Need to Know: October 4, 2018

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


You might have heard: On Wednesday The New York Times published a blockbuster investigation revealing the secret tax schemes used by President Trump and his siblings to reap wealth from the family’s real estate empire (The New York Times)

But did you know: How Times journalists uncovered the original source of the president’s wealth (The New York Times)

New York Times reporters worked for more than a year to investigate the wealth that President Trump inherited from his father. “It’s unusual to dive into what you think is an extremely well-covered subject and to find so much completely new stuff, stuff that just is astonishing,” said reporter David Barstow. “It’s a great reminder that even things that you think are well described, there are these other deeper layers.” In the course of their investigation, Barstow and fellow Times reporters Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner examined more than 100,000 pages of documents, both public and confidential, interviewed key sources and submitted multiple FOIA requests. They uncovered a middleman entity, All County Building Supply & Maintenance, created by President Trump and his siblings essentially to move cash from their father Fred Trump’s companies to them. “One of the big themes of this story is … how little we actually do know about the president’s financial history,” Barstow said. “In all of the books, all of the profiles, all of the newspaper stories, we haven’t found one mention of Donald Trump and All County Building Supply.”

+ Related: Why The New York Times TL;DR’d its own 14,218-word Trump investigation: “It’s a big, long, complicated story with many parts, and obviously we hope everyone reads it to the end, but we also know everyone’s not going to read it to the end. It seemed appropriate to do a … way more digestible, on-the-run version of the story,” said Paul Fishleder, who heads up the Times’ political investigations unit. (Nieman Lab)

+ Noted: Google is building a search engine for fact checks (Poynter); Mainstream advertising is still showing up on polarizing and misleading sites — despite efforts to stop it (The Washington Post); Wikipedia bans right-wing site Breitbart as a source for facts (Motherboard); Bianna Golodryga joins “CBS This Morning” as co-host (The Wrap); TV networks, studios use chat fiction app Yarn to promote shows, develop new franchises (Digiday)


‘Journalism is a relationship, not a product’ (The Conversation)

If news organizations are truly going to close the trust gap, they must go beyond explanations of what journalism means to democracy and show what it means to citizens, write Lisa Heyamoto and Todd Milbourn. One way to do that is by shedding much more light on how news is made. That could mean making unedited interviews available, explaining journalistic terms, or opening newsrooms for public tours. In a series of conversations hosted by Heyamoto and Milbourn as part of their 32 Percent Project, participants also said they while value the press’s role as a watchdog, many wanted local news organizations to first establish their role as a good neighbor. “Journalism is a relationship,” said one participant. “It’s not a product.”

+ Earlier: Journalists can change the way they build stories to create organic news fluency


Spyware hijacks smartphones, threatens journalists around the world (Columbia Journalism Review)

Earlier this month, Canadian digital rights group Citizen Lab found traces of a spyware called Pegasus in over 45 countries, including a number of places where the government is known to aggressively prosecute reporters. “The threat this poses to journalists can’t be overstated,” writes Avi Asher-Schapiro. “A Pegasus operator can quietly transform a cellphone into a surveillance hub, tracking the reporter’s movements, identify sources, even potentially impersonate that journalist in the digital world. Given the global nature of the threat, this past week, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a security advisory, its first ever on Pegasus, to alert journalists everywhere that they could be targeted.”

+ “There could be real plus points for us as publishers from that”: German publisher Axel Springer is using fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to press its case that advertisers should be wary of Facebook. (Digiday); South Korea declares war on “fake news,” worrying government critics (The New York Times)


Silicon Valley’s keystone problem: ‘A monoculture of thought’ (The New York Times)

In her debut novel published on Medium, Google’s former head of public relations Jessica Powell tells “A Totally Fictional but Essentially True Silicon Valley Story,” in which she suggests that all of Silicon Valley’s problems can be chalked up to an engineering-and-data-obsessed monoculture that invites little input from people outside the bubble. The problems she surfaces in her novel could ring true in many journalism workplaces. “I don’t think that everyone has an equal voice,” Powell said. “Even putting aside broader issues around gender diversity, ethnic diversity or class diversity, there’s also an issue around people’s educational backgrounds. If you have a hierarchy where engineers are at the very top and the people who are interfacing with the outside world are a couple rungs below that, you really miss something when those people don’t have an equal voice at the table.” Powell also cited burnout as one of the reasons she left Google, saying that a job that asked her to jump from crisis to crisis, and did not admit time or perspective to consider ideas that were outside its small world, was not the best use of her time.


Are we all suffering from data breach fatigue? (Columbia Journalism Review)

The latest data breach at Facebook, announced Sept. 28, compromised the accounts of about 90 million users, and gave hackers access to other accounts users have logged in to using their Facebook credentials. The breach was reported by the usual technology publications like Wired and TechCrunch, but it didn’t make a big splash outside of that narrow range of outlets, writes Mathew Ingram. “Could it be that we are all suffering from data breach fatigue — and not just users, but journalists too? …It could also be … that the constant barrage of news about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the never-ending outrage about whatever Donald Trump just tweeted tends to use up the oxygen in the media; there is little left for things like a garden variety Facebook data leak.”


How the news media portray gun owners: Research to consider (Journalist’s Resource)

A common criticism aimed at journalists is their tendency to portray some groups in the United States as “the other” — framing stories as though certain groups (like rural America) aren’t part of the world where journalists themselves and the bulk of their audiences live, writes Denise-Marie Ordway. One such group journalists struggle to relate to are gun-owners. According to the Pew Research Center, more than four in 10 U.S. adults live in a gun-owning household. In rural areas, the number is almost six in 10. Yet the media’s focus on gun violence in heavily populated areas makes it appear as though gun owners generally live in major cities and use their weapons to harm others. A study published in the journal Written Communication found that newspapers rarely covered gun owners outside of courtrooms, morgues and protests and tended to represent them as a monolithic group. Gun owners often “are explicitly or implicitly characterized as selfish, incompetent, and irresponsible, caring more about guns than people,” wrote one of the researchers.

+ Related: 7 things journalists should know about guns before reporting on them (Journalist’s Resource); Earlier: How The Tennessean hosts meetings with alienated audiences (including gun owners); The empathetic newsroom: How journalists can better cover neglected communities; How to create a culture of listening

+ Inside Apple’s pitch to wary publishers: Apple is trying to get publishers onboard with Texture, the Netflix-style service Apple bought earlier this year that gives subscribers all-you-can-eat access to digital publications for $10 a month. (Digiday)