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The article was originally published on Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative website and is republished here with permission. An Ohio news outlet that’s owned by the readers it serves. A start-up newsletter for Iowa’s Black residents. A student-reported website bringing information to a news desert in Kansas. And a digital-only Ohio newsroom modeling solutions journalism. These […]
The post How 3 creative news organizations are reinventing local news in the Midwest appeared first on Poynter.
Last year, as June turned to July, China imposed a draconian new “security law” on Hong Kong, sparking widespread doubt—and no little alarm—as to what it might mean for freedoms of speech and the press in a territory that had once been a redoubt of both. Immediately, police made mass arrests at protests marking the twenty-third anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule; then, a few weeks later, they arrested Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy businessman whose media company publishes the newspaper Apple Daily, alongside several company executives—ending what the Committee to Protect Journalists described as “an unnerving wait” for the security law’s first impact on journalism. The same day, more than a hundred police officers raided Apple Daily’s newsroom, and searched it for several hours. Lai was denied bail; in December, he was charged with colluding with foreign forces. In early 2021, officials invoked the law again as they arrested dozens of people involved with elections last year. Three news organizations, including Apple Daily, were ordered to hand over information about candidates.
Then, last Thursday—two weeks short of a year since the security law was implemented—the Hong Kong authorities wielded it in perhaps the most brazen way yet, as far as the press is concerned, and Apple Daily was once again the target. Its offices were again raided, but by some five hundred officers this time; they seized electronic devices, including more than forty computers and servers, as well as other reporting materials, including information about sources, and kicked staffers out, declaring the newsroom a crime scene. Officials froze accounts linked to Apple Daily containing more than two million US dollars, and arrested five members of the company’s leadership, again under the pretext of foreign collusion. Speaking at a press conference, Li Kwai-wah, a senior official with the Hong Kong police, cited Apple Daily articles that urged foreign countries to sanction China and Hong Kong; he said that the articles in question date back as far as 2019, even though the security law was not supposed to be retroactively enforceable. Li also warned members of the public against sharing content from Apple Daily. “As a law enforcer,” he said, “I would advise you not to invite suspicion.”
New from CJR: What is ‘the mainstream media,’ anyway?
Officials attempted to draw a distinction between their view that Apple Daily is a security threat and their general respect for press freedom; John Lee, Hong Kong’s security secretary, said that “normal journalists are different from them.” But this is nonsense. The authorities’ legal crackdown on the media is broader than Apple Daily; it predates the security law, and even now does not depend on it. In November, officials charged a student journalist called Nelson Tang and an unidentified local-news reporter with obstruction offenses in relation to their past coverage of protests; in February, they dusted off a sedition law dating to the British colonial period to charge Wan Yiu-sing, who hosted an online radio show under the alias “Giggs.” In April, a court convicted Bao Choy of making false statements in the course of her work, for the public broadcaster RTHK, investigating a violent 2019 attack on protesters; she had given “other traffic and transport related issues” as her reason for accessing public license-plate data since “journalism” wasn’t an option on the form. The authorities didn’t even need the security law to keep Lai in prison: also in April, he was handed a fourteen-month sentence on unlawful-assembly grounds linked to protests in 2019. (The collusion charges are pending.)
These legal threats have occurred, meanwhile, within a broader framework of repression that has also made room for state violence, cumbersome regulation, and subtler manifestations of official pressure—as Elaine Yu reported for CJR in March, any reflection on the months since the imposition of the security law “shows a systematic push from Beijing-backed authorities to tame Hong Kong’s press.” Yu noted officials’ moves to effectively deny press accreditation to student and citizen journalists, as well as troubling developments at RTHK, where Nabela Qoser, a reporter who has asked tough questions of powerful people, was placed on a short-term contract—“a move interpreted as an effective termination”—and the government then installed a bureaucrat with no journalistic background as director, while also recommending greater oversight of “sensitive” editorial content. This climate has affected international media, as well as domestic outlets; shortly after the security law came into effect, the New York Times began relocating part of its Hong Kong operation to Seoul, in South Korea, citing “uncertainty” around the law and visas. Speaking with dozens of journalists on the ground, Yu found mounting impulses toward self-censorship on the part of some reporters and their sources, though many, she noted, had remained defiant. “You can’t chop off your toes to avoid the sand bugs,” Apple Daily’s Leung Ka-lai told Yu, referencing a Cantonese proverb. “You can’t say, I’ll retreat a little and not write this word or not pursue this subject. It’s all or nothing.”
There continues to be plenty of defiance. Last August, following Lai’s arrest and the raid on Apple Daily’s newsroom, residents stood in line from the early hours to buy copies—“We would have even bought a blank Apple Daily paper today,” one said—and many readers also bought shares or took out ads in the paper containing supportive messages; on Friday, after Apple Daily was raided again, lines formed early at newsstands again, and the paper printed half a million copies, more than five times its usual run, to meet the demand. Apple Daily reporters covered the raid aggressively, filming inside the newsroom, and then, after they were expelled, from the roof. Still, defiance is often met with stronger and stronger blows, not all of which can be withstood. Yesterday, Apple Daily’s leadership announced that, given the freezing of the paper’s accounts, it may only have enough cash to continue operating for a few weeks. Today, it said that, pending a board meeting on Friday, the paper could shutter as soon as Saturday.
