Nieman Lab Fri, 26 May 2023 15:36:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Last Night at School Committee distills hours-long public meetings into half-hour podcast episodes Thu, 25 May 2023 18:23:01 +0000 Jill Shah has attended a lot of Boston School Committee meetings. As president of the Shah Family Foundation — a Boston-based nonprofit focused on food access, health and wellness, and education — she has collaborated with the school district on a range of philanthropic initiatives, and watched meetings to get a sense of opportunities for the foundation to meaningfully support the BPS community.

But the dense meetings, which can stretch as long as seven hours, often left Shah with questions. She posed many of them to her colleague Ross Wilson because, prior to becoming the foundation’s executive director, he had spent 17 years working in the school district. “I asked him questions all the time — about how school systems work, and how the district worked and what that meant, what was the backstory — and that conversation, particularly his answers, seemed so compelling to me,” Shah told me recently. “It felt like something that lots of people would want access to.”

In January 2020, the idea became reality in the form of Last Night @ School Committee, a podcast that’s been going strong for more than three years now. Its success has led to a partnership with WBUR that began in late 2021 and attracted attention from The Boston Globe. Co-hosted by Shah and Wilson and funded by the foundation, the podcast consists of roughly half-hour, fact-checked recaps of Boston School Committee meetings, often interspersed with commentary and context from previous meetings. Episodes are recorded and posted the day after each of the late-night, lengthy meetings. (Meetings take place approximately every two weeks, though their frequency varies.) Episodes end with an invitation for listeners to share their questions, thoughts, and concerns about the school system, and a statement embodying the podcast’s ethos: “We all have a stake in the future success of Boston’s students.”

Just this week, the American Journalism Project released a report based on input from 5,000 people laying out a clear desire for more local coverage — including for journalists “to show up to meetings, to scrutinize public statements…to force transparency through their work,” and to inform community members of decisions before they are made, while there is still an opportunity for public participation. As a nonprofit-funded effort to disseminate civic information in an accessible format, the Last Night at School Committee podcast is a model worth understanding at a time when, in many places, coverage of public meetings by traditional news outlets is disappearing.

The intersection of advocacy and reporting

Shah and Wilson settled on audio as the format for their school committee recaps in part because they felt a conversational approach would make the dense topics discussed at meetings more accessible. “The conversation is more fun for this topic than the written word,” Shah said.

What’s more, “there’s a lot of irony” in School Committee meetings, she added, that audio could better capture. In an episode recapping the March 22 School Committee meeting, for instance, co-hosts Wilson and Josh Block (the foundation’s communications director, who was sitting in for Shah that week) describe a surreal exchange prior to a vote on the superintendent’s proposed fiscal year budget where committee members questioned what would happen if they were to reject the budget by voting against it.

During the meeting and in a clip played on the podcast, School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson seemed to suggest that if the budget were not approved by the School Committee, it would still advance to a vote by the Boston City Council, a key next step in the typical budget approval process.

“If you vote yes on the budget, this budget goes to City Council for a vote, and if you vote no, the same budget goes to City Council for a vote,” Wilson summarized, underscoring the absurdity of that explanation.

One School Committee member, Brandon Cardet-Hernandez, immediately questioned that explanation in another quote played on the podcast: “If you vote tonight and it doesn’t go through, it still goes through? Then why are we voting — what is our governing power as a body around the budget?”

Block compared the implication that the School Committee’s vote doesn’t actually matter in the budget process to a theory that Indiana Jones’ role in Raiders of the Lost Ark “served no purpose” because all of the key plot points of the movie would have occurred without his actions. Under Robinson’s explanation, the School Committee seemed to serve the same inconsequential role, Block said.

Robinson then suggested she get clarity from the Committee’s legal counsel after the vote. But another School Committee member, Quoc Tran, who planned to vote in support of the budget, spoke up as a lawyer to ask for clarity on the meaning of the vote before members voted.

In a clip played on the episode, attorney Lisa Maki said she had “not had an opportunity to fully dive into what would happen if the School Committee were to take definitive action in the sense of a rejection of the budget this evening.”

“Josh, how do we not know?” Wilson exclaimed in exasperation during the podcast episode. “We vote on the budget every year!”

He and Block clarified that there is, in fact, a process if the committee votes down a budget — members can continue amending a budget to something they are willing to approve over several weeks before the City Council reviews the budget.

This combination of explanation, summary, commentary, and emphasis on why dense procedural discussions matter to school community members is characteristic of the podcast’s effort to boil down long meetings into a digestible format that they hope can galvanize listeners to react and engage with public process.

Podcast episodes almost always include audio excerpts of a mix of School Committee member, administrator, and community member comments from the meetings. “We really try hard to use the voices of those on the committee and in the school department to tell the story,” Wilson said. “We do so with great respect and regard for what they say, and make sure we don’t misrepresent…but we figure out how to weave all of their comments…and all their presentations together into something that makes sense of what is happening.”

City Bureau’s Documenters program, which trains citizens to cover public meetings, is among the most prominent and successful examples of contemporary citizen journalism. The Shah Foundation’s podcast takes a different approach that folds more advocacy and opinion into its careful summaries of meetings. Although neither Shah nor Wilson are trained as reporters, they both consider their work a kind of citizen journalism. “To some extent we view [our work] as reporting, to some degree we view it as advocacy,” Shah said. “I think at certain times, some of us wish it were sparking a revolution.”

In Shah’s view, the podcast also provides unique value to its listeners because it takes a slower approach to unpacking meeting highlights, waiting to publish until the day after the meeting. Mainstream news outlets’ rush to break news, by contrast, can sometimes mean that organizations publish a story before an issue has even been fully discussed, she said. “The nuance — the good questions that school committee members ask, the public comment that is made about a particular issue — never gets into that first story,” Shah said.

A notable example: In the summer of 2021, the Boston School Committee unanimously approved consequential changes to the city’s high-profile exam school admissions process in an effort to make that policy more equitable. Those changes were covered the same night of that meeting in two separate articles in The Boston Globe.

One story, focused on explaining the new process, characterized the changes as “the biggest permanent changes to the exam school admission process in more than two decades,” stating, “The new process was developed by a task force over the last five months.” The article also noted that the process approved by the committee “reflects the final recommendations released by Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius Wednesday afternoon.”

The other story focused on the School Committee meeting and vote to approve the admissions process changes. This article contextualized the changes with political and historical tensions stemming from and shaping newly approved process, and focused on one amendment Cassellius made to the task force recommendations to reject “a politically influenced measure reluctantly advanced by a task force.” This story mentioned that Cassellius’ recommendations “largely mirrored the original task force proposal” and, at the very bottom, described two other differences between her final recommendations and those made by the task force.

As usual, Last Night at School Committee recapped the meeting in an episode the following day, July 15. In that summary, they included additional context about the recommendations ultimately approved at the meeting: Shah explained that “the superintendent had made a presentation [that] was different, in many ways, from what the task force had recommended in the meeting prior.” Wilson specified that Cassellius had made five significant changes to the proposal approved by the School Committee without releasing data about those changes prior to the School Committee’s vote.

“Jill, the result of these changes, or simulations based on the new criteria, were not made public,” Wilson said in the episode. “We have no real idea about the changes the superintendent made just in the last few days to this proposal, or the impacts on schools or students in our city.”

“It’s really curious, right, that the School Committee didn’t insist on seeing simulations before calling for a vote, given that that was just normal process for the five months that the task force was meeting,” Shah agreed.

“There was a tremendous process, a very public process, a process that enabled all of us to pay close attention to what was happening and to have public debate around what should happen,” Wilson acknowledged. “And then at the very end here, in the last few days, a number of things shifted and the data wasn’t made public. And I think that’s a real concern.”

Shah told me she and Wilson had listened to all of the subcommittee meetings leading up to the recommendation, which was why they caught the 11th-hour changes by the superintendent, and the lack of public data describing their effects, right away.

Shah and Wilson’s immediate concerns would later be echoed in mainstream news stories as the unclear effects of the superintendent’s late-hour admission process changes sparked lawsuits, becoming a major debacle and news story. When the school department finally released data detailing the potential effects of the policy on exam school diversity a couple of months later, the Globe noted that “such an analysis was absent when Cassellius presented the committee with last-minute revisions she made to the policy prior to the July vote, raising questions if it had been properly vetted.”

In general, “I hope that our podcast also helps those who are in the more mainstream media listen and figure out what are the future stories that should be dug into,” Wilson said.

Who is the podcast’s audience?

Shah and Wilson created the podcast with the goal of helping Boston Public Schools community members follow and engage with decision-making that directly affects them — including parents, teachers, students, and Boston residents interested in the school system.

But the podcast first caught the attention of “the people who were really involved in the execution of the system,” Shah said — the superintendent; her staff; the most active parents, teachers and students; and School Committee members themselves. This was a surprise, Shah added, because “we thought they would be utterly dismissive of the podcast.”

Jeri Robinson, the Boston School Committee’s current chair and a School Committee member since 2014, told me she is glad the podcast exists, though she doesn’t listen to it very often because she knows what happens at the meetings from chairing them. “I think the questions they pose are the right ones; they’re the same ones that we’re asking ourselves,” she said of Shah and Wilson.

Robinson said that in her view, disseminating key information to stakeholders — and other advocates — is an important service to the community. “Boston is running over with advocates, for everybody and his brother,” Robinson said. “My issue is that the advocates themselves need to be well informed, and so if the individual clients can’t access [the information] on their own, that’s the role of the advocate…If there’s information you feel your constituents need to know, you need to know how to find it.”

Partnering with WBUR

The Shah Family Foundation partnered with WBUR in late 2021 to make the podcast sponsored content — meaning the foundation entirely funds the podcast, but it has access to some editing, production, and advertising resources through CitySpace Productions at WBUR. CitySpace Productions, the news outlet’s studio for partner projects with corporations and nonprofits, also partners with the foundation on a second podcast.

Through the WBUR collaboration, an audio editor from the news organization works on the podcast (though the Shah Foundation has full editorial control, and as sponsored content, the podcast is firewalled from WBUR’s editorial content). The editor contributes to fact-checking as well as professional mixing and engineering that elevate the quality of the podcast.

“It would be very hard to get that person to come work full time at the foundation,” Shah said, “but that person as a part of an institution like NPR and BUR, it’s super high-caliber, and…his attention’s focused on us. So it’s a real win-win.”

According to the Shah Foundation’s 2022 year in review, Last Night at School Committee tripled its listenership last year.

“All of our most recent [Last Night at School Committee] episodes have more than 500 downloads,” Jay Feinstein, senior producer for podcasts and business partnerships at CitySpace Productions, told me in an email. He added that this translates to “thousands of listeners per month.”

“When you’re thinking about the very niche audience that we’re trying to reach,” Feinstein said, “this is a very devoted audience that keeps on coming back…[parents and administrators] might not have time for a five-hour School Committee meeting, but might have time to hear a summary [while they do whatever else] they’re doing anyway.”

Though the partnership with WBUR has helped the original podcast grow, one experimental offshoot did not achieve the same enduring success with listeners. Following the partnership, the foundation launched a shorter summary in Spanish of the podcast that was sunsetted after about six months because it didn’t gain traction. Feinstein called the Spanish summary a “wonderful experiment” but said it only developed a “fraction of the listenership” of the original podcast.

The podcast team does not have data breaking down audience demographics or listeners’ relationships to the school system, Feinstein said.

Try this at home

For anyone else interested in launching a similar project, Wilson thinks it requires a few key ingredients: People who care about what they’re reporting on, people who think analytically and ask good questions, and “people who are willing to pay very close attention to these things, even when it becomes, at times, very monotonous and tedious to do so.”

Shah said that specific to podcasts, keeping the length under 30 minutes is important to respect listeners’ time and keep them engaged. “The pacing is important,” she said. “The pithiness of the content is important — for folks to tune in and listen, it has to be to some degree entertaining and provocative.”

