicts, is “the most comprehensive online archive of the historic events unfolding in Sri Lanka,” writes Nilesh Christopher. The group originally launched to counter misinformation spread via WhatsApp and Facebook, but eventually volunteers burned out and the group’s founders became disillusioned with the benefits of fact-checking. Now, they have relaunched as an open-source intelligence group, in the model of Bellingcat. 


TikTok is the town square now (Substack, Embedded)

TikTok has evolved past its “dancing memes” origins to become a central place — “the ocean into which—and out of which—the streams of all the other platforms run,” writes Kate Lindsay. As in the early days of Twitter, TikTok has become a gathering place for many types of people doing many interesting things. Many of those things are derived from other social media platforms, such as videos for how to take good Instagram portraits and clips providing analysis of controversial tweets. “If TikTok is the new town square, can it be a means of aggregating and documenting culture without warping and poisoning it?” Lindsay writes. “That’s not really a question for TikTok—it’s a question for us.” 

+ Related: The case for ‘highbrow shitposting’: A missing link between journalism and TikTok (Columbia Journalism Review) 


Felicia Sonmez’s firing highlights the limits of progress for women in newsrooms (Nieman Reports) 

Last week, Felicia Sonmez was fired from her job as a reporter for The Washington Post following a public brawl over sexism, social media policies and workplace culture. According to a leaked letter, Sonmez was fired for, among other things, “insubordination,” writes Issac J. Bailey. “But insubordination is a tool of necessity, used by every trailblazing journalist or activist working to change an unjust system,” Bailey writes, arguing that Sonmez’s only “sin” was trying to highlight sexism in the industry. He says that the Post’s decision to fire Sonmez gave a clear message: “Be nice when a man displays a bit of sexism. Or be quiet.” 


When student loans and the housing crisis force journalists out of the business (MLK50) 

MLK50: Justice Through Journalism is a news outlet devoted to economic justice and centering the stories of those who labor for a living, writes founding editor Wendi C. Thomas. But for young journalists, particularly BIPOC, first-generation college graduates, it can be difficult to make a living while paying back student loans and struggling with rising housing prices. When one of her reporters resigned because he was unable to keep up with loans and rent on his $50,000 a year salary, Thomas began to wonder how —or if — a news outlet like hers could better address structural inequities. 

+ Related: Loans got me into journalism. Student debt pushed me out. (MLK50)