Earlier today, Apple Daily ran an editorial headlined, “Uphold freedom of press with no regrets.” Its writer, Lo Fung, noted that the paper marked its twenty-sixth birthday yesterday by publishing “news, commentaries, and features on its paper and website just like it has been doing since Jun 20, 1995”—a “miracle” attributable to the resilience of its staff. “However,” the editorial continued, “the road ahead is full of thorns,” not least “the ambiguous and untraceable red line of the national security law. For Apple Daily to survive through all of these is not a promise to be made, and perhaps we could only go one step at a time, to persist one day at a time.”
Below, more on press freedom in Hong Kong and around the world:
- Hong Kong: Today, CPJ announced that it will honor Lai with its annual press freedom award named for the late PBS anchor and CPJ board member Gwen Ifill. “Jimmy Lai is not just a champion of a free press, he is a press freedom warrior. He fights for the right of his Apple News organization to publish freely, even as China and its backers in Hong Kong use every tool to quash them,” Kathleen Carroll, the board’s chair, said. “The CPJ board is pleased to honor Jimmy Lai with the 2021 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award. And we look forward to the day when we can present that award to him in person.”
- Mexico: Last week, Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera, a journalist in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, was shot and killed while riding a motorcycle. According to Maria Verza, of the AP, Sánchez Cabrera was shot and wounded outside his home last year; he subsequently requested protection under a federal program that failed to provide him with any resources by the time of his death. Another journalist, Enrique Garcia, was also killed last week, apparently while working as a driver for a ride-hailing app near Mexico City. At least one other Mexican reporter has been murdered this year.
- Nicaragua: Last Thursday, the government of Nicaragua blocked Anatoly Kurmanaev, a reporter for the New York Times, from entering the country. Officials did not explain their decision, but it comes against a backdrop of rising repression in the country ahead of elections slated for November. The regime of President Daniel Ortega has recently locked up civil society leaders, and has implicated thirteen news organizations and more than twenty journalists in an investigation targeting opposition politicians.
- Myanmar: Also on Thursday, Danny Fenster, an American journalist who was arrested while trying to leave Myanmar in May, appeared in a special court in a jail in the country. According to Frontier Myanmar, where Fenster worked as managing editor, he has been charged with incitement; US officials are working on Fenster’s case, but Myanmar’s ruling junta has blocked them from accessing him. Meanwhile, Nathan Maung, another American journalist who was imprisoned in Myanmar, before being released, is back in the US. Al Jazeera has more details (and I wrote recently about Fenster’s case for CJR).
- India: Last week, The Wire, an independent news site in India, reported on a viral video that appeared to show a group of Hindu men violently abusing an older Muslim man in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Shortly afterward, local police opened a criminal investigation into The Wire—as well as the journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammed Zubair, all of whom tweeted about the video—on the grounds that the footage was not verified and could incite public unrest. CPJ has more details.
- The UK: A week ago, anti-vaccine and -lockdown protesters in London abused Nicholas Watt, a senior BBC journalist on the scene; they shouted that Watt was a “traitor” and a liar. According to Mark Townsend, of The Observer, members of anti-lockdown groups on the messaging app Telegram subsequently made apparent death threats against Watt, and have moved to coordinate abuse against other journalists, including by sharing their addresses. The BBC has since moved to bolster its security procedures.
Other notable stories:
- Last week, the writer Janet Malcolm died, aged eighty-six. Malcolm “was preoccupied with doubleness, with divided selves that tried to keep one half hidden,” Jennifer Szalai writes, in the Times. Elsewhere, the New Yorker, where Malcolm worked for fifty-eight years, published tributes from staffers and other writers. “It is rare for an essayist of superior intellect and superior style never to outshine or overshadow her subjects; Janet Malcolm did neither,” Merve Emre wrote. “Checking her was like being shut in with a leopard,” Fergus McIntosh, Malcolm’s fact checker, added. “I’ll miss that feeling dearly.”
- For the Times, Kat O’Brien writes that a Major League Baseball player raped her in 2002, when she was a sports reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (O’Brien, who no longer works in journalism, chose not to name the player.) “Ultimately, I decided that I needed to say this aloud, and put my voice to a movement that needs all the voices it can get,” she writes. “The sports industry loses out when talented women question whether it’s worth it to work in an industry that brings with it so much harassment.”
- CJR’s Savannah Jacobson explores what the “mainstream media” actually is. “Even in a marketplace with more choices, I’d argue that a mainstream media does exist. There is a collection of agenda-setting channels and publications… whose coverage is influenced and reinforced by one another,” she concludes. “Collectively, they create a mainstream point of view, to which others must react. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
- Ben Smith, media columnist at the Times, reports that Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, “spends his time when he’s not denouncing the liberal media trading gossip with them,” as many journalists’ “go-to guy for sometimes-unflattering stories about Donald J. Trump and for coverage of the internal politics of Fox News.” Such relationships, reporters who write about Carlson say, have “taken the edge off some of the coverage” about him.
- Benjamin Wallace-Wells, of the New Yorker, explains how Christopher Rufo, a conservative journalist, turned a story about anti-bias training for city employees in Seattle into a national crusade against “critical race theory” that reliably lights up Fox News and right-wing Twitter. “This entire movement came from nothing,” Rufo says—but the truth, Wallace-Wells writes, “is more specific than that. Really, it came from him.”
- On Thursday, producers, bookers, and other staff at MSNBC announced plans to form a union. Network hosts including Chris Hayes and Joy Reid signaled their support, but, according to the Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani, some executives are pushing back, with one manager telling employees that unionization could obstruct MSNBC’s plans to diversify its staff. Per Tani, the network does not plan to recognize the union voluntarily.