At a time when School Committees are under intense political pressure across the country, Wilson said more nonprofits should be looking at doing this kind of work to keep local government transparent. “We can’t leave it to local papers,” he added, “who are doing significant, amazing work, but are also really struggling for resources and reporters.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the American Journalism Project’s report was based on input from 500 people. The correct number is 5,000 people.

Last Night at School Committee logo courtesy of the Shah Family Foundation.

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The number of nonprofit digital newsrooms grew again in 2022 Wed, 24 May 2023 18:53:18 +0000 The Institute for Nonprofit News reported a 17% growth in the number of new nonprofit newsrooms in 2022, in an annual report released this week.

INN’s Index Report Snapshot is based on self-reported data from 315 nonprofit news outlets — about 90% of INN’s members — for 2022. (INN says it will release a “deeper and more complete Index Report focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion” this summer.)

Overall, roughly half of nonprofit news outlets are focused on local issues (184 newsrooms), with the rest split between state and regional coverage (104 outlets) and those focused on national or global issues (106 outlets).

A few other tidbits from the report:

  • Revenue across the nonprofit news sector kept up with the growth of new newsrooms, increasing by 19% between 2021 and 2022 to nearly $500 million. “This indicates that growth in the field is not stretching or competing for a static or shrinking pool of resources, but that news organizations are developing new resources as they grow and as new ones launch and build support in additional communities,” the report reads. “More than 80% of the outlets surveyed either grew total revenue or maintained revenue from 2021 to 2022.”
  • Large and established state and regional outlets are driving the nonprofit news industry’s gain in median revenue. “Our data don’t explain why foundation support to state and regional newsrooms is growing,” the report notes, “but our reporting indicates a shift in philanthropic attention to statehouse coverage.”
  • The majority of outlets surveyed distribute their journalism through a website (74%), with other subsets primarily delivering via email newsletter (11%) or print (9%).
  • A little over a third of outlets grew their web audience in 2022, but a similar portion saw their average monthly unique visitors decline. Local outlets were more likely to see their web traffic increase, according to INN, while outlets focused on national and global coverage were the least likely.
  • INN estimated its digital-first members employ nearly 4,000 people. Roughly two-thirds of those employees are reporters, editors, and other kinds of journalists.

You can read the full INN Index Report here. INN also published its own financial information in an impact statement.

Note: This article previously referred to incomplete data and included an incorrectly labeled chart. Both have been updated.

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How Seen’s mobile journalism reaches 7 million people across platforms Wed, 24 May 2023 18:37:21 +0000

Francesco Zaffarano is a digital journalist and senior audience editor at Devex. A version of this interview first appeared in his Substack, Mapping Journalism on Social Platforms — subscribe here.

For this issue, I spoke with Seen‘s co-founder, Yusuf Omar. He was previously a CNN senior social media reporter on Snapchat and mobile editor at the Hindustan Times in India. [Ed. note: You can also watch Omar’s keynote from this year’s International Symposium on Online Journalism here.]

Francesco Zaffarano: Can you describe Seen to someone who knows nothing about it?

Yusuf Omar: Seen uses augmented reality to turn citizens into journalists. We create amazing AR experiences where people can open up their mobile cameras and immerse themselves in the story they’re trying to tell. So, if they are in Ethiopia right now and experiencing severe droughts, they can use their mobile camera to create effects to show what a drought looks like.

People use these tools to create videos they can submit to us, and then we have a team of amazing journalists — we have over 55 staff — who curates and package those videos into shows.

We have 12 shows, covering mental health, physical health, entrepreneurship, survivors of domestic violence and gun violence, sex education, and more.

A lot of people watch those shows. We have seven million subscribers to our shows across platforms. Most of them are 13- to 24-year-olds, primarily in the U.S. — mainly young women.

This is what Seen is today: a publisher with a unique set of tools that help people tell stories. But in the future, Seen wants to be something quite different.

Zaffarano: Can you tell me more about that?

Omar: We believe that by 2030, everybody who’s reading this — myself and you included — will be wearing smart glasses. I know Google Glass was early and didn’t quite pan out, but mobile phones suck and make people feel completely disconnected from the world. We’re going to move to a world where we’re wearing smart glasses, and in that world, Seen is trying to become the most immersive storytelling company.

Nobody has yet figured out what journalism looks like when you start to overlay it onto the world. But we’re certainly trying to work it out, and we’re making some important investments in that space. For example, we’ve done projects where you can look at colonial statues and they come to life, and you have generals saying, “I was amazing,” while their horses fact-check them, but they come to life with your phone with the glasses. And we’ve done projects in Boston where you can walk around and see history overlaid onto the city, and you hear poets narrate it.

Today, in 2023, we’re all about helping people feel seen through the stories that they tell about themselves. But by 2030, it will be more about stories overlaid onto the world. It might sound like two completely separate organizations or visions, right? But they’re incredibly connected. I think immersive storytelling through wearables can create more empathy and understanding because you can see the world through other people’s perspectives. More importantly, the augmented reality tools that we are building to help people tell their stories also work on the smart glasses. So it’s not like we are building for a future that doesn’t exist. We are building for mobile phones today, but that technology transitions to smart glasses.

Zaffarano: How did Seen start in the first place?

Omar: When I was 21, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I wanted to cover wars and natural disasters. But people like me are not seen on TV, right? There’s a critical lack of diversity in the media landscape. When I went to media organizations saying I wanted to be a foreign correspondent and travel, I was told there was no budget. So, I started hitchhiking from South Africa to Syria, and I started telling stories using my phone, and I ended up becoming a mojo — a mobile journalist.

I could shoot and edit on the phone, and that kind of got me thinking about the development and NGO sector and those organizations that need to make videos…but why is video so prohibitively expensive and difficult to make?

And then we thought, there are like 6.8 billion phones around the world, and they’ve also got editing apps. Imagine if those folks could tell stories through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and other platforms. The fundamental issue is that they don’t know how to tell a story, so my co-founder Sumaiya Omar and I traveled worldwide and trained 20,000 people in 140 countries. [Ed. note: Some of these trainings have taken place as MOOCs.]

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was just the two of us, but we had to hire 105 staff to train that many people. They managed shot lists, scripts, and storyboards, and by this stage, we were working with NGOs like World Vision, Plan International, the United Nations, and Oxfam. But we thought there’s got to be a better way to help people tell stories. So, we started experimenting with augmented reality.

At first, we used filters to disguise the faces of rape survivors while enabling them to tell their stories. And that’s when we realized this is a seriously powerful tool that we can use to do really interesting stories. So we thought, what if you could make high-quality videos with no cost without having to get a film crew, without having to buy a single camera? And what if those videos performed better than the high-production value stuff?

That’s why we started building augmented reality tools to help people tell their stories. For example, you have filters and lenses that give you prompts for self-interviews, directions to shoot a video like a professional, and help you tell stories that happened in spaces you don’t have access to — all by using immersive AR lenses.

Zaffarano: What kind of stories are you telling with Seen?

Omar: We started out focused on solutions-based and constructive journalism. We’ve now shifted to trying to build the world’s biggest human experience library. We recognize that there are incredible human experiences out there, and traditional media struggle to get access to them because they lack diversity. But if people can share their experiences, they can help create positive change in somebody else’s life. If you have experienced and survived violence, sharing that story can help positively impact somebody else. If you are fighting against cancer, sharing how you deal with that can help positively impact somebody else.

Zaffarano: What is your main social platform? And where else are you trying to expand?

Omar: The core is Snapchat, where we started publishing the tools we build and where we publish our shows. But now we are diversifying because we don’t want to depend on one platform for your revenues. You don’t want to build your house on somebody else’s land. So, for example, we now have 1.2 million followers on Facebook, and we have accounts on Instagram and YouTube, too.

Zaffarano: Why did you start with Snapchat?

Omar: I have been obsessed with Snapchat for quite a long time, and they’ve also invested in the company. They still own 6% of the company. If you imagine a hand of cards you need to hold to be a huge competitor in the future of computing, I think they have the royal flush.

Suppose you believe that the future of computing is moving from the keyboard to the camera as the primary input technology. In that case, they’re so well-positioned: they’ve got a great operating system around the camera, great hardware in terms of wearables, and great trust from their audience. Trust and privacy are huge things.

I also think that if you’re a small organization like us, you must focus. You can only do so many things. You can’t think you will have a million followers on YouTube, Facebook, and all the other platforms. Now we’re starting to play that game and diversify the platforms. But, initially, you have to do one thing really well.

Zaffarano: How do you plan to expand to other platforms now?

Omar: If our assumptions are correct that the future of the internet will be around the camera, we will translate very well across platforms. We’re already building AR filters on Instagram and other platforms.

It’s also exciting that we are doing very well on platforms other than Snapchat without much effort. We didn’t give a lot of love to Facebook. We just kind of published Snapchat shows on Facebook, and then we looked back, and suddenly we’ve got over a million subscribers, and we started generating something like $50,000 a month just from ad revenue.

If you asked me this question three years ago, I would have said that every platform is super different from the others. Now, they’ve all become quite similar. In terms of content, they’re all really focused on short-form, vertical video. So, they’ve all galvanized around the same format, making it incredibly easy to go viral across platforms now.

Zaffarano: How do you measure success?

Omar: Everyone talks about what engagement means for publishers. Is it views, likes, comments, or shares? For us, the best engagement is when your audience watches a piece of content about climate change and then opens their camera and creates a piece of content about climate change. That’s the best kind of engagement we can ask for.

We can see how many people are recording using our filters. Since 2020, our lenses have been used 83 million times. We can also see if they submit that content to Instagram Reels or Snapchat Spotlight. And once we have all these people producing content, we can select those we find interesting to make an episode of our show.

Zaffarano: How do you measure impact instead?

Omar: It’s about showing people a different perspective and challenging their understanding of the world. That’s impact for me. I strive for that, and one of the challenges we have today is I worry that we found ourselves in one left-leaning liberal corner of the internet. And if our mandate is really to create a more diverse, understanding, and empathetic world, we’ve got to tap into the other side.

Zaffarano: Can you tell me more about how you use user-generated content?

Omar: We don’t simply curate user-generated content. We can see all the content people create using our filters and lenses, and then we identify the most interesting and get in touch. At that point, we create a unique series of filters and experiences for that individual to help them tell their story at its best.

That’s how, for example, we’ve been able to help the humanitarian organization Plan International create three-minute videos with kids in 43 different countries. That happened during Covid — they couldn’t send out a crew, the media industry was figuring out how to deal with that situation, and we were very well-positioned to help them reach those kids in so many countries.

Covid pushed the industry into mobile journalism and shooting with phones, and I think that’s a one-way trajectory. I don’t think we’re going back. They realized those raw, real intimate, relatable stories were better. It resonated with audiences more. It got more impact, and people trusted it more. Especially now that we are entering this world of artificial intelligence and generative video, I think people crave real and authentic storytelling.

Zaffarano: What’s the project you worked on for Seen that you are most proud of?

Omar: On storytelling, some of the coverage we did around Covid was truly unique. We had such beautiful stories. We had this Muslim funeral conductor and grave digger in New York City telling us a story in the grave six feet under digging, crying, and talking about dealing with all those deaths and all that he witnessed. I was just so proud of how we were able to move into covering covid and finding a unique way into it.

Same with Ukraine. After the Russian invasion started and everyone was focusing on what Putin was saying and what the U.S. was saying, there were all those stories of black African people trying to leave Ukraine and being denied entry into Poland. We had the perspective of those people, selfie-style making their way and getting refused entry.

We had stories, not from some presenter telling you that people in Ukraine were living underground, but from people telling you their experience of living in bunkers and basements and places like train stations.

On filters and lenses, one of my favorite projects is an effect on Spectacles we built for the majority of Muslims around the world who don’t speak Arabic. There are many Muslims who come from non-Arabic-speaking countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, and we built an effect that allows you to see the Quran in English. And that’s just a powerful tool for utility for people to understand their religion better.

