Need to Know: May 7, 2021


You might have heard: The information demands on the modern digital journalist are overwhelming and leading to burnout (Nieman Lab)

But did you know: The COVID reporters are not okay. Extremely not okay. (Study Hall) 

The last year has been particularly brutal for reporters on the front line of the pandemic, writes Olivia Messer, former lead COVID-19 reporter at The Daily Beast. In interviews with a dozen reporters around the country, Messer writes that many felt traumatized and unsupported by their newsrooms. Others said the profound weight of their jobs — that they play a key role in a public health crisis — began to weigh on them over the months. As cases surged in various spots around the country, some felt this was a failure on their part as journalists to convey the severity of the situation. And for almost everyone, the ability to cover the story “objectively” became impossible as it touched and torpedoed more areas of everyday life. 

+ Noted: The Athletic halts merger talks with Axios, eyes New York Times (Wall Street Journal);  The Institute for Nonprofit News announces its 2021 Emerging Leaders’ Council (The Institute for Nonprofit News; With takeover bid pending, Tribune Publishing reports profit of $6.1 million for the past quarter, but revenue down 16% (New York Post); Dow Jones reports that Wall Street Journal digital subscriptions rose 7% to 2.63 million in the past quarter (Marketwatch)


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How the role of personal expression and experience is changing journalism (Poynter) 

For many journalists, especially journalists of color, incorporating personal experiences into their work has often been frowned upon. But that is starting to change. When The Washington Post’s Robert Samuels wrote about the death of George Floyd, for instance, he focused on the racism that Floyd had endured during his life. When witnesses said that Floyd “knew he was going to die” when he saw the police, Samuels said that perspective was relatable but rarely seen in national reporting. He argues that newsrooms that restrict people from covering issues they are “too close to” should instead ask whether other, less-invested reporters are actually familiar enough with the issue and communities they are covering. 


How investigative journalism helps create a more diverse view of Thai society (Global Investigative Journalism Network) 

Prachatai, a nonprofit newsroom in Thailand, has been pushing the bounds of freedom of speech in a country where self-censorship is common. When violence broke out in Muslim areas of the mostly-Buddhist country, Prachati became one of the only outlets covering it, hiring a local reporter who spoke the regional language of Yawi to search for witness accounts of human rights abuses by the military. The outlet has also focused on underrepresented voices, including female prisoners, LGBT Thais, and those displaced due to development projects. On occasion, Prachatai’s stories have forced the government to monitor or respond to crises, but even they are most often met with silence. 


You can now build a ‘mini media empire’ on Substack (Financial Times) 

Substack is adding a new “sections” feature to its platform, which will allow content creators to manage multiple newsletters or podcasts under one main publication. A user subscribes to the publication as a whole, but decides which elements they will receive as emails. Substack co-creator Hamish McKenzie said the option is for writers who want to build “more of a full featured publication or even like a mini media empire.” The option will also work for a team of writers who want to band together to build a single publication. McKenzie called the option a “very lightweight, very fast, very affordable, kind of instant way to start a news organization.” 


The past year has underscored the need for vigilance in defending the First Amendment (Poynter) 

Over the past year, the rights of the First Amendment — particularly freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble — have been tested from various local laws and court cases. At the same time, writes Alan C. Miller of the News Literacy Project, a misreading of “First Amendment rights” has been applied to debates about online speech that are unrelated to laws. Miller argues that what the First Amendment means — and doesn’t mean— should be taught to students “as the bedrock of the country’s commitment to individual rights and responsibilities and a core part of civics education.” 


National Geographic faced up to its racist past. Did it actually get better? (Vox) 

In 2018, National Geographic vowed to face up to its past, which was plagued with racist stereotypes both in the U.S. and abroad. But staffers say over the past three years, change has been slow and inadequate. Many said that issues about racial insensitivity were ignored, and staffers of color said they often felt undervalued. For the many news organizations that promised to address racial inequity in their own newsrooms in the last year, it’s proof that actually living up to those public statements may prove difficult. Even with concrete steps like source diversity tracking and events geared towards representation and inclusion, employees say that structural and systemic issues have not been addressed. 


+ The journalists and colleagues we’ve lost: A collection of obituaries on the media professionals who lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic (Poynter) 

+ The untold story of how Jeff Bezos beat the tabloids (Bloomberg) 

+ Everdeen Mason, The New York Times’s first editorial director of Games, wants to keep challenging current players while reaching new ones (The New York Times)

+ Hear NPR’s first on-air original broadcast from 1971 (NPR)