- Jemele Hill, of The Atlantic, considers whether journalists have the right to ask sports stars if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. “The short answer is yes,” Hill argues. “If a player’s availability to his team could be compromised because of exposure to the virus, that’s crucial information. It shouldn’t be treated any differently from when a player suffers an injury such as a concussion, an ankle sprain, or a torn ACL.”
- The Spokesman-Review, in Spokane, Washington, plans to revive the Spokane Daily Chronicle, a newspaper that went out of print in 1992, as a digital afternoon edition for Spokesman-Review subscribers. Rob Curley, the Spokesman-Review’s editor, explains that his paper wanted to emulate others that have added pages to their daily e-editions, but do so in a way that prioritizes breaking local news over national wire stories.
- And Richard B. Stolley, the founding editor of People magazine, has died. He was ninety-two. In 1963, while working at Life magazine, Stolley was the first journalist to obtain Abraham Zapruder’s amateur film footage of the Kennedy assassination. According to the Post, on the day of the assassination, Stolley called Zapruder “again and again, every fifteen minutes, until sometime around 11pm, Zapruder answered.”
Last week on his prime-time Fox News show, Tucker Carlson suggested a wild and completely baseless conspiracy theory: that the FBI was involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection. He did what he always does. With that bewildered look on his face and his up-and-down voice, he added one and one and then tried to convince […]
The post CNN blasts Tucker Carlson for his Jan. 6 conspiracy theory appeared first on Poynter.
The government approved 3,000 disadvantaged restaurant owners for a rescue fund, then took the money back
Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. Journalists, there are a few thousand people who need you to look into this. These folks need […]
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As coronavirus vaccination rates rise and the United States opens up after a lengthy pandemic, one of the emerging flashpoints involves elite sports. The questions sports teams and leagues are facing are the same types of questions that are puzzling businesses, schools, shops and restaurants as the United States continues to open back up. But […]
The post How should top-tier sports handle the coronavirus? appeared first on Poynter.
The crime blotter has been a staple for many U.S. news organizations since the 1830s. Rewriting information provided by police requires little investment from the reporter, and metrics show that the audience is drawn to briefs about what their neighbors might be doing. It’s why Nextdoor is such a popular app. Curiosity aside, much of […]
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Back in April, Frank Bruni announced he was stepping down as a columnist at The New York Times to take an endowed chair in journalism at Duke University. On Friday, he wrote his final column and it started with this line that was as surprising as it was captivating: “I owe Ted Cruz an apology.” “Though, really,” […]
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Early this year, Alexandria Neason wrote for CJR about the past and present of white supremacy in journalism. “Americans have short memories,” she observed. “We don’t like to be reminded of our many sins, so instead we prop up lofty narratives of progress and unity that obscure the violence enacted along the way.” The press, she wrote, has played a key part in that. In 1898, newspapers in North Carolina were weaponized by white vigilantes as part of a coup that killed hundreds of Black people. These days, Neason continued, journalism has a different relationship with racism, but the modern manifestations—“of language, of omission, of framing”—follow centuries-old tactics, only papered over, smoothed out, and couched in industry norms.
In recent years, news organizations have put out apologies for past offenses: in 2004 the Jackson Sun, in Tennessee, acknowledged that it had ignored or downplayed local civil rights efforts in its pages; in 2011, the Waco Tribune-Herald, in Texas, apologized for its coverage of the 1916 lynching of a seventeen-year-old named Jesse Washington; in 2018, National Geographic audited its archives, and told readers that the magazine had depicted people of color in exoticized ways, often nude and as “happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché.” Lately, many more outlets have released public statements of regret. But as Neason wrote, that should only be the start: “Regret without restitution is maintaining the status quo.” Or, as the Reverend William J. Barber II told her, “I don’t know if the language of ‘media apology’ is even sufficient.” For guidance, Neason turned to a project called Media 2070, which has invited people to imagine what reparations might look like for the news industry. “Reparations are both a destination and a pathway,” Alicia Bell, one of the organizers, said—a means of realizing “the reconciliation, the restoration, the repair that needs to happen within the media.”
Neason noted, too, that journalism’s attempts to redress structural inequities can feel “maddeningly cyclical.” Often, “conversations aiming to assess a newsroom’s performance come with an urge to self-congratulate, so as to soften the embarrassment of too-slow progress,” she wrote. “After decades of attempting reform, we need to wonder how sincere we’ve been, if we have been truly reckoning with anything at all.”
Below, more from CJR on racism and the press:
- In an issue of the magazine focused on disinformation, Neason asked: “A police department exists to protect the public and to protect itself, but can it ever really do both?” In speaking with the press about a crime in which an officer may have been at fault, police tend to prioritize brand management, she wrote. “Victims—who more often than not are Black—have long listened to police with skepticism, expecting misinformation about themselves and their communities. Journalists have struggled to tell the whole story.”
- Errin Haines published an essay in CJR about her life on the race beat. “It has been crucial for me to seek out stories that help bear witness to and for my community—and then, in the newsroom, push past the comfort of some white gatekeepers,” she wrote. “So much of journalism is about the choices we make about who will be seen and heard; the race beat is recognition of the fact that images and voices have seldom told the stories of my community.”
- In the same issue, Jelani Cobb wrote about how, for the most part, American journalists “look nothing like the demographics of the communities they cover.” Fifty years after the Kerner Commission declared that a predominantly white press had failed to cover the story of racism in the United States, “we still see chronic underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in print and broadcast media.”