But also, when my wife was pregnant, we overlaid the baby’s development onto her body using AR so we could see how the baby grew weekly.

Zaffarano: How many people work at Seen today?

Omar: We realized that the old model pre-AR of manually training people — where we were writing storyboards, scripts, and shot lists — was not scalable. Since we’ve been able to deploy these tools, we have been able to double the amount of content that we produce with half the headcount. In 2022 we were doing 500 videos a year with 105 staff. In 2023, we are now at 55 staff and do over a thousand videos a year. If you build the right tech and right tools, you can scale what I’d call premium quality user-generated content without having to increase your headcount.

Zaffarano: How are you making money?

Omar: Our revenue streams are quite diverse. Advertisement is the main one: We publish stories on Snapchat and Facebook, and there are ads in between those stories that are placed by the platforms, and we get a percentage of that revenue.

But we are trying to move away from ads being the primary business because it’s really risky. Algorithms change, platforms change, and we’re very exposed. We’re focusing our efforts on our brand studio and specifically working with organizations creating positive change. We’re not interested in selling cars or underpants or some useless stuff. We’re storytellers and journalists at the end of the day. We found a great market fit with charities. We also get revenues from training and public speaking.

We are cash flow positive, which means we earn more than we spend, and I’m really excited about that.

Zaffarano: How is traditional media reacting to what you do?

Omar: They’re starting to understand the validity and value of what we’re trying to do here. They no longer see us as a threat because they are starting to see us as journalists who are backing people with mobile phones who tell their own stories, which is ultimately what sources do.

The two main things traditional journalists try to understand from us are how to verify and fact-check at scale, and if there is some interesting technology that we’re working on right now to validate kind of the process of the work we do.

We hold ourselves to the same ethical standards as somebody publishing a newspaper or putting up a TV piece. We don’t take it lightly.

Traditional organizations are also surprised we share everything about what we do. Sometimes people think their idea is so good that they don’t want to share it. But if your idea is so simple that you can tell it to somebody, and they can listen to it and do it, It’s probably not a very good idea. So yeah, we over-share because I think we’re all in this together. And we need to share our ideas if we really want to create a more diverse media landscape that is more representative and features more voices, more angles, and more perspectives.

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Seeing stories of kindness may counteract the negative effects of consuming bad news Tue, 23 May 2023 14:22:32 +0000 “If it bleeds, it leads” has long been a saying used in the media to describe how news stories featuring violence, death and destruction grab readers’ attention — and so dominate the news agenda. And, while many of us are aware of the negative effect that these kinds of story can have on us, it can still be hard to look away. We’re hardwired to sit up and take notice of them.

This “surveillance mode” is thought to be an evolutionary hangover from a time where survival odds were increased when we attended to the threats in our environment.

Research consistently shows bad news can have a negative effect on us. During the pandemic, multiple studies linked news consumption to poorer mental health, documenting symptoms of depression, anxiety, hopelessness and worry. In our research, we found that spending as little as 2-4 minutes on Twitter or YouTube reading about the pandemic affected people’s moods adversely.

However, our latest study has found that looking at positive news stories — specifically, videos and articles featuring acts of kindness — can actually counteract the ill-effects of seeing negative news stories.

Less decline in mood

To conduct our study, we showed 1,800 participants news stories. Some only saw negative news stories — including footage of the Manchester bombing, animal cruelty, or brutal acts of violence.

Others were shown a negative news story, followed immediately by a positive news story. The positive story featured kind acts such as acts of heroism, people providing free veterinary care for stray animals, or philanthropy towards unemployed and homeless people.

We then asked participants to report how they felt before and after viewing the news content. We also asked them how inclined they were to believe in the goodness of others.

The group that was shown negative news stories followed by positive ones fared far better than people who were only shown a negative news story. They reported less decline in mood — instead feeling uplifted. They also held more positive views of humanity generally.

Curious to know whether there was something special about kindness specifically, we also tested how people exposed to a negative news story followed by an amusing one (such as swearing parrots, award-winning jokes or hapless American tourists) fared.

Amusing news stories certainly helped buffer the effects of bad news and reduce the mood disturbances they caused. But in comparison, participants who’d been shown acts of kindness reported a more positive mood on average, and a greater belief in the goodness of humanity.

This shows us there’s something unique about kindness which may buffer the effects of negative news on our mental health. However, further research is needed to establish whether these are long-term benefits, as we only measured how people felt immediately afterwards.

The power of kindness

There are many reasons why kindness may have this protective effect on our mood.

First off, it is valued universally. Seeing acts of kindness may remind us of our connection with others through shared values. It may also help us maintain the belief that the world and people in it are good, which is important for our wellbeing.

Third, seeing others being helped is the resolution to seeing them hurt. So-called “catastrophe compassion“, whereby positive behaviour prevails despite negative circumstances, provides relief to the pain we experience when we see others suffering. Or, as one of our participants explained: “Knowing that there are a lot of people that are genuinely willing to help those affected by this attack somehow gives me a relief.”

Similarly, other research has found that even when children had not caused or were not connected to the suffering of another person, they experienced a reduction in physiological stress simply by seeing the hurt person being helped.

Fourth, countless research has shown that witnessing others’ acts of moral beauty, such as kindness or heroism, triggers “elevation” — a positive and uplifting feeling which experts theorise acts as an emotional reset button, replacing feelings of cynicism with hope, love and optimism.

It will be important for future research to investigate which specific reasons explain why kindness has the protective effect that our research has demonstrated.

A powerful tool for boosting wellbeing

It’s clear that kindness is a powerful tool for boosting wellbeing. In my research, I found that doing an act of kindness a day can increase life satisfaction. And more recently, researchers found that selflessness trumps selfishness when it comes to improving your happiness.

Less is known about whether making a conscious effort to notice kindness has the same wellbeing benefits, although one study found that observing others’ kindness is as effective in boosting happiness as performing an act of kindness.

Our latest study shows that kindness-focused news stories can take the sting out of difficult, depressing coverage by replacing feelings of despair with hope. As another participant put it: “I still feel that we’re fundamentally decent…And that’s worth clinging to.”

Perhaps including more kindness-based content in news coverage could prevent “mean world syndrome” — where people believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is, leading to heightened fear, anxiety and pessimism.

Other research has also found that positive news — such as bumble bees making a comeback or peace talks going well — make people feel better and want to do good things, such as voting or donating. This suggests there may be both personal and social benefits to showing positive news.

While it will be up to the media to make the change, our research makes the case for adding more balance to news coverage. Including more stories of kindness may help people feel better able to engage with these stories without perpetuating feelings of doom and hopelessness.

Kathryn Buchanan is a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Essex. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.The Conversation

Illustration via Midjourney.

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How one journalist uses Instagram to pull back the curtain on her reporting process Mon, 22 May 2023 17:05:55 +0000 As a D.C. crime and criminal justice beat reporter for The Washington Post, Emily Davies has a few strategies for understanding how her sources see the world. Following people she covers on social media — including some public officials, but mostly “community folks” — helps her “know what they’re doing day to day, how they’re thinking, and it helps me stay connected,” she said. Because many of her sources use Instagram, that platform plays a central role in fostering those virtual connections.

But Davies used to follow sources from her personal Instagram account, which created a dilemma familiar to many reporters: Where to draw personal and professional boundaries? The sources she followed “requested to follow me back,” she told me in an interview, which left her conflicted. Davies felt some desire to maintain a separation between the personal account full of pictures of her friends and family, and people she knew professionally, but also wanted to open up part of herself to the people who shared so much with her for her work.

“I started thinking about how I could be more transparent and vulnerable with them in ways that I asked them to be with me,” she said, “without opening my entire personal life and making myself a part of their story.”

For Davies, who is 25 and has worked for the Post full-time since 2020, this social media quandary embodied a deeper tension she feels as a reporter. “We ask people every day to let us in at their worst moments,” she said. “To give nothing of ourselves in return sometimes feels like denying that we’re [also] people in this equation.”

So in late January, she created @emilydaviesreports, a public Instagram account that offers sources and readers a window into her day-to-day life and process as a reporter — from snapshots of her writing process, to safety gear she uses to cover protests, to strategies she uses to unwind and stave off emotional exhaustion in an often grueling reporting routine.


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A post shared by Emily Davies (@emilydaviesreports)

Almost all reporters rely on social media platforms as reporting tools and key avenues for sharing work today, and many maintain separate professional and personal presences online. But Davies’ Instagram account stands out because it is a product of her desire to reciprocate some of the vulnerability she asks of her sources while maintaining a professional boundary. “It felt like the right way to do that would be to explain how I do the work, and how it makes me feel…and hope that generated some trust with them,” she said.

If you scroll through her posts, you’ll see a laptop and a half-eaten salad as she files from a car; a list of words and phrases that inspire her in her notes app; a handwritten note she left for a professor who survived a shooting; and posts that start with a print newspaper and then show followers some of the people and places that led to that printed story. The posts, while certainly curated, have an intimacy that Davies creates in part by addressing her followers directly in the post captions and inviting them to engage, as well as describing some of the challenges and imperfections of her work.

“Some of the posts try to explain how much goes into each story, even if the story is 200 words,” Davies said (here’s a good example). That’s because she wants her sources to know that “a lot more goes into each story than they can see [in the finished article] — we care about fact-checking, we care about trying every number for every victim of crime, even if they don’t answer. And the line of the story that says ‘efforts to reach XYZ family were unsuccessful’? Something real went into that.”

Davies thinks this is especially important at a time when institutional trust has profoundly eroded. “Part of this is an attempt to reestablish trust, from a perspective of a young reporter who’s come up at a time when people[’s] default…[is] often to be skeptical of the media,” she said.


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A post shared by Emily Davies (@emilydaviesreports)

Davies’ editor, Matt Zapotosky, sees the potential for building trust as well. “I love the account,” he told me. “When she first conceived it, we were talking about how to establish The Washington Post as a more credible and authoritative source of public safety news” that community members rely on and think to contact with news tips. He thinks Davies’ work on social media “has paid dividends” already, with more people recognizing her when she reports at crime scenes.

“The world is kind of moving to people wanting to know the process — they don’t want their journalism to be from a faceless institution,” Zapotosky said. “They want to know who’s behind it; they want to know the kind of discussions that went into it. So we want the Instagram to [share] that.”

Though Davies initially created the account for her day-to-day sources, over the past few months it has grown to about 750 followers with a wider variety of interests. Davies said her followers include some of her sources and D.C. community members, fellow journalists, and “news junkies” from the Post’s national audience. Some journalism professors have asked to share some of the account’s material with students. Davies thinks this may be because some of her posts “show the messiness of reporting in a way that we sometimes deny by writing clearly in the end,” she said. (Disclosure: I came across this account because Davies and I are former colleagues — in college, we worked together on our student newspaper, The Brown Daily Herald, where Davies was editor-in-chief in the year above me.)

“I’m still trying to figure out a little bit who my followers are,” she said, “and it’s obviously still growing, it’s new, and I haven’t made that much of a publicity push to try to get people to follow it. I’ve just sort of been posting when I feel like it’s right, and seeing what happens.”

The account has attracted positive attention internally at the Post, too. At least one of Davies’ colleagues, education reporter Karina Elwood, created her own Instagram account and credited Davies’ account as the inspiration.

The Post’s recently hired, first-ever social media coach, Emma Grazado, has supported the account from the start, Davies said. “She helped me tailor some of the outreach — like what I should have in my bio, and the tone I should strike. If I’m nervous about something toeing a line, I can send it to her.”

Davies “had a really clear idea of her target audience, what she wanted the content and posting style to be, and how to navigate the platform,” Grazado told me in an email.

Davies already enjoyed taking pictures of moments from her work days — sometimes for friends, sometimes to remind her of key details. So creating an Instagram account that documented her reporting process “didn’t add anything to my workflow,” she said. “It felt like taking advantage of something that I already do.”

