Need to Know: Nov. 6, 2019

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


You might have heard: Facebook says it will not try to stop politicians from lying in political ads (The Verge)

But did you know: More governments than ever are using social media to push propaganda (NBC News)

Why spend valuable resources trying to censor social media when you can simply put your own propaganda on the internet? That seems to be thinking of more governments around the world, according to new research from Freedom House. The democracy watchdog found that political leaders in 38 countries had employed people to surreptitiously shape online opinions during the past year — a new annual high, according to the organization. “Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. While Russia is currently the gold standard in spreading misinformation and propaganda online, countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and China are quickly adopting tactics that rival Russia in terms of sophistication and effectiveness.

+ Related: Yesterday Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network and the Facebook Journalism Project announced the Fact-Checking Innovation Initiative, which will support projects aiming to improve fact-checking efficiency, workflow and impact

+ Noted: The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research will offer small independent news organizations a year of free access to its public opinion survey data going back to 1935 (Roper Center); Newspaper coverage of celebrity suicides falls short of expert guidelines (Journalist’s Resource); Solutions Journalism Network launches the Local Newsroom Revenue Project, which will help 10 newsrooms across the U.S. do revenue-generating solutions reporting (Solutions Journalism Network); The Hill is launching a centrist site focusing on citizenship (Washington Post)


Trust Tip: Explain where opinion content comes from 

Transparency around opinion content means more than clearly distinguishing it from news (though that’s important too). It should also mean explaining whose opinion is being shared and why. That’s what the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times is now doing in short notes at the top of their op-eds. Sign up for weekly Trust Tips here, and learn more about the Trusting News project — including how your newsroom can get free coaching — here. 


How to get started funding local news in your community (Democracy Fund)

This week Democracy Fund is launching a tool to help foundations and philanthropists map their local news ecosystems. The guide can be used to identify existing information sources and networks, and evaluate potential funding opportunities. It also includes four case studies to show how it could be applied in different communities. Though designed primarily for philanthropic organizations, anyone interested in improving local news and information can adapt the guide to suit their own research.

+ A practical guide to philanthropic options for newspaper owners (Knight Foundation)


Globe and Mail’s onboarding steps capitalize on habits, engage readers (INMA)

The Globe and Mail divides its subscriber onboarding experience into five stages that trigger internal actions aimed at keeping subscribers engaged for the long run. In stage four, after a new subscriber reaches the 30-day mark, the loyalty and retention team begins promoting customized editorial content and benefits via email, with the goal of helping them form content consumption habits. At stage five, when a subscriber has reached the 60-day mark, the team begins monitoring for lapses in log-ins. If subscribers have not logged in for 30 days or more, the team deploys an email suggesting content that aligns with their interests.

+ The podcast market is booming in Brazil — it’s now the second largest in the world (ZDnet)


Remember that scary AI text-generator that was too dangerous to release? It’s out now (The Next Web)

OpenAI, the nonprofit that has been developing the text-generator, has released the full model to the general public. The tool uses machine learning to generate novel text based on limited input — not pre-written strings of text, like most similar tools, but text that didn’t previously exist. Concerned about malicious use of the technology, OpenAI has also released a tool to detect synthetic text, but its detection rate is about 95% “and needs to be paired with metadata-based approaches, human judgment, and public education to be more effective,” the authors explained.


Florida county blocks library system from buying a group subscription to the New York Times (Citrus County Chronicle)  

The county commissioners said they agreed with President Trump that the Times is “fake news” and they wouldn’t support the library’s request for the subscription, which would provide free access to the digital edition for up to 70,000 library cardholders. “I don’t want the New York Times in this county. I don’t like them. It’s fake news,” said Commissioner Scott Carnahan. However, after acknowledging that they received multiple complaints from residents, some of the commissioners said they were reconsidering. “Do I think I made a mistake? Yes,” said Commissioner Brian Coleman. “Our decision should have been impartial, instead of having it become a personal thing.”


McClatchy launches subscription product for political obsessives who know the presidential election will not be decided inside the Beltway (McClatchy)

Launching exactly one year before the 2020 election, the Impact2020 initiative will emphasize local political coverage that “tells the real story about voter sentiment.” Story selection will focus on key voter groups and how they become critical to a winning coalition. “We’ll refrain from chasing the daily tweet or the latest poll,” said Kristin Roberts, vice president of news at McClatchy. “Our commitment is to pursue stories that, during the primary, concentrate on examining the coalition a Democrat might need to defeat President Trump, and during the general election, examine the coalition-building on both sides. This concentrated effort will help differentiate McClatchy’s news reporting over the next 12 months from other media outlets covering the campaigns.” As part of the initiative, McClatchy’s free, daily election-focused newsletter also launched today. 

+ Journalists describe their experiences preserving — and losing — work in a time of vanishing archives (Columbia Journalism Review); For three years, Reveal has been fighting a lawsuit that has cost millions of dollars in legal fees — here’s what’s at stake (Reveal)