- For the recent Existential issue, Nehal El-Hadi interviewed Chris Gilliard and Marcus Gilroy-Ware about power structures embedded in digital journalism that perpetuate racial injustice and social inequality. “If you look at Black Lives Matter in the summer, the technical possibilities for how that could have been dealt with journalistically were all there,” Gilroy-Ware said. “But editorially, time and time and time again, the stories that were written, the headlines that were written—the ways that the destruction of Black lives at the hands of police and the outpouring of anger in relation to that was handled in newsrooms—was extremely problematic.”
Other notable stories:
- On Wednesday, Congress voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. On Thursday, President Biden signed the bill into law, creating the United States’ eleventh federal holiday, and first since 1983. Meanwhile, Republican state legislatures across the country are banning “critical race theory” from being taught in schools. Reporters have pointed out the contradiction.
- The New York Times reports on a poll finding that most Americans know little or nothing about Juneteenth; the story links to a guide for readers explaining the holiday’s significance.
- Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Harvard professor with a new book, On Juneteenth, recently went on Fresh Air to speak with Terry Gross about her scholarship, the holiday, and growing up Black in Texas. Last year, Gordon-Reed wrote about these subjects in an essay for The New Yorker.
- Black Voters Matter, a voting rights and community empowerment organization, starts a new mobilization campaign, the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights, on Juneteenth. Vann R. Newkirk II, who wrote for The Atlantic a few years ago that “Juneteenth has always been touched with irony,” recently published an essay on the precarious state of voting rights for Black Americans: “States so inclined can experiment with the most extreme antidemocratic measures, knowing that court decisions will eventually lead them to find out exactly how much tyranny is permissible.” (In 2018, Newkirk contributed a column to CJR about Black journalists performing their “second job”—a collection of uncredited duties involving diversity, inclusion, and development—“while also working as reporters and editors to fearlessly peel back layers of racism and rot at America’s core.”)
- And the Washington Post published a beautiful interactive on Juneteenth. Last month, the Post announced a policy outlining the “festivals and parades” that staff may and may not participate in; Juneteenth celebrations were fine, according to management, but protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement were not. “I ask this with all sincerity: can someone explain to me the difference between a ‘celebration’ at Black Lives Matter Plaza and a ‘protest’ there? How does an attendee ensure one does not become the other? Is the location itself not, definitionally, ‘political’?” Wesley Lowery, a journalist who previously worked at the Post, tweeted. He added: “Citing a ‘Pride’ parade as an example of a non-political event seems an ahistorical stance for a newspaper to take.”
President Joe Biden started the week in Europe, meeting with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and then Russian President Vladimir Putin. He wraps it up back in the United States after a historic signing on Thursday. Juneteenth, which marks the date that the last enslaved African Americans were granted their freedom in 1865 in Galveston, Texas, […]
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When Rebecca Long, a white Jewish journalist, started working as the digital content editor at the nonprofit Jewish Women’s Archive, she was stunned at the level of antisemitic harassment that targeted the nonprofit’s social media accounts. “I started my position in 2018, during the Trump presidency, and having to Google the symbol of a swastika […]
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Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject a claim that it is unconstitutional to require all […]
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In America’s fraught debate over race and justice, a blend of Republicans, libertarians and conservatives have focused their ire on critical race theory. It’s not a well-defined target. Supporters describe critical race theory as a collection of ideas, not a single doctrine, that explain why racial inequality and disparities persist long after civil rights laws […]
The post How a GOP Senate resolution condemning critical race theory distorts the facts appeared first on Poynter.
Ken Doctor: Six months after launching a local news company (in an Alden market), here’s what I’ve learned
At the beginning of the year, an otherwise innocuous job ad—for an executive editor to oversee a site about technology — got more than its fair share of attention. Why? Because the entity that posted the ad wasn’t a traditional media company. The opening was for a job at Andreessen Horowitz, an influential venture capital firm in Silicon Valley that has developed a reputation for avoiding the traditional technology press. This raised a number of questions. Was the proposed site another way to do an end run around the media industry, from a powerful investor who believes that traditional industries need to be disrupted by technology? A former analyst at Andreessen Horowitz, Benedict Evans, famously described it as “a media company that monetizes through venture capital.” The firm’s assets under management—the stakes it holds in companies like Airbnb, Stripe, and Instacart—are worth about $16 billion. If such an organization really wanted to disrupt an industry like the media, it clearly has the power to do so.
Andreessen Horowitz may have a master plan to overturn established media, but for now at least, members of the press can probably rest easy. On Tuesday, the firm launched the site, which is simply called Future, and the only thing that stands to be disrupted is the universe of technology op-eds. Sonal Chokshi, a former senior editor at Wired and the editor-in-chief of all Andreessen Horowitz’s media ventures, including Future, told CJR the venture firm has no intention of trying to use its new offering to publish reported stories. “We’re not going to do what good reporters do, in terms of investigative journalism etc.,” she said. “Others are already doing a good job of that.”
The idea behind Future is to “go for the first person and get the voices out there directly, undiluted,” Chokshi said. “And we’re talking about more nuanced, long takes, not just someone saying ‘I believe this.’ ” The site aims to cover technology such as gaming and cryptocurrency in a “deep and kind of wonky” way, she said, but also to make it more accessible. “We’re at the center of a bunch of networks—policy makers, technologists, and so on—and we believe we can help curate some of those sources.” The executive editor job was ultimately filled by Maggie Leung, a former journalist who has worked for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN.