Interest in the account from other journalists could also be related to Twitter’s problems, Davies added. “People might be looking for a new way to share their information.”

Grazado also highlighted some of the work of the Post’s foreign correspondents on Instagram. Because it is “such a visual platform, it is a great place for them to bring the audiences along with them to different parts of the world,” she wrote, pointing to the accounts of Tokyo/Seoul bureau chief Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Ukraine bureau chief Isabelle Khurshudyan, Southeast Asia bureau chief Rebecca Tan and Cairo bureau chief Siobhán O’Grady as examples.

The Post’s Next Gen politics team, she added — Brianna Tucker, Dylan Wells, and Camila DeChalus — “also does great work across social platforms” including Instagram and TikTok.

Davies does not have a regular posting rhythm. “I’m still trying to get the cadence right,” she said. “If I’m having a really, really busy news week, and it’s taking all my energy to do what I’m doing, sometimes it will slide and then I’ll try to do more of a recap post.” But the posts don’t take her long — typically five or 10 minutes. She sometimes puts them together while waiting for edits on a story, for instance.

The account has also “generated some interesting conversations with [Zapotosky],” she added. “Sometimes if I’m nervous about a post, or nervous about sharing a moment that we’ve talked about, I’ll ask him, and then we get into conversations about the ethics of what we’re doing. It’s another gut check on process.”

One specific instance where the account sparked conversation between him and Davies, Zapotosky recalled, occurred in February when he assigned Davies a story about an unseasonably warm day in D.C., removed from her usual criminal justice beat. After discussing how to frame the story in a unique way, they decided Davies should personalize it and share a chronological account of her day. Though the story touched on climate change as the grim specter behind the beautiful weather, the article still received some criticism, Zapotosky said, for not centering global warming more.

“She was contemplating: Should I respond to this criticism? Should I talk about our conversation in advance and the framing?” Zapotosky said. After a discussion, they ultimately opted not to respond in this instance: “We thought we should save that for a really sensitive, high-public-interest public safety issue, which we often get criticism on.” Zapotosky thinks Instagram “could be a great vessel” for responding to criticism of a story in the future. “That’s a part of this, that people have the ability to ask her about our process,” he said.

Davies is still figuring out what makes a good post for the account. TV appearances, because they’re inherently visual, often feature in her posts. On the other hand, if Davies is working on enterprise stories she doesn’t necessarily want people to know are in the works, or doing longer-term work, those can translate to quieter weeks on Instagram.

The account especially attracted attention after footage of the killing of Tyre Nichols by police officers was released. In late January, shortly after starting the account, Davies traveled to Memphis and spent a week documenting the city’s anger, grief, and resolution. She posted raw photos of protests and Nichols’ funeral, but also included snapshots of eating trail mix for dinner and a coffee cup late at night giving texture to her own experience as a person and reporter keeping up with the physical demands of the week.

Davies thinks her series of posts attracted more attention at this time primarily because “it was a really high-profile national event.” Additionally, “the place of Memphis…was new to me,” which heightened her attention to detail in the photos she took and the details she highlighted in posts.

“It felt like a really, really high-stakes moment,” she said. “I think I felt that so deeply that in everything I wrote for the newspaper or posted, that came across.”


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Account followers seemed especially curious about “understanding how I went about asking questions,” she said. Davies used the account to ask for input on what questions she should ask Nichols’ parents, and received some responses. For instance, one follower had written, “Can you ask them about their thoughts and emotions knowing residents of the city are likely to react and come out in mass once the video is released”?

“I asked something similar, so replied with their answer,” Davies wrote in a follow-up email.

“It felt like a new and nice way, I think, at a really high-stress moment, of communicating with people about what we were doing,” she reflected. “That trip made me feel like this account could work, and actually add something to the dialogue.”

For others who are interested in creating their own behind-the-scenes reporting accounts on Instagram or elsewhere, Davies suggested “look in your notebook, and in your camera roll, and in your voice memos and your text messages and your Slack messages, and see what content you’re generating by nature, and then figure out how to put that together as a starting place.”

“Leaning into that uniqueness,” she said, “and whatever it is that makes you want to report, and that makes you good at reporting and interested in others and interested in the story, I would just try to harness that.”

Instagram works for her, but the platform depends on the reporter, she added. “Figure out what you’re doing yourself, and then figure out which platform can best elevate it.”

Photo by Washington Post reporter Emily Davies of Davies filing a story from a car. The photo was posted to her reporting Instagram account in January 2023.

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An incomplete list of things that rank above news startup The Messenger in a Google search for “The Messenger” Fri, 19 May 2023 15:47:14 +0000 New York Post, May 19, 2023: “The Messenger media startup mocked after rocky launch: ‘I Googled and couldn’t find it.'”

A Google search for “The Messenger” didn’t bring up the site as one of the first options — instead offering up an Iowa-based news service with the same name.

“Like with any new media platform, it takes a period of time to index on Google, which will happen shortly,” a company spokesperson told The Post on Tuesday.

The rep would not reveal how many people visited the site its first day, but claimed: “We’ve hit our traffic numbers earlier than expected and it has all been organic”…

Scott Nover, a technology and business reporter for Quartz, noted on Twitter: “I would dunk on The Messenger but I googled the site’s name and cannot find it.”

Others gave more technical criticism about that the site’s “SEO [search engine optimization] strategy,” saying it was “not quite ready to support $100 million in year one ad revenue.”

Aram Zucker-Scharff, a privacy engineer, tweeted that the Messenger failed to grasp “the modern basics of SEO set up pre-launch.”

“Between the lack of modern SEO and the ad configuration I’m getting 2015 vibes all around,” Zucker-Scharff tweeted.

An incomplete list of websites that rank above news startup The Messenger in a Google search for “The Messenger”

The Messenger, a 2-D sidescroller platform game from Sabotage Studio: “As a demon army besieges his village, a young ninja ventures through a cursed world, to deliver a scroll paramount to his clan’s survival. What begins as a classic action platformer soon unravels into an expansive time-traveling adventure full of thrills, surprises, and humor.”

The Messenger, the local newspaper in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

The Messenger, the 2009 film starring Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, and Steve Buscemi.

The Messenger, an Australian miniseries (“Ed’s life is one peaceful routine until playing cards inscribed with cryptic tasks start to arrive in the mail”) that debuted Sunday, May 14, 2023, the day before the news site The Messenger did.

The Messenger, the local newspaper in Madisonville, Kentucky.

The Messenger, a documentary film that “explores our deep-seated connection to birds and warns that the uncertain fate of songbirds might mirror our own.”

The Messenger, an online publication for “Boomers and beyond” in Clark County, Washington.

The Messenger Wiki, a wiki about the 2-D sidescroller platform game from Sabotage Studio.

The Messenger, the European Southern Observatory’s journal of astronomical science and technology.

The Messenger, a classical album by violinist Daniel Rowland and pianist Borys Fedorov.

The Messenger, a Spotify-original podcast on Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine’s attempt to oust President Yoweri Musevani.

The Messenger, a 1996 video art installation by Bill Viola (b. 1951, New York) featuring “a watery zone within which a naked man slowly materializes.”

The Messenger, “Northview High School’s Student News Source” in Fulton County, Georgia.

The Messenger, a free weekly newspaper in Hillsborough, New Hampshire.

The Messenger, an African American political and literary magazine (1917–1928), cofounded by A. Philip Randolph, important during the Harlem Renaissance.

The Messenger, the church newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois.

The Messenger Co., a manufacturer of custom stationery based in Auburn, Indiana.

The Messenger, a poem by Eleanor Wilner (“The messenger runs, not carrying the news / of victory, or defeat; the messenger, unresting, / has always been running”)

The Messenger, the Facebook page of The Messenger, a newspaper in Grapeland, Texas.

The Messenger, the sixth book in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series (“Gabriel Allon, art restorer and spy, has been widely acclaimed as one of the most fascinating characters in the genre and now he is about to face the greatest challenge of his life”).

The Messenger Birds, a Detroit-area rock band whose most recent album in 2022’s Tragic Comedy.

The Messenger, a play by Jeff Talbot based on Henrik Ibsen’s classic An Enemy of the People.

The Messenger (Original Soundtrack), the soundtrack to the 2-D sidescroller platform game from Sabotage Studio, by Denver musician Rainbowdragoneyes.

The Messenger, a quarterly publication of the Lynnwood Senior Center in Lynnwood, Washington.

The Messenger, an online comic in which “Kai and Kalla — a young boy and a fledgling dragonbird spirit — take on a quest in hopes the reward will solve all of their problems.”

The Messenger, a kinetic pulse rifle available to players in the online first-person shooter Destiny 2.

The Messenger, an audiobook of the 2019 novel by J. N. Chaney and Terry Maggert (“Dash never asked to be a mech pilot, but fate has other plans”).

The Hartsville Messenger, a newspaper in Hartsville, South Carolina.

Messenger, Facebook’s chat app.

Shoot the Messenger, a Chrome extension for removing messages from Facebook’s chat app.

Messenger International, a charity that “exists to develop uncompromising followers of Christ who transform their world.”

The Messenger, a 2019 World War II film from Poland starring Philippe Tłokiński, Patrycja Volny, Tomasz Schuchardt, Adam Woronowicz, and Zbigniew Zamachowski.

Kill the Messenger, a 2014 Jeremy Renner film based on the life of San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb.

Messenger Coffee Co., a Kansas City artisanal coffee roaster and cafe.

MESSENGER, a 2004–2015 orbital space mission around Mercury (“MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging”) led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Messenger, a 2017 podcast about the Australian immigration detention center on Manus Island.

Shooting the Messenger,” a 2019 article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology on humans’ tendency to deem “innocent bearers of bad news unlikeable.”

The Messenger, the newspaper in Troy, Alabama.

The Messenger,” the 15th track on Linkin Park’s 2010 album A Thousand Suns (“When life leaves us blind / Love keeps us kind / Oh-woah-oh, oh-woah-oh / Oh-woah-oh, oh / Oh-woah-oh, oh-woah-oh / Oh, woah, oh, oh”)

The Messenger, a hair stylist in Overland Park, Kansas.

The Messenger-Inquirer, the newspaper in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The Messenger, the monthly newsletter of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

A caveat: Google search results are shaped by many factors and can vary from user to user and over time. Your mileage may vary.

But for me, The Messenger’s website,, did not appear in the top 100 results produced by a Google search for “the messenger.” The Messenger’s Twitter account, @TheMessenger, did appear as result No. 24. Its LinkedIn page ranked at No. 30.

Meanwhile, stories about The Messenger came in at No. 11 (New York Post), 15 (CJR), 19 (Nieman Lab), 21 (The New York Times), 23 (Poynter), 29 (Mother Jones), 42 (Axios), 48 (Commercial Observer), and 99 (The Wrap).

Image of so many different messengers via Midjourney.

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The New York Times launches “enhanced bylines,” with more information about how journalists did the reporting Thu, 18 May 2023 14:15:50 +0000 Starting Thursday, New York Times stories online will no longer include a traditional dateline that tells where a story was reported from. Instead, certain stories will have “enhanced bylines” that tells readers more about how journalists did the reporting.

The Times has made changes to its dateline conventions before, eliminating actual dates in 2007. The dateline will still appear in print, though the Times print hub is working on its own experiments to adapt the new format.

Per the email sent to the newsroom by managing editor Marc Lacey and assistant managing editor Matt Ericson:

Instead of “WASHINGTON —” in the lead on our next article from the White House or Capitol Hill, we will write “Reporting from Washington” in an enhanced byline, or include a reference to the location in a broader description of the reporting effort.

Why the change? This new format is plainspoken and leaves no doubt that we have reporters on the ground, a critical measure of the authority of our journalism. Audience research shows that readers are confused by traditional datelines. Many understand that they signify the location of the news but not that we were there.

