Need to Know: Nov. 7, 2019


You might have heard: There’s been a spike in fake local news sites that push a political agenda (New York Times)

But did you know: Thanks to digital ad fraud, fake news sites can easily outperform real local news orgs (BuzzFeed News)

According to Social Puncher, a consulting agency that investigates digital ad fraud, fake news sites sprinkled across the U.S. and Canada are proving a hugely successful business. Filled with old content that hasn’t been updated in months, including local stories first reported by real news outlets, sites like the Albany Daily News and the City of Edmonton News are raking in millions of page views per month — far outstripping the legitimate news outlets in those communities. The fake sites are also earning more revenue from programmatic ads than their authentic counterparts, the agency found. 

+ Noted: Twitter is rolling out Topics, a way to follow subjects automatically in the timeline (The Verge); Washington Post Newspaper Guild releases comprehensive pay study, finds that women are paid less than men, employees of color are paid less than white men, and the biggest pay disparity is among journalists under 40 (Post Guild); The Vox and New York Media merger is official (Vox)


Reimagining opinion journalism for our digital, polarized age

In a new essay collection, we look at three innovative ways opinion sections are being transformed into more inclusive spaces that spark civic engagement and debate.


After a disaster, going from breaking news to sustained accountability reporting (Poynter)

In both 2017 and 2018, the Press-Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., won a Pulitzer Prize for its breaking-news coverage of the wildfires that ravaged parts of Sonoma County. But Executive Editor Catherine Barnett thinks it’s their accountability reporting that happened after the fires that mattered most, changing the way the community responded to this year’s Kincade Fire, which forced the largest evacuation in Sonoma County’s history (and was fully contained less than 24 hours ago). In the aftermath of the previous fires, the Press-Democrat reporters pursued stories that questioned why people weren’t alerted to the danger in 2017, why forecasts weren’t heeded in advance, what the evacuation strategy was and what happened to the most vulnerable. County officials may not have enjoyed the pressure, but “They have taken the charge seriously,” said Barnett. “The whole state is so much more attuned now because of what happened to us before.”


As part of a diversity effort, the Sun seeks journalism talent from outside the field (Press Gazette)

The Sun, one of Britain’s largest newsbrands, is launching an annual training program for aspiring journalists with no formal education or experience in the field. The program has a total of 15 positions, and those selected will undergo training provided by News Associates, an accredited U.K. journalism school, as well as on-the-job training in the Sun newsroom. The training is fully funded and participants receive a competitive salary. “Increasing diversity in our newsrooms is a challenge for the entire industry, and, as the people’s paper, The Sun should reflect the people,” said editor-in-chief Tony Gallagher. “Good jobs in journalism should be available to all with talent, no matter what their background.”


Good UX = boring UI (UX Engineer)

When it comes to a good user experience, creativity just gets in the way. “The best user experiences are often found on the most boring interfaces,” writes Nick Rollins. “Look at all of your favorite products today and you’ll notice that most of them have one thing in common: a boring user interface.” It’s why many websites and apps are beginning to look the same — bare-bones design and common-sense conventions like having a search bar in the header, call-to-action buttons above the fold, logo at the top of the page, and social media icons in the footer. “Users don’t come to your website to admire your creativity,” says Rollins. “They come to solve a problem. If it doesn’t aid your user in solving their problem, then it’s just resistance.”


Facebook will see a ‘tidal wave’ of fake news ahead of the 2020 elections (Venture Beat)

Nancy Pelosi is diverting Social Security funds for the impeachment inquiry. President Trump’s father was in the Ku Klux Klan. Democratic representative Ilhan Omar visited an Al Qaeda training camp. These are among the fake news stories that are getting top circulation on Facebook — and a new study from Avaaz shows that they’ve racked up 4.6 million interactions on the platform, which is 1.5 times more than the fake news interactions that occurred in the three to 6-month period before the 2016 U.S. election. Avaaz is urgently calling on Facebook to implement a fact-checking service that would send fake news alerts to users in real time, and show them corrections verified by independent fact-checkers.

+ Could reader revenue models lead to a “highly unequal news ecosystem in which the wealthiest, most educated, most spoiled-for-choice news consumers are the best served”? HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen says that’s why we shouldn’t want ad-supported, free-to-consumer news to go away (Digiday)


People who subscribe to entertainment media more likely to pay for news (News Media Alliance)

A study of Minnesota residents found that those who subscribed to entertainment media like Netflix, Spotify and Amazon were more likely to purchase digital news subscriptions. Participants in the study had an average of four digital media subscriptions, including 1.3 news subscriptions. They also reported setting aside an average yearly budget of about $600 for media subscriptions, but they actually spend closer to $700 per year ($58/month). The study also found that participants are willing to pay more for streaming music and sports content than other types of subscriptions — suggesting that, although it appeals to a smaller audience segment, sports content represents an opportunity for news media to grow reader revenue.

+ Journalists who were at ground zero on 9/11 have been getting sick. But there is help. (CNN)