So will Andreessen Horowitz censor some of the content on the site, or shape it in ways that would promote the firm’s investments? “I absolutely hate when people say we are just going to be relentlessly positive because we’ve invested in it,” Chokshi said. “Someone said we had the best explainer on Section 230”—referring to the clause in the Communications Decency Act that protects digital platforms from liability for the content they host—and that kind of thing really matters to me, that editorial rigor. We’re not just going to run some essay by some rich guy without interrogating it.”
For the moment at least, Future doesn’t really look like it has the resources of a $16 billion investment giant behind it. The site is relatively drab by current web publishing standards, with a front page that is more or less just a list of article headlines like “Well-Behaved Bubbles Often Make History,” and “Designing Internet-Native Economies: A Guide to Crypto Tokens.” There are few images to accompany the articles. Chokshi said that both of these things are deliberate. “For the home page, there’s definitely a bias for information density,” she said. “And for articles, I like images, but not gratuitous ones. They should support or illustrate or advance the narrative.” Disruptive? Perhaps. But only to the advertising and traffic-driven nature of the web, which might actually be a good thing. Another benefit of being owned by billionaires.
Here’s more on Andreessen Horowitz:
- Silence is tactical: Eric Newcomer writes about how Andreessen Horowitz’s media strategy began to shift as public opinion started to turn against technology. The firm has “largely stopped cooperating with the media…I’ve talked to a number of reporters at top outlets and that’s the consensus,” Newcomer said. “For the past couple years, the firm has been quiet even anonymously.” Newcomer said the firm’s comments about the press raised questions: “How much of the firm’s silence is tactical? And how much simply reflects an anti-media ethos that has penetrated the firm’s leaders?”
- Risk of going direct: Former Fortune magazine writer David Morris, who now works for the crypto news site CoinDesk, writes that as innocuous as it seems, there is a risk to the kind of direct-to-audience writing Andreessen Horowitz is doing. “It does risk reducing the traditional press’s ability to ask hard questions of the businesses themselves,” Morris said. “This has already happened with Tesla, a company that can communicate directly with its rabid fanbase so effectively that it actually disbanded its public relations department in 2020. There’s literally nobody there anymore to answer questions from the press, a situation that ultimately increases the risk for Tesla stockholders.”
- Eating the world: Writer Tad Friend’s 2015 profile of Andreessen in The New Yorker paints the billionaire as someone who had a relatively poor and unfulfilling upbringing in the wilderness of Wisconsin (something Andreessen refuses to talk much about), and who became convinced that technology had to reinvent not just music or movies or software, but virtually everything—education, politics, government, medicine, and yes, media. This would eventually become the theme of the venture capitalist’s influential op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, entitled “Why Software Is Eating The World.”
Other notable stories:
- Hong Kong police used a sweeping national security law Thursday to arrest five editors and executives of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, on charges of colluding with foreign powers, the Associated Press reported Thursday, in what it said was a sign of an intensifying crackdown by Chinese authorities in the city. The Hong Kong authorities said they had evidence that more than 30 articles published by Apple Daily played a “crucial part” in what they called a conspiracy with foreign countries to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong. Earlier this year, Elaine Yu reported for CJR on the loss of press freedoms in Hong Kong.
- After more than two years’ worth of talks, including a recent protest outside Anna Wintour’s house in Greenwich Village, union employees at The New Yorker have reached a deal with their parent company, Condé Nast, the New York Times reports. “The deal with Condé Nast includes base pay of $55,000 for employees at all three unions, rising to $60,000 by April 2023,” the paper says. Under the agreement, many employees at the three publications will receive wage increases of at least 10 percent, the unions said in a statement.
- Bill Adair, the founder of Politifact, writes about lessons learned from Squash, a 12-year project to create an automated engine to check political facts in real time. Although the project “has been a remarkable success,” Adair says, there have been some problems as well. “Squash also makes lots of mistakes,” he admits. “It converts politicians’ speech to the wrong text (often with funny results) and it frequently stays idle because there simply aren’t enough claims that have been checked by the nation’s fact-checking organizations. It isn’t quite ready for prime time.”
- Carrie Budoff Brown, the top editor at Politico, is leaving to join NBC and run editorial programming for the network’s “Meet The Press” franchise. Budoff Brown will be responsible for all programming on television, digital, and streaming services, “and will work to expand the iconic brand’s reach and impact even further,” Noah Oppenheim, NBC News president, said in a memo to staff obtained by The Washingtonian. Budoff Brown joined Politico in 2007; she has been a staff writer covering the Senate, and the White House, and the managing editor of Politico Europe. She became editor in 2016.
- Savannah Jacobson writes for CJR about the New York mayoral race, and interviews seven residents of the city about how they have been following the election. “Age seemed to be the best predictor of news habits: older people looked to traditional outlets—the Times, the tabloids, TV—while their younger neighbors followed the race through social media. The politically engaged among us rattled off a list of local news outlets; others expressed frustration with what they viewed as inadequate coverage, especially compared with the wall-to-wall presidential election news they’d seen a few months ago.”
- One of the people being recognized for the role she played in the publication of the Pentagon Papers at the New York Times in 1971 is Linda Amster, who was a 33-year-old researcher for the newspaper at the time. Despite spending eight weeks helping to catalog and decipher the information in the documents, Amster was not given any credit in print when they were originally published, according to Washington Post media columnist Eric Wemple. Her supervisor at the time recalls that her name was left off the credits because editors were afraid they might be arrested, and they didn’t want Amster to go to prison.