The old dateline, which dates to the time of the telegraph, does not do justice to reporting from multiple locations. The new form allows us to more fully describe the scope of our news gathering, emphasizing our role as expert eyewitnesses and thus boosting our credibility.

The Times has been experimenting with enhanced bylines since January 2022, first on the business and international desks, and later expanding to others in the newsroom. Edmund Lee, who was previously a Times media reporter on the business desk and is now an assistant editor on the Times’ Trust team, said the idea for enhanced bylines to replace datelines has been talked about in the newsroom since at least 2017. The Trust team’s research found that readers trust journalism more when they know the process of how it was produced.

“One of the specific elements of our journalism conventions that have always befuddled readers is the dateline,” Lee said. “People don’t know what datelines mean. When they see Washington or London in all-caps in the lead of a story, they might get that the story took place in Washington or London, but they don’t necessarily know that the reporter was physically present in those locations. A big part of ensuring trust is letting people know we are where we say we are.”

Other U.S. news outlets have also been experimenting with variations of extended or enhanced bylines, typically at the top of a story before the first paragraph.

The Verge:



The Cut:

Here’s what a Times enhanced byline looks like on a September 2022 story on how rarely Florida voter fraud cases are prosecuted:

For a story earlier this week on the war in Sudan that’s leading refugees into the neighboring country of Chad:

The Times shared that the reporter on this story on Rwandan refugees said some readers read it because of the information in the enhanced byline:

The enhanced byline field has been built into the Times’ CMS, so reporters and editors can choose from three options: A plain byline with just the journalists’ names; a simple dateline with the journalists’ name followed by “reporting from ______”; or an enhanced byline that includes both dateline information and a description of how the story was reported.

“This is a way to modernize how we do what we do,” Lee said. “It’s more colloquial, it’s more plain-spoken. And at the end of the day, it’s just good journalism to be more transparent and explain how you gather your news.”

Last December, Google updated its search ratings guidelines to prioritize search results that signal “experience” and “expertise.” Lee said the enhanced bylines will help surface Times stories in Google searches, but it wasn’t the reason for the change (“That was just a nice coincidence”).

“We weren’t aware of Google’s pending change till very recently, though we’d been working on enhanced bylines for over a year,” he said. “We’re looking at updating our author pages, which should help with authentication across the internet.”

A plain byline will still suffice for most Times stories. Simple datelines will be applied to any stories reported outside of New York, while enhanced bylines will be applied at the reporters’ and editors’ discretion. The Times’ audience research found that readers most want to know about reporters’ experience and relationship to the subjects they’re covering.

“A small group of these stories will have that [dateline] information, plus additional information about either the reporter’s background or the specific legwork they applied in the story: ‘reviewed hundreds of documents,’ ‘interviewed 30 different people,’ ‘visited refugee sites,’ that kind of thing,” Lee said. “When we feel that an unusual amount of effort went into a particular story — or there’s a particular connection that the reporter may have had to the story, or a particular part of their background or expertise relates to the story — we’ll highlight it in the enhanced byline.”

Lee said the ideal enhanced byline will reveal information about how the reporting was done that isn’t included in the actual story. While the Times Insider section is dedicated to reporting on the behind-the-scenes of the paper and The Daily podcast interviews Times reporters, Times stories themselves typically don’t delve into how reporters did their work “because we’re not the story,” Lee said. But enhanced bylines are another way to show readers that they can trust trust the work.

“We rarely talk about how we gathered what we gathered in the story itself,” Lee said. “Sometimes in a very big story, we will make that very clear and explain up front, but not always. This is a chance to to pull back the curtain.“

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The New York Times launches a subscribers-only “Headlines” podcast in a new audio app Wed, 17 May 2023 18:58:56 +0000 After a year-and-a-half-long beta, The New York Times launched a standalone app on Wednesday that it hopes will serve as its “audio front page.”

The app — for now, iOS only — is “currently an exclusive benefit for New York Times news subscribers.” Here’s some of what it includes:

  • The Headlines, a new morning show hosted by Times reporter Annie Correal that promises to catch readers up on top stories in 10 minutes or less.
  • Shorts, a series of (yup) short recommendations for books, streaming video, recipes, travel spots, and more.
  • Access to This American Life episodes a day early. (Recall that the Times acquired Serial Productions and entered into “an ongoing creative and strategic alliance” with This American Life in 2020.)
  • The Magazine Stand, a selection of professionally narrated longform journalism from a short list of other publishers. (The New York Times will “sunset” the Audm app, where this work was previously found; it had acquired Audm in 2020.)

Other audio offerings — including the Times’ flagship podcast The Daily and shows like Serial, The Ezra Klein Show, The Run-Up, and Hard Fork — remain free. They can be streamed from the new app, as well as everywhere else you already listen to podcasts.

Paula Szuchman, director of audio for The New York Times, described the new show, The Headlines, as “a sibling” to The Daily. While The Daily typically dives deep into one story for 20-ish minutes, The Headlines covers three news stories in roughly half the time.

“It’s designed to help catch a listener up on the biggest news of the day, reflecting the breadth and depth of Times reporting and signaling the areas of coverage our newsroom is digging into,” Szuchman said. “We heard from listeners that they want more — that The Daily scratches an itch but they also want to be informed of other stories they should know about.”

Like some of its most obvious competitors — including NPR’s Up First, which also promises the day’s top stories in under 10 minutes — The Headlines will publish early every weekday morning to be available for commuters.

During its inaugural week, the Times will include The Headlines in The Daily’s feed so those millions of listeners “can see what we’re up to, and how the two shows deliver a complete sense of the day’s biggest stories,” Szuchman said.

The big question: How many people — even if they are loyal subscribers — will really want to download a separate app to listen to audio content only from The New York Times?

New York Times Audio might best be understood as a retention tool. The Times says their success with subscriber-only newsletters showed that subscribers who engage with exclusive content are more active — and more likely to stay paying subscribers — than those who do not. Adding subscriber-only content in the audio realm, they figure, allows the Times to be relevant even when subscribers aren’t sitting down to read. As the Times’ Stephanie Preiss put it to Vanity Fair: “How do we get every second of your day?”

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Meet the first-ever editor for Latino audiences at NPR Wed, 17 May 2023 15:15:06 +0000

As some newsroom roles go the way of the dinosaurs, brand-new jobs are being born. This interview is part of an occasional series of Q&As with people who are the first to hold their title in their newsroom. Read through the rest here.

When NPR aired bilingual coverage of the State of the Union for the first time in February, host A Martínez switched between English and Spanish depending on who was being interviewed and what they were talking about. Some topics — like culture wars in the United States — made more sense to talk about in English. Issues that were pertinent to Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S., like education and immigration, were discussed in Spanish.

“I just want to get a poll from all of us,” Martínez said with a laugh, in English. “There is no translation in Spanish for ‘woke’, right?”

The bilingual broadcast — which NPR made available on Facebook, Twitter Spaces, and via participating NPR affiliate stations — has been streamed more than the English version on Facebook. The State of the Union coverage is just one of the projects that Pablo Valdivia, NPR’s first-ever audience editor for Latino audiences, has worked on since taking the role in August 2022.

In January 2020, NPR CEO John Lansing said that expanding the diversity of NPR’s audience was its “number-one goal.”

At least 62.5 million Latinos live in the United States, making up about a fifth of the total population. Radio is an especially important way to reach them: Nielsen found last year that 97% of Latinos ages 18 and older listen to AM or FM radio at least monthly.

Bringing in younger, more diverse audiences “is the only way for public radio to remain relevant and continue to grow,” said Isabel Lara, NPR’s chief communications officer. “Through this role we want to connect with the Latino audience and let them know there are Latino journalists and creators in the public media system, share who they are and what their work is about.”

The idea for the Latino audience-editor role came out of the NPR Oye project, a deep dive into the best ways NPR could reach Latino audiences. “One of the key findings was that NPR and the public radio system were already producing a some great content by and for Latinos,” Lara said, “but that it wasn’t being gathered anywhere or presented to Latino audiences in a consistent and coherent way.”

Before coming to NPR, Pablo Valdivia spent eight years at BuzzFeed as a staff writer and as the senior Latinx culture editor, helping launch the company’s sub-brand, Pero Like, that creates creative video and social media content for bilingual Latinos in the U.S. Now, he’s focused on bringing NPR’s journalism to Latinos on all platforms, including radio, online, podcasting, and social media.

I emailed with Valdivia about his new role. Our conversation, below, has been edited for length and clarity.

Hanaa’ Tameez: How “first” is this position? It’s the first time that someone has held the title of “audience editor for Latino audiences” in your newsroom, correct?

Pablo Valdivia: While NPR has a great team of audience editors who have been putting the work in for years now, there hasn’t been one solely dedicated to platforming Latino stories. So in that [way], my position as “audience editor, Latino audiences” is a first for NPR.

Tameez: Have you seen other newsrooms create similar positions?

Valdivia: Fidel Martinez, the editorial director of Latino initiatives at the Los Angeles Times, has been doing amazing work in this space with his team. Other newsrooms have respective verticals, such as NBC Latino and HuffPost Latino Voices. I’m not certain if they have employees dedicated to those verticals, [but] I stand on the shoulders of the newsrooms who have already carved out a lane for our community. Other media org sub-brands like BuzzFeed’s Pero Like and Refinery 29’s Somos also provide a lot of value to this space. While our titles aren’t a one-to-one match throughout orgs, we’re all working towards the same goal.

Tameez: What do you do in your job as audience editor for Latino audiences?

Valdivia: My role is three-pronged. The first prong is acting as NPR’s connective tissue. We’re a large company that spans radio, digital, and podcasting. We also have over 1,000 member stations throughout the country. That’s all to say, there are a ton of stories coming out on a daily basis from NPR’s network. As the connector, I pull out stories that I believe Latinos would value most and ensure that they don’t slip through the cracks. That can look like platforming stories on our social pages, making sure certain podcast episodes have a digital presence, or connecting a reporter to a video producer, to name a few.

The second prong is both writing and pitching stories to our team of reporters. I have my ear to the community and try to make sure our newsroom does too. I flag potential stories and topics for coverage and pick stories up here and there when needed.

The third prong is leading a new platform for NPR called NPR Oye. What started out as an internal working group and Twitter page recently expanded onto Instagram and is carving out a new space for NPR’s Latino audiences. The Instagram is dedicated to spotlighting stories and videos from within NPR that are by and for Latinos, and it’s hopefully just the start for NPR Oye.


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Tameez: Can you describe how you’re thinking about developing “strategies to help call in the community across the network”  and “ensure that Latino voices get the visibility they deserve,” as mentioned in your bio?

Valdivia: In order to even develop a strategy or call Latinos in, there have to be stories to strategize around. If we’re not speaking with and in service to the Latino community in our stories, there’s no reason for them to come or to care about what NPR does.

My first order of business has been connecting with leaders on different desks and help them funnel story ideas and initiatives down to their teams. For example, I worked closely with growth editor Arielle Retting and senior manager of content development Lauren González to create a digital presence for our first bilingual podcast, The Last Cup. I was also approached by Morning Edition executive producer Erika Aguilar on how to best execute an all-Latino bilingual State of the Union broadcast, which was a first for NPR. I’m now working with several employees on our Visuals team, like producer Estefania Mitre, to develop a more robust Latino presence on our visual social channels.

All of this work starts from within and requires every employee here to rally around NPR’s mission of serving the American public. The U.S. Latino population accounts for nearly 20% of all Americans — we make up a large portion of said “public.” Our stories are a part of the fabric of this country, and they should be a part of the fabric of every news organization in the U.S. I refuse to let us fade away into the background.

Tameez: What did serving Latino audiences look like in your newsroom before this role was created? How will that change, now that you’ve taken this title of audience editor?

Valdivia: NPR has a mighty force of Latino writers, producers, editors, and so on who create videos, stories, and podcast episodes that amplify the voices in our community. That work didn’t start with me. The difference now is that I’m a centralized force who can bring all that work together, as well as be a sounding board for ideas and hold non-Latinos in the newsroom accountable for covering this community. The weight of coverage shouldn’t have to fall on the shoulders of a select few, but rather on the organization as a whole. I’m here to make sure of that.