- Newsrooms need to treat coordinated online attacks on their reporters—such as the recent attacks on Mara Gay, of the New York Times editorial board—as though they were propaganda, writes former journalist and PR consultant Ed Zitron. “This is not a case of people being mean to other people, it’s coordinated, anti-democratic, anti-free press propaganda, ironically weaponizing the language and methods of the free press. It is a form of warfare, except it’s not engineered by countries to attack other countries—it’s private enterprises and individuals bringing war to the doorsteps of reporters.”
- Former foreign correspondent Natacha Yazbeck writes for CJR about the research she has done into the use of local stringers and fixers for reporting on Syria, and how that takes a toll on them and on journalism in general. “The picture that emerges from this research is a complex, hierarchical ecology of newsmaking that marginalizes those it depends on for coverage,” Yazbeck writes. “Stringers face forms of precarity that further compound the difficulties that already confront foreign freelancers.”
- Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, says it is shutting down comments on its Facebook page for a month as an experiment, in part because of the abuse that the broadcaster says its journalists get for their reporting. “If public discourse is a litmus test of the health of a society, the conversation on social media suggests we have a problem,” writes Brodie Fenlon, CBC editor-in-chief. “It’s one thing for our journalists to deal with toxicity on these platforms. It’s another for our audience members who try to engage with and discuss our journalism to encounter it on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they are almost guaranteed to be confronted by hate, racism and abuse.”
On Saturday, Politico media reporter Jack Shafer wrote a column arguing that the primary challenge facing local newsrooms is not supply, but demand. “It’s not that nobody wants to read local news; it’s just that not enough people do to make it a viable business,” Shafer wrote. “Maybe the surfeit of local news of yesteryear was the product of an economic accident, a moment that cannot be reclaimed.” Shafer’s identification of declining demand is a worthy point, complicating overly simplistic calls to “save local news.” But placing too many eggs in the “demand” basket, and over-emphasizing economics, risks dismissing needs and desires that aren’t being met in the current system, warped as it is. Declining readership, after all, is also an impact problem.
Shafer’s column follows a rise in national coverage and political discourse lamenting the degradation of many local news outlets across the United States. Penny Abernathy—the researcher behind the oft-cited news desert map—told me last August that “there has been a real awakening in the industry, among community activists, and among certain politicians as to what is at stake if we lose the local newspaper, in whatever form it is delivered.”
Shafer is right to say that discussions about the stakes often place an outsized emphasis on supply, equating the presence of any local outlet with public good. He’s also right that declining demand is a big part of the problem; local reporters have made similar points themselves. In January, Pat Rynard, the founder and managing editor of digital local politics site Iowa Starting Line, wrote an anguished post to explain that the publication was going on hiatus because he was deeply discouraged by the limits of journalism’s impact in Iowa. “Good journalism should hold the powerful accountable, but it should do so in reality, not just theory,” Rynard wrote. “And if voters aren’t listening to it, then what are we doing here?” When he spoke with me in January, Rynard expressed frustration with the national emphasis on the supply of local news over its ability to reach readers. “It’s all about, How do we keep this stuff surviving? and not so much, Is it having its full impact?” The local news industry, he added, needs “a lot of new and more imaginative thinking.”(Iowa Starting Line returned to publication in February, after a hiatus lasting just under a month.)
It’s all too easy, though, to confuse “imagination” with “innovation,” that elusive capitalist promise that working harder and being smarter will yield economic benefits. The past decade has proven that the traditional local news model cannot innovate itself out of the mess it’s in: innovation cannot reverse vulture investments, break up tech monopolies, or compete with ubiquitous free junk news. And while innovation measures the financial benefit of making things better, imagination might tether improvement to public service instead. As Heather Bryant, deputy director of News Catalyst, tweeted, “We can ask ‘how do we get people to pay for journalism’ or we can ask ‘how do we cover the cost of producing and providing access to useful news and information.’ These are different problems.” To add to Shafer’s point, “saving local news” is a good mantra, but we should be clear about which of its functions are valuable and which we can discard.
There is significant evidence that localized, trustworthy information is essential to democracy, but it does not have to take the form of a traditional print newspaper. Abernathy’s work documenting news deserts was instrumental in bringing public attention to a real problem, but its metrics are limited—largely measuring the loss of newspapers across geographic regions—and national coverage depending on the “news deserts” research has become uncritically fixated upon those limited variables. As a result, we suffer from a lack of imagination about what local news can be, both in format and in funding model.
There’s also an important distinction between what people want and what people need; readers might not pay for coverage of election infrastructure as readily as they pay for Disney+, but that doesn’t mean a Disney subscription is more valuable. Victor Pickard, who has written extensively on the value of journalism as a public good, wrote on Twitter,”If there was an ‘accident,’ it was that an advertising revenue-driven business model and newspaper publishers’ monopolistic power over local markets created the illusion that journalism should always be highly profitable.” At present, a lot of local reporting suffers from a feedback loop in which margins shrink, coverage declines, and margins shrink some more. The problem is not an unworthy goal, but the inability to produce a worthwhile result using a broken system.
Something must change in order to connect readers to the democratic value that robust, localized reporting can offer, and that’s a challenge worthy of extra attention. There’s not a single solution, but there are a host of possibilities that can be used in concert—some of which are already taking place at publications across the country—eliminating barriers to access, reimagining the relationship between journalism and its audience, finding new funding models, getting government support, better explaining local journalism’s value proposition, or humbly accepting that it may be far from the traditional past we cling to. “Improve and support the function accessible localized information plays in undergirding democracy, and educate people about its value” is a much less pithy mantra than “save local news,” but perhaps it is what “save local news” can come to mean.