Tameez: What kinds of previous experience — personal, professional, educational, etc. — led you to this job? I would love to learn more about your time at BuzzFeed with Pero Like!

Valdivia: When I first started at BuzzFeed as a fellow in 2015, I began writing stories about my own lived experience as a way to connect with my parents. They’re Mexican immigrants, and I thought that if I wrote stories that were accessible to them, then they might reach other Latinos too. Shortly after, writers Norberto Briceño and Alex Alvarez, who were already doing this work, began talking about building their own platform, and Pero Like, BuzzFeed’s Latino brand, was born.

What started as a small Facebook page transformed into a booming YouTube channel built with the support of founding producers Jenny Lorenzo and Jazmin Ontiveros. I moved up the ranks and eventually became BuzzFeed’s first senior Latinx culture editor, which meant I oversaw all of the editorial content for Pero Like as well as editorial Latino coverage for BuzzFeed as a whole. In my time there I was a writer, editor, video producer, cultural consultant, you name it — all in the goal of trying to connect with people like me.

Pero Like was a baby I helped raise and look after for many years, but now it’s a full-grown, and fully-staffed, adult who can make decisions without my support. I came to NPR in the hopes of raising something brand new from the ground-up once again.

Tameez: What are your hopes and dreams for this new role?

Valdivia: My ultimate hope is that Latinos see a part of themselves in the stories we tell. Companies often care about speaking to and “for” us, but not with us. I hope I can change that narrative, even just a little bit.

I hope NPR Oye becomes way bigger than myself. I’m just one perspective underneath the large umbrella of “Latinidad.” I would love to see NPR Oye in every pocket of NPR in the future — be that radio, digital, and podcasting.

Tameez: What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities for being the first audience editor for Latino audiences — or the first anything — at a news organization? Are there certain groups, people, or resources that you’ll look to, outside of your own newsroom, as you do this work?

Valdivia: When you’re the first, there’s no road map. You have to draw the paths on your own and often encounter speed bumps and stop signs along the way. The destination may not be clear at first, but you just chug along and do the best work you can do. This is both freeing and intimidating. In one regard, I create my own future. On the other hand, I can easily lead myself astray. This is why I’ve created a support network from every part of the company that can prop me up and stand behind me when I need it most.

I’m just one single Mexican-American who can’t speak for the entirety of the Latino community. Our community is diverse, complex, and often fragmented, so I look to my peers in other departments for guidance, and I also look to non-Latinos to support the work that I do. It’s the only way to avoid getting stranded out on this “Latino island” all on my own.

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No need to shoot The Messenger: Its muddled ideas are doing the job Tue, 16 May 2023 18:45:52 +0000 command-f, c, a, r, r, o, l, l.

That was the first thing I typed when I saw that new news startup The Messenger had led its launch with an “EXCLUSIVE” interview with Donald Trump.

After all, it was only a few days ago that a jury in Trump’s hometown found him liable for sexual abuse and defamation in the lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll. Surely, if you had a 30-minute “EXCLUSIVE” interview with the former president, you’d ask him a question about it, right?

command-f, s, e, x, u, a, l.

Let’s say you weren’t going to ask about it. You wanted to make sure you had enough time for your question about the JFK assassination, your question about ChatGPT, and your question about the man who strangled Jordan Neely to death on a New York City subway. (“Well, I think he was in great danger and the other people in the car were in great danger. I haven’t seen the tape. [!] But I think he was in danger.”) You’d at least mention it in your 600-word introduction, right?

command-f, d, e, f, a, m, a, t, i, o, n.

No results. Instead, Trump gets to attack his GOP rival Ron DeSantis (“He’s got no personality. And I don’t think he’s got a lot of political skill”). And on the topic of the 2020 election — which Trump has lied repeatedly about winning — reporter Marc Caputo muses aloud: “I need to find a way to discuss the 2020 elections without sounding like I’m debating it.”

I don’t want to make too much out of one interview. But The Messenger has built its brand (to the degree that such a thing exists) on providing “balanced journalism in an era of bias, subjectivity and misinformation” and “objective, non-partisan and timely coverage.” Fair and balanced, you might say. Its marketing doesn’t just argue for its own objectivity — it derides everyone else for lacking it. All of media is broken, you see, except The Messenger. “People are exhausted with extreme politics and platforms that inflame the divisions in our country by slanting stories towards an audience’s bias,” its editor-in-chief claims.

The thing that’s confusing about The Messenger to everyone else in the media world is that its ideas don’t make any sense. It’s in an aggressive sort of denial about the world of digital news publishing in 2023. It’s LARPing an earlier time. The Messenger thinks it will reach 100 million monthly uniques on the back of bland aggregation. (That’s only slightly smaller than The New York Times’ audience.) It thinks it can support a 550-person newsroom on programmatic advertising. The Messenger thinks the right pitch for a site funded by Republican megadonors and run by the guy who brought the world John Solomon is: “We’re the unbiased ones!”

The confusing part is that — at a time when money has tightened in both media and tech — this jumble of seemingly bad ideas has raised $50 million. Someone seems to think this is a good idea. Fox News at least makes a lot of money — will The Messenger?

Perhaps the most striking thing about The Messenger’s first day was the sheer volume of content. By my count, it published 203 different stories Monday — some as short as a single sentence. The New York Times — with its newsroom of more than 1,800 people — published 141.

But most of those Times stories were, you know, stories, with reporting and interviews and such. Most of The Messenger’s are of the quick-aggregation variety, with individual staffers publishing 10 or more in an eight-hour shift. Now, there is nothing wrong with smart aggregation. But you don’t need $50 million to do it, and you’d better do it in some way that stands out.1

During a one-hour stretch Monday morning, The Messenger published 27 stories — a new one every 133 seconds. (Over the same span, the Times published nine.) It’s a mishmash.

Florida Man Has Been Living Underwater Since March, Breaks World Record

Scientists Puzzled Over Mysterious Rumbles in Denmark

Al Roker Shares Health Update While Recovering from ‘Complicated’ Knee Surgery

Woman Killed After Jumping from Moving Car During Fight with Boyfriend

Home Depot, Target and Walmart’s Earnings This Week Will Say a Lot About the U.S. Economy

Train Intercom System Used to Play Hitler Speech For Unsuspecting Passengers

Scalise: House Republicans ‘Building a Case’ Against Mayorkas

The Do-Nothing Congress: Why Washington is More Dysfunctional Than Ever

Why nearly $40 billion worth of U.S. weapons may not be enough for Taiwan

10 Tantalizing Social Media Chefs You Really Should be Following

3 Family Members Including Kids Killed in California Crash, 7 Others Injured

Manchin: ‘I’m more concerned about my country than I’ve ever been’

What Happened to TLC: From Schoolhouse Staple to ‘MILF Manor’

Viggo Mortensen, Shia LaBeouf, Courtney Love Cast in David Mamet’s JFK Film ‘Assassination’

Court rejects Elon Musk’s request to nix tweet agreement with SEC

US Diners Divided Over Increasing Dog-Friendly Restaurant Policies

TV Startup Giving Away Free Flatscreens That Show Constant Ads

Woman Accused of Burying Husband in Backyard Claims Teen Girl Confessed to Killing

Supreme Court to Take Trump Hotel Documents Case

Biden nominates cancer surgeon to lead National Institutes of Health

Father Allegedly Killed by Ex-Wife’s Boyfriend Shortly After Winning Custody of Children

McCarthy Casts Doubt on Debt Deal, Says WH Not ‘Serious’

99-Year-Old Faces Blades of Circus Knife Thrower, Fulfilling Life-Long Dream

‘Succession’ Boss Breaks Down Tom’s Puzzling Reaction to Shiv’s Pregnancy Reveal

Thai Opposition Triumphs in Elections, as Voters Deliver Blow to Military Leaders

What Jamie Foxx’s New Show Means for the Future of ‘Beat Shazam’

Pence Will Go to Iowa’s ‘Roast and Ride’ Amid 2024 Speculation

The content mix (and sometimes just the content itself) is very British tabloid: “Mail Online with a much smaller photo budget.” The classic combo of celebs (more than 1/5 of all stories) and The Barbarians Are At Civilization’s Gates And You Should Be Afraid.

My colleague Laura Hazard Owen, armed with a spreadsheet, looked through more than 800 Messenger stories2 to calculate the most common words in its headlines. The top 20 give you a good idea of what The Messenger is about:

1. Trump
2. dead/deadly/dies/death
3. Biden
4 (tie). killed/killing/killer
4 (tie). migrant/migration/immigration
6. shooter/shooting/shot
7. Texas
8 (tie). arrest/arrested
8 (tie). Florida
10. border
11 (tie). attacked/attack/attacks/attacker
11 (tie). DeSantis
11 (tie). missing
14 (tie). murder/murdered/murderer
14 (tie). teen/preteen/teenager
16 (tie). ban/banned/banned/banning
16 (tie). police
18. Elon Musk
19 (tie). cop/cops
19 (tie). kidnapper/kidnapped/kidnaps/kidnapping

I’ll throw out one other comp: Knewz, the Murdochs’ ill-fated aggregation play from a few years back. It too promoted itself as a solution to Today’s Media Problems. (“We live in a world of vexatious verticals, of crass clickbait, of polarized perspectives and fallacious, fact-free feeds.” “A wide spectrum of news and views…without bent or bias.”) And it too ended up being a way to shove right-wing messaging through an “unbiased, unfiltered, untainted” grinder.

But the man behind The Messenger isn’t a Murdoch — it’s Jimmy Finkelstein, the 74-year-old heir to an East Coast media empire. His father Jerry owned the New York Law Journal and later started The Hill, which gave the family influence in New York and Washington. When Jimmy inherited The Hill from his father, he pushed it to the right; he’s one of Rudy Giuliani’s closest friends and has run in Donald Trump’s circles for decades, “boast[ing] that he’s a close friend” of the former president’s.

Perhaps his most noteworthy contribution to The Hill was hiring John Solomon — a man who had already left quite a trail across D.C. media — and having him report directly to Finkelstein. Solomon used his new perch to write less-than-well-supported pro-Trump articles about Ukraine that ended up being central to Trump’s first impeachment trial. As Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter wrote in 2019:

Beyond his relationship with Solomon, Trump, and Giuliani, Finkelstein was Solomon’s direct supervisor at The Hill and created the conditions which permitted Solomon to publish his conspiratorial stories without the traditional oversight implemented at news outlets. And he has kept a watchful eye on the newspaper’s coverage to ensure it is not too critical of the President.

As one former veteran employee of The Hill told CNN Business, “Solomon is a symptom of the larger problem of Jimmy Finkelstein”…

None of it would have been possible without Finkelstein, who hired Solomon in July 2017 as an executive vice president at The Hill and initially charged him with leading the newspaper’s video division. “Jimmy is the one who hired John Solomon,” a former employee told CNN. “The editors didn’t want him there”…

Almost immediately after Solomon’s hiring, staffers at The Hill newspaper grew worried about his work. “I remember almost immediately thinking, ‘Why is he writing?’” the former veteran employee told CNN, noting that Solomon already had earned a reputation for conspiratorial work when he reported on things like the “deep state” for Circa, a now-defunct conservative news website.

Again: This is the guy who says he’s only interested in “balanced journalism in an era of bias, subjectivity and misinformation, with a mandate to deliver the news — not shape it.”

(The Messenger says it has “clear guidelines on how we maintain our day-to-day delivery of balance and objectivity, and guard against inaccuracies and misinformation.” I asked for a copy of those guidelines, along with a few other questions, Monday and haven’t heard back.)

One way to figure out what a news site is all about is looking at its opinion pieces. News, to a great extent, happens, and any editor can only do so much to control it. But opinion pieces are largely a reflection of whatever a publication wants them to be.