Below, more on the economics of information:
- Opportunity: A recent report from the International News Media Association found that business subscriptions are an under-tapped resource for news publishers, as PressGazette reported. Some publishers indicated finding businesses increasingly willing to pay for subscriptions.
- Nonprofits: Two-thirds of nonprofit news outlets saw an increase in foundation funding and individual giving in 2020, NiemanLab reported, with individual donors playing an increasingly large role in lending support. (Half of nonprofit outlets experienced lower earnings from revenue alone.) For more on the state of nonprofit news, read INN’s annual index report.
- Bouncing back: Thanks to swift and sudden growth in advertising, in addition to the return of live events, many media companies are rebounding, with hundreds of new media hires, Axios reported.
- On “value”: For The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote about the monetization of the attention economy. “We might also wonder what follows from the understanding that every little thing we do—every second of our time, every funny thought that pops into our mind—is something to be owned or sold,” she writes. Ensuring that people are paid for their labor is important; still “when a market value is assigned to every utterance, we’re acquiescing to the premise that no other sort of value matters as much.
Other notable stories:
- NBC reported on the national conservative media frenzy that has bedeviled local educators with complaints alleging the use of “critical race theory” in classrooms across the country. “There’s no shortage of free publicity for the cause,” Tyler Kingkade, Brandy Zadrozny, and Ben Collins wrote. “The conservative focus on critical race theory is pervading right-wing news publications, like Fox News and Breitbart.” The topic also increasingly pervades local Facebook groups. Media Matters reported yesterday that Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” more than 1,300 times in the past three and a half months. “Right wing ideology is organized at the national level, but presents itself as a local issue and local fight,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted.
- Yesterday, the New York Times issued a statement in support of Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project, Bills have been introduced to ban use of the project in schools nationwide. The statement declared opposition to “any attempt to restrict access to our journalism or that of any other news organization.” The American Society of Magazine Editors expressed similar sentiments in a statement of their own, calling any attempt to censor curriculum “at its core un-American.”
- The AP announced that it will no longer name suspects, use mug shots, or link to outside coverage in crime stories about minor crimes in which there is little chance the newswire will continue to cover the story. “Publishing underreported crime stories often has little benefit for the public, and catastrophic consequences for a suspect,” Akintunde Ahmad wrote for CJR in 2019. “Being arrested and charged is not the same as being guilty.”
- For The Daily Beast, Maxwell Tani reported on escalating disputes between staff and leadership at WNYC and allegations that management has engaged in bullying. After fourteen employees were laid off in May, staffers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging retaliation against union members. “I can’t remember a time when newsroom morale has been lower,” a WNYC staffer told Tani.
- President Biden meets with Vladimir Putin today. In recent weeks, Russia has escalated attempts to expel US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from the country. Yasmeen Serhan wrote for The Atlantic that Biden’s response to the issue will be a test of his presidency, with global ripple effects for press freedom. “Whether his administration makes good on its pledge to respond if Russia doesn’t relent, will reveal the extent to which Biden’s foreign policy centers human rights,” Serhan wrote. “His approach will also test whether what Atlantic contributor Tom Wright has described as the Biden doctrine can go beyond simple rhetoric.”
This story has been updated to clarify that while the “Expanding News Desert” map focuses on the loss of newspapers, the project’s scope extends beyond newspapers alone
Shadow bans, fact-checks, info hubs: The big guide to how platforms are handling misinformation in 2021
On Sunday the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, reached an agreement to eject Benjamin Netanyahu after twelve years, the longest time any prime minister has held power in the country. Coverage described a fraught legacy: the New York Times called him a “polarizing figure”; per the Washington Post, “he leaves a country more divided”; CNN reported that he made “a wealthier, more divided Israel.” Many outlets remarked on the strange cooperation among those who removed Netanyahu from office. “They lead an eight-party alliance ranging from left to right, from secular to religious, that agrees on little but a desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu,” Richard Pérez-Peña wrote, in the Times. For The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit noted that “under a government that delegitimized any form of dissent, traditional concepts of left and right have become somewhat meaningless.” Naftali Bennett, a hard-right nationalist who was once Netanyahu’s chief of staff, has now taken his place as prime minister; Yair Lapid, a centrist and former journalist, is set to take over in 2023.
Netanyahu’s relationship with the press has long been combative. For CJR’s global issue, Margalit wrote about his journey from a “master of television,” in his early career, to seasoned press antagonist. In 1999, after his first election loss, when Netanyahu sought to boost his media influence, his friend Ronald Lauder, the American cosmetics magnate, bought a majority stake in Israel’s Channel 10; in 2007, another ally, Sheldon Adelson, the casino-owning mega-donor, launched a free tabloid that amplified Netanyahu’s voice and views. By 2014, Israel got Channel 20 (“The Heritage Channel”), a mirror of Fox News with the motto: “Really Balanced Television”; soon, it was the only network with which Netanyahu sat for interviews. The same year, he sidelined his communications minister and took over the role himself. “Among analysts of Israeli politics,” Margalit observed, “the most common word used to describe Netanyahu’s view of the press is ‘obsession.’”
Then, in February of 2019, ahead of his next bid for reelection, Netanyahu was slammed with three major corruption cases; the most serious alleged that a media executive had taken down a story criticizing the First Lady in exchange for Netanyahu’s approval of a merger that would offset the executive’s corporate debt. Netanyahu fought to maintain his grip as long as he could: through indictments for breach of trust, accepting bribes, and fraud; through a bid for immunity; through an extended trial. By the end of December, the Knesset dissolved, and Israel’s election became a campaign to unseat him.