Yesterday afternoon, I looked at the 10 opinion pieces The Messenger was promoting on the homepage. The first thing I noticed: All 10 were by men.

(Indeed, Messenger bylines look to be overwhelmingly male. On the homepage yesterday afternoon were a total of 49 — 32 by men, 17 by women. But of those 17 women’s bylines, 14 of them were attached to entertainment stories. On everything but entertainment — which is to say, news, politics, business, and opinion — the byline score was a blowout: Men 32, Women 3. This is a company that felt totally comfortable making this photo their debut in the world.)

What sorts of opinions do those 10 men have? We have three academics, writing about extraterrestrial life, women’s sports, and Russia. Then we have a former FBI official known for giving an “exclusive interview” to Epoch Times (!) to call the Mar-a-Lago raid “an attempt by one political party that temporarily controls the DOJ to eliminate an adversary from the other party.” We have a former longtime aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley. We have 86-year-old Black conservative Robert L. Woodson on the evils of reparations. We have a former AEI and Heritage fellow and former assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, arguing the U.S. was foolish to end the Vietnam War. We have Fox News senior political analyst Juan Williams asking: “Michelle Obama for President?” And we have Fox News contributor Joe Concha, author of Come On, Man! The Truth About Joe Biden’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Presidency.

(I checked again this morning, assuming The Messenger would’ve found at least one female opinion it considered worthy. But no: 10 new stories, 11 new bylines — every single one belonging to a man. New faces include Trump impeachment defense witness Jonathan Turley and failed Trump Fed appointee Stephen Moore, on “How Biden Lost the Debt-ceiling Fight and Republicans Finally Became the ‘Smart Party.'”)

So who wants a site like this? Who gave The Messenger the $50 million it has raised so far? Here’s a list of all the investors who’ve been publicly reported (aside from Finkelstein himself and Messenger president Richard Beckman):

Are these people just fans of journalism who want “to champion balanced journalism in an era of bias, subjectivity and misinformation”? Or is politics a factor?

Victor Ganzi: Ganzi was Hearst’s CEO from 2002 to 2008. But since then he’s been a prolific Republican donor. Federal filings show he’s given at least $1,293,836 to federal political candidates over the years — $1,286,936 to Republicans, $6,900 to Democrats. He gave $100,000 to the Trump Victory fundraising committee. Most of his donations have been to the less MAGA, more business-friendly wing of the party — think Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, or Jeb Bush. In the most recent cycle, he gave $55,800 to Dr. Oz and a PAC supporting him.

James Tisch: Tisch, CEO of his family’s Loews Corporation, is a major Republican donor (although, like many in deep blue New York City, he also gives to some Democrats, like Kathy Hochul and Joe Manchin). He has described himself as a Democrat in the past, but his sweet spot seems to be relatively moderate, business-friendly Republicans; he supported the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney. In 2012, he said that “the United States economy would be better off with President Obama being a one-term president” and that Obama had “made businesses feel ‘unloved’ and reluctant to put money to work.” (Not an Obama fan.) In the 2016 cycle, he gave to Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, but neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton. Tisch sits on the National Council of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. The Tisch family is worth an estimated $6 billion.

Josh Harris: Harris had a big week! On Thursday, his New Jersey Devils were eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Boo! On Friday, the owners of the NFL’s Washington Commanders agreed to sell the team to a Harris-led group for just over $6 billion. Yay! On Saturday, his Crystal Palace FC beat Bournemouth 2–0 in the English Premier League. Yay! Then on Sunday, his Philadelphia 76ers lost a disappointing Game 7 to the Boston Celtics. Boo!

I guess what I’m saying is “That news site I invested millions in launched” might not make his top 10 events of his week.

Harris is also a political animal who has “seriously considered running for political office as a Republican” in the past. Between 2015 and 2020, he gave $839,000 to federal candidates, 77% of that to Republicans. He was an advisor to the Trump administration and was reportedly its pick to run the Office of Management & Budget until he dropped out “because it would have been too difficult to unravel his personal finances in the short amount of time required to accept the government position.” Jared Kushner was reportedly his major supporter in the White House; a few months later, Harris’ company, Apollo Global Management, gave a $184 million loan to a Kushner company; a few weeks after that, an SEC probe into Apollo was dropped. (Apollo has said emphatically these events are unrelated.)

Thomas Peterffy: Josh Harris is reportedly worth a cool $7.6 billion. Small change to Thomas Peterffy, who’s worth a cooler $23.7 billion. Peterffy is a true GOP megadonor, giving $7.7 million to Republican campaigns and conservative political action committees in 2022 alone. He also lives three doors down from Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

Trump wasn’t Peterffy’s top pick for president — but he still gave $150,000 to his inauguration and $250,000 to his reelection efforts. He really hates socialism; in 2012, he spent more than $8 million on TV ads warning of collectivism on the march in America. He’s mused about a Tucker Carlson presidency (“That would be interesting, no?”).

The Stagwell Group: Stagwell’s chairman and CEO is Mark Penn. You may remember Penn as a Democratic pollster, pushing business-friendly ideas with both Bill and Hillary Clinton. (“Penn’s idée fixe is that the Democratic Party’s fate hinges upon currying favor with the rich.”) But in recent years, he’s moved right and become a Trump enthusiast. You may remember seeing Penn on Fox News defending Trump against impeachment and blaming the “deep state” conspiracy against him.

(Side note: Who was it who ushered Penn into the Trump White House? Former NYC city council president Andrew Stein, head of an organization called Democrats for Trump — and Jimmy Finkelstein’s brother. Andrew shortened his last name as a young man.)

Among the companies the Stagwell Group owns is HarrisX, the pollster. So who better for The Messenger to hire for its first poll? That survey appears to support The Messenger’s stated raison d’être:

American voters want a new media source that’s free from journalists’ personal biases, according to the inaugural Messenger/Harris poll.

— Two in three voters in the poll, conducted by HarrisX, agreed that journalists mostly practice advocacy rather than unbiased journalism, including 77 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats.

— Three in four voters agreed that the media “gives a biased picture of political events,” including 68 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans, and 76 percent of Independents.

— More than 80 percent of voters agreed that “we need a new news medium dedicated to even-handed treatment of issues without political bias.”

“Americans see many media sources today as advocates for political views and see great danger in first amendment freedoms,” said Harris Poll chairman Mark Penn. “They are hungry for new sources of information.”

So this is the group that’s backing The Messenger: wealthy, politically active men who collectively have put many millions of dollars into advancing conservative and Republican causes — but who apparently also have a hankering for “objective, non-partisan and timely coverage.”

Back to that Trump interview. Marc Caputo makes a lot of the idea that Trump is now venturing outside the conservative media bubble. Here’s Caputo:

I understand you’ve expressed concerns about Fox, and that one of the reasons you went on CNN is you didn’t want to kind of limit yourself to Fox. And obviously you’re talking to us at The Messenger for our maiden launch, you’re courting social media influencers, you were on the Full Send podcast and you’re talking to others — lots of different media from social media to non-traditional media to mainstream media to new media

Can you tell me more about your media strategy. You’re talking to everybody. Why?…

Let me circle back to that in a minute. I was curious to see if your full-spectrum media blitz is drawing a distinction with DeSantis. He’s largely confined to friendly conservative media, whereas you’re out there with everybody.

Forgive me for not noticing that Trump was now “talking to everybody” or on a “full-spectrum media blitz.”

The evidence for this new openness seems to be (a) a CNN town hall packed with his cheering fans, and (b) that he submitted to a grilling by the investigative reporters of…a bro podcast sponsored by “Happy Dad Hard Seltzer”? A show whose episode immediately preceding Trump’s was with pornstar “Abella Danger on Hooking Up with Fans and the Secrets of the Adult Industry”? (Other guests on Full Send so far in 2023: Don Jr., Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, and O. J. Simpson.)

Oh, and then there’s (c): “Obviously you’re talking to us at The Messenger.”

This is the question we’ll see play out in the coming months. Does The Messenger really see itself as part of that “mainstream media”? Or is it happy being part of the conservative bubble, using its claims of “balanced journalism” as a cudgel, just as “fair and balanced” Fox News did before it? I have my guess, but we’ll wait and see.

  1. And is technically sound. Aram Zucker-Scharff chronicled a long list of issues with The Messenger’s SEO and ad stack here.
  2. As is common with new news sites, The Messenger started publishing stories before launch, back on May 8; they just weren’t accessible to the public until Monday.
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“The world’s largest Black group chat”: Behind the mission to preserve Black Twitter Mon, 15 May 2023 18:20:28 +0000

This story was originally published by The 19th.

A wild 2015 Twitter thread by Aziah Wells King, better known as Zola, about a trip to Florida wouldn’t have gone viral without the work of Black Twitter. Without that, it wouldn’t have gotten the attention of Rolling Stone, and it wouldn’t have been turned into a critically acclaimed film.

#TheStory, as it became known, is an example of both the creative capacity of Black storytellers on the platform and the way in which the network of collectives known as Black Twitter create culture on- and offline. But when Meredith D. Clark, associate professor at Northeastern University in the school of journalism and department of communication studies, began researching Black Twitter as a doctoral student over a decade ago, only two other people in academia were studying what she called the “dynamic phenomenon.” She hopes her Archiving Black Twitter project, launched in March, ensures future scholars can carry on that work.

Clark is part of Archiving The Black Web, a group of digital archivists seeking to preserve the stories of Black people and extend existing archival practices to the digital sphere. This group and others hope to document not just the content created on the platform but how Black people use it for communication and community. They see an urgency to preserving Black Twitter in a world in which Black history and Black women’s cultural labor are undervalued or unacknowledged — and where the future of Twitter seems unknown. They also want to document the racist and sexist abuse that Black women on the platform received, in part to help people dream up and create a more inclusive way of connecting that prioritizes the needs of the most marginalized.

For Clark, archiving Black Twitter allows for a richer understanding of peoples’ lives both on and off the Internet.

“I want for a student, or someone who is just plainly curious, who wants to dig into these histories and this knowledge 50, 75, 100, hell, even five years from now, to be able to access this and say, there is data, there is proof, there’s already a web of knowledge that’s out there about this,” Clark said.

Clark’s archival project has been in the making since long before Elon Musk’s $44 billion purchase of the platform in October, but his subsequent changes to organizational structure, user experience and algorithmic curation have led many users to worry about the platform’s future — and some to delete their accounts. This potential loss of information has brought issues of archiving to the forefront.

“Black Twitter” isn’t one thing — it’s a term for a collection of networks of Black people on the platform, spreading across the globe. The ease of reaching others helped marginalized people build community and organize — even as it also opened users up to abuse based on race and gender.

This was particularly true for Black women. Many movements stewarded by Black women on Twitter moved into the real world, like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. Black women’s cultural labor — movement building, care work, organizing, leadership — has been regularly overlooked, said Zakiya Collier, an archivist and memory worker.

“Names are not included or their perspectives are not prioritized. And so when we look at the cultural record, there are times where it may seem like there were no women involved,” Collier explained. “And we know that to not be the case.”

Preserving Black Twitter is an investment in the future; it allows for a more accurate and rich and complex version of Internet history, Clark said. The ephemeral nature of the Internet means a chunk of Black Internet history has already been lost, Clark said, citing how much of the Black blogosphere is now permanently offline.

Preservation is key across platforms. For example, telling the story of the movement for Black lives would be incomplete without Alicia Garza’s original Facebook post with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. “How could you tell the story about what that moment in history was like, without having that evidence? It would be really difficult to do, it would also be really easy to distort it,” Clark said. “And that’s something that we’re seeing in practice now with other forms of Black creation and Black culture.”

Twitter allows people to come together in a semblance of democracy, said André Brock, associate professor in the department of literature, media and communication at Georgia Tech. It’s not exactly true that anything is public on Twitter — your feed isn’t a real-time firehose of everyone’s posts — but anyone can read tweets from any account as long as it’s not locked. Hashtags make it easy to find and participate in conversations and plumb already existing communities.