While lawmakers scrambled to form a new coalition, Netanyahu took aggressive action against Palestine. In May, Israel went on a bombing spree; when missiles hit press offices in Gaza, Netanyahu insisted that Hamas had an intelligence office in the building. Soon after, Haaretz reported that, amid protests, Netanyahu had proposed a social media crackdown. Even as his tenure as prime minister spun out of control, the press had trouble resisting his hold over messaging; as Jon Allsop wrote in a recent newsletter, “Much of the top-line coverage in the United States has used fuzzy, passive language—‘warlike violence erupts’; ‘the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, reignited’—that obscures who has done what to whom.” In an open letter last week, a group of media professionals called for more strongly worded coverage of Israel’s hostility against Palestine.
Under Bennett, the outlook for the press remains to be seen. From Jerusalem, Noga Tarnopolsky, who covers Israel and Palestine as a freelance reporter, tweeted that “much of the media is breathing a sigh of relief with the exit of a PM who referred to us as enemies of the people & treated journalists with sneering contempt,” calling Bennett’s administration a “breath of fresh air.” Still, Mairav Zonszein, a writer and analyst for the Crisis Group, noted that the new administration “does not mark a defeat of the right.” And Al Jazeera observed that, as Bennett replaces Netanyahu, Palestinians are “not counting on change.” Reporters like Givara Budeiri—who, according to the International Federation of Journalists, was arrested and assaulted by Israeli police, then released with a broken hand, even after a cease-fire was declared—can only hope for better days. They can’t count on them.
Below, more on news coverage and Israel:
- “Israeli media’s one-woman show”: For CJR last summer, Zonszein interviewed Or-ly Barlev, an independent journalist and activist in Israel who broadcasts via Facebook Live to hundreds of thousands. Barlev described living in a media landscape dominated by Netanyahu—or “Bibi,” as he’s known. “He has planted people in every panel, every studio; there is always someone speaking on behalf of Bibi,” Barlev said. “Not representatives of the right. Not right-wing intellectuals. Mouthpieces. Propagandists. And he feeds the media spins, which some journalists eat up.” Still, in August, she saw some signs of hope: “One of Bibi’s tools is to divide and fracture, and people are uniting. The contra has started.”
- “All stick, no carrot”: For the Canadaland podcast, Jesse Brown spoke with Dalya al-Masri, a Palestinian writer and researcher based in Vancover, about media coverage of Israel and Palestine. They agreed that ambivalent coverage of Israel and Palestine is overly governed by fear (in Brown’s words, “all stick and no carrot”). “Journalists have the obligation and the duty to morally and ethically represent the truth and to represent the communities they cover,” Masri said. “There is a rightful fear. But most of this fear is driven by the silence. When we stay silent, and when journalists and newsrooms don’t really cover these issues, it starts to get really pushed under the rug.”
- Out in the open: In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Yousef Munayyer wrote that Bennett’s policies “won’t mean justice or peace for Palestinians,” citing Bennett’s shameless opposition to a Palestinian state. “Bennett will not only continue to act as Netanyahu did, he is unafraid to tell the world about it too,” Munayyer argued.
Other notable stories:
- Reality Winner, the former NSA contractor who was sent to prison for leaking documents about Russian hacking to The Intercept, was released early from prison yesterday.
- Barbara Starr—a CNN Pentagon correspondent and one of the eight reporters whose emails and phone records the Trump Justice Department attempted to access in 2017—wrote yesterday that the Biden administration’s promises to stop the seizure of reporters’ records fall short of the necessary protections for a free press.
- Yesterday afternoon, Attorney General Merrick Garland met with executives from CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post about the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists and plans to restrict—even forbid—monitoring them in the future. Though the conversation was off the record, Garland said in a statement that he planned to put anti-surveillance measures into regulation. Also yesterday, the Times reported that John Demers, a Trump DOJ holdover—who would typically have been briefed on matters like the surveillance of journalists—is stepping down next week.
- Roman Protesavich, the Belarusian opposition journalist who was recently abducted from a flight and detained by the Belarusian government, appeared yesterday at a press conference in Minsk. Jonah Fisher, a BBC reporter present for the event, observed that Protesavich was under duress. “In recent weeks Mr Protasevich has been put several times in front of TV cameras to toe the official line, confess to his supposed crimes and deny that he’s been mistreated,” Fisher wrote. Fisher and other members of the press walked out in protest of Protesavich’s treatment.
- A court in Myanmar released Nathan Maung, one of two US journalists detained while reporting. The charges against him were dropped, and Maung’s case was dismissed. Maung’s colleague, a Burmese national, remains in detention, as does Danny Fenster, an American journalist working for Frontier Myanmar.
- When it debuted on Sunday, the UK’s new GB News channel—which offers right-leaning commentary, but, thus far, insists that it is unlike Fox News—had more viewers than the BBC.
- On Friday, legislators introduced five bills to break up monopolistic behavior by big tech companies. For ArsTechnica, Tim De Chant writes that the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, which would raise filing fees for mergers and direct the money to regulators, is the likeliest of the five to pass, since it has the most bipartisan support. The fact that the legislation has attracted even modest support across party lines, De Chant believes, “suggests that a major overhaul of antitrust law may be imminent, even if these specific bills don’t survive.”
- BuzzFeed will begin paying “Community” members for content—quizzes, rankings, and other posts—using a pay scale dependent on virality. Interested contributors must apply; posts surpassing 150,000 views will receive $150; those with 500,000 views will earn $500. The highest payout is $10,000 for four million views or more.