“Twitter has somehow managed to get us to believe that we should have a space where we can all talk to one another,” Brock said.

Brock described Black Twitter as “the world’s largest Black group chat.” Prior to the space going mainstream, those community updates were siloed across different pockets of the web, he said. “Twitter, in a very strange way, has served as an aggregator of Black online identity, one that’s easier for people outside of the Black community to see but one that’s also easy for Black folk to find and congregate.”

But the features that make Twitter a place for queer or disabled or Black people to connect could also make marginalized peoples’ lives hell. No history of any part of Twitter is complete without discussing the abuse overwhelmingly targeting women and LGBTQ+ people — particularly when they are also people of color.

Capturing those experiences is one of the goals of A People’s History of Twitter (APHOT), a participatory archiving project that grew out of ultimately unsuccessful efforts to buy Twitter and make it a public utility, whose recent kick-off was co-hosted by Wagatwe Wanjuki and Jacky Alciné.

Part of the motivation for APHOT comes from the fact that many archival efforts decenter the users who make the platform valuable. Material from the project’s kickoff event referenced previous efforts such as “Hatching Twitter,” a book on the White men who founded the company, and the fact that many archival efforts are tied up in academia or government institutions.

It’s important to preserve stories of how the platform failed its Black users, because the media has failed to cover Black Twitter well, said Sydette Harry, a technologist and communications professional who is currently a senior fellow at University of Southern California. Harry also spoke at the APHOT kick-off event about social movements, change and institutions on Twitter.

“A lot of those stories start from the assumption that something is wrong with Black people when they noticed discrimination,” Harry said. “They start from the supposition that we have no idea what we’re talking about.”

Discussion of archiving Black Twitter has picked up renewed urgency and media attention following a mass exodus of users in November 2022 after Musk’s acquisition.

Challenges to the archiving process stem from ideas of what is worth archiving, as well as issues around consent, especially considering how Black people have been exploited or mistreated in historical collections. It’s important to remember that Twitter isn’t a monolith, Harry said. It’s made up of real people, many of whom might not want their often intimate tweets preserved for strangers to peruse.

Harry noted that when people talk about harassment on Twitter, the voices uplifted usually aren’t Black.

Collier grapples with the ethics of social media documentation at her work with Documenting The Now. Preventing the perpetuation of harm marginalized communities experience day to day has to be at the forefront of any sort of archive, she said, including how people are described and documented in the collections.

“One of my key concerns is how do we inspire people to own their own archives,” Clark said. People often have to be convinced that their tweets, these “small histories,” are worthy of attention. “I have to persuade people that there is something important there and walk with them as they re-experience their own lived experience, and figure out what’s important to them, what they want to mark as important to a larger community, and then figure out how to put that in a narrative form.”

Much of the way knowledge production works in America, Clark said, is grounded in what has already been incorporated into archives and valorized as worthy of attention. Archiving Black Twitter now reinforces there is something worthwhile for future generations to engage with. It’s important in the context of Black history being seen as unworthy of documentation in a world dominated by white supremacy.

The conversations around archiving Black Twitter are interesting right now, Harry said, because “it is a tacit admission that Black Twitter did something very specific and special on Twitter that we were never given or fully resourced to do.”

“It shouldn’t just be about, ‘How do we archive Black Twitter?’ it should be, ‘How do we respect Black Twitter?’ And most importantly, how do we honor and respect the Black people who made Black Twitter what it was?” Harry said. “That’s not the question that I ever hear come up.”

Even though it is painful, it’s important to document the harms experienced by Black women on Twitter, Collier said. Whenever women champion the stories of other women and femmes, they are put in a vulnerable position, she said.

“I would want [the archive] to also be a safe space for women, femmes, queer and transgender people, Black people broadly and people with disabilities,” Collier said. “I want it to feel like a safe space and not another place for us to be targeted.”

Collier wants anyone perusing the Twitter archives to have the same feelings she has when she goes to more traditional spaces where knowledge is gathered — not like it’s “super technical.”

“I often cry when I go to physical archives, I may laugh and smile,” Collier said. “I still want it to have that texture and that intimacy, despite it being in a digital format.”

The people at APHOT want to change the future of what news and social media can look like. Alciné said the team is hoping the learnings from the project can be used to build a new media platform centered on what people want, instead of corporate interests. Some examples he threw out were optimizing and prioritizing moderation instead of it being an additional feature, or making it clear to users how revenue works instead of privatizing advertising.

Both APHOT and Archiving Black Twitter are still in their early stages, with their respective organizers still determining what the final archive will look like.

Part of the joy of archiving is preserving something for the future with little idea of how it will be used. Clark said she is excited about people using the archive for creative projects, like the Twitter thread that spawned the “Zola” movie.

“Even in the way sometimes if the language has been co-opted, and the trends have been co-opted, and they show up in popular culture, I still think that having the source material for that is a very worthwhile endeavor,” Clark said.

A central theme that emerged in discussions of archiving Black Twitter is preserving not just the activism or traditionally newsworthy items, but also moments of joy and humor like an iconic Yahoo News typo or legendary parody tweets or #DemThrones watch parties.

“To say that there’s going to be one Black Twitter archive is almost antithetical to the spirit of Black Twitter,” Clark said.

Jasmine Mithani is a data visuals reporter at The 19th, where this story was originally published.

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Google is changing up search. What does that mean for news publishers? Thu, 11 May 2023 17:06:30 +0000 At its annual I/O conference on Wednesday, Google announced a slew of “experiments” and changes that are coming to search.

It’s early days. But if these changes are rolled out widely, they’ll be the most significant overhaul of some of the important space on the internet in quite awhile. The shift could significantly decrease the traffic that Google sends to publishers’ sites, as more people get what they need right from the Google search page instead. They could also do some damage to the affiliate revenue that publishers derive from product recommendations.

On the bright side, a new search filter aimed at highlighting humans could help highlight individual journalists, columnists, and newsletters — maybe.

“Search Generative Experience”

Google will place AI-generated answers right at the top of some search pages. Here’s how the company describes it:

Let’s take a question like “what’s better for a family with kids under 3 and a dog, bryce canyon or arches.” Normally, you might break this one question down into smaller ones, sort through the vast information available, and start to piece things together yourself. With generative AI, Search can do some of that heavy lifting for you.

You’ll see an AI-powered snapshot of key information to consider, with links to dig deeper.

The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler tested the feature and describes the way that SGE cites its sources:

When Google’s SGE answers a question, it includes corroboration: prominent links to several of its sources along the left side. Tap on an icon in the upper right corner, and the view expands to offer source sites sentence by sentence in the AI’s response.

There are two ways to view this: It could save me a click and having to slog through a site filled with extraneous information. But it could also mean I never go to that other site to discover something new or an important bit of context.

You see the top three sources by default, but can toggle for more.

AI-generated content will also be incorporated heavily into shopping results. Search something like “bluetooth speaker for a pool party under $100,” or “good bike for a 5 mile commute with hills,” and up pops an AI-powered list of recommended products to buy. I haven’t tested this feature, but in addition to keeping users off publishers’ pages altogether, it also seems as though it’s not great news for any publishers that make money from affiliate links.

Google cautions that SGE is still an experiment, and it’s not widely available yet. (If you want to try it and are in the U.S., you can add yourself to the waitlist here from the Chrome browser or Google app.) In addition to that limited access, The Verge’s David Pierce notes that there are supposed to be limits to what Google will use AI to answer

Not all searches will spark an AI answer — the AI only appears when Google’s algorithms think it’s more useful than standard results, and sensitive subjects like health and finances are currently set to avoid AI interference altogether. But in my brief demos and testing, it showed up whether I searched for chocolate chip cookies, Adele, nearby coffee shops, or the best movies of 2022.

For instance, when Wired’s Will Knight asked “if Joe Biden is a good president or for information about different US states’ abortion laws, for example, Google’s generative AI product declined to answer.” But even though Google’s AI is not supposed to have opinions, it seems as if they slip in sometimes. The Verge again:

At one point in our demo, I asked [Liz Reid, Google’s VP of search] to search only the word “Adele.” The AI snapshot contained more or less what you’d expect — some information about her past, her accolades as a singer, a note about her recent weight loss — and then threw in that “her live performances are even better than her recorded albums.” Google’s AI has opinions! Reid quickly clicked the bear claw and sourced that sentence to a music blog but also acknowledged that this was something of a system failure.

“Hidden gems”

Google is also expanding the use of a search filter called “Perspectives” that brings user-created content — think Reddit posts, YouTube videos, and blog posts — into search results. This change is coming at a time when Americans are increasingly seeking out news and information from individuals, not institutions — and TikTok and Instagram are eating into Google’s share of the search market. Here’s Google:

“In the coming weeks, when you search for something that might benefit from the experiences of others, you may see a Perspectives filter appear at the top of search results. Tap the filter, and you’ll exclusively see long- and short-form videos, images and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites and social media platforms. We’ll also show more details about the creators of this content, such as their name, profile photo or information about the popularity of their content.

Helpful information can often live in unexpected or hard-to-find places: a comment in a forum thread, a post on a little-known blog, or an article with unique expertise on a topic. Our helpful content ranking system will soon show more of these “hidden gems” on Search, particularly when we think they’ll improve the results.”

“We’re finding that often our users, particularly some of our younger users, want to hear from other people,” Liz Reid, Google’s VP of search, told The Verge. “They don’t just want to hear from institutions or big brands. So how do we make that easy for people to access?”

As Perspectives rolls out, it’ll be interesting to see how Google defines “other people”: Do journalists or opinion columnists who work for newspapers count? Will Substacks be surfaced? The feature could potentially benefit larger news publishers as well as journalists going it alone, but we’ll see.

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The Athletic’s live audio rooms bring sports talk radio into this century Wed, 10 May 2023 13:56:01 +0000 A curious media hole forms in the wake of a big sports game. After the final whistle, people are craving content about what they just watched, but many reporters are busy interviewing coaches and players and writing their stories. That’s a void just when fans are most desperate to process what happened and what it all means for the team.

Postgame is one of the times when The Athletic’s live rooms shine. The writer-hosted live rooms — which sometimes get called “live podcasting” because the finished results are often posted to podcast feeds — are a two-way audio platform for Athletic beat reporters to have conversations with subscribers. If you’re a longtime sports fan who has turned an AM/FM dial or two in your day, the format might feel familiar.

“Technology is cyclical in a lot of ways,” Will Bartlett, The Athletic’s senior audio development specialist, acknowledged. “It feels like we’ve just reinvented sports talk radio, just making it a little bit more accessible to people in the 21st century.”

“We try to encourage writers to do it around Moments with a capital ‘m,’” Bartlett added. “So when, you know, the Celtics lose on a last-second shot from James Harden and the Sixers, let’s try and get on there as quickly as possible. People are going to be on edge and wanting to vent to [The Athletic’s Celtics reporter] Jay King the way they would want to vent to [Boston-area sports radio] WEEI or something like that.” (Boston sports fans on edge? Can’t imagine it!)

The live rooms I’ve joined do replicate the fun ephemerality of sports radio and — more recently — certain struggling social audio apps. The Athletic’s live rooms are recycled into specific team podcasts and league-level feeds, but most are not exactly evergreen content. Anyone can listen in, but only subscribers can ask questions using the chat-like text box or being invited to speak by one of the hosts. Non-subscribers run into The Athletic’s paywall after clicking on one article, so live rooms are one of the only ways readers can sample the outlet’s content before getting their wallet out.

The Athletic’s first live room took place in September 2021. By January 2022, they’d done 100. Today, they’re closing in on 1,000 live rooms. Most have between 50 and 250 listeners. They tend to follow a similar format: the beat writer(s) give a “State of the Union”-like update about the team before opening the floor to questions, comments, and provocations from listeners.

“It’s sort of an in-app version of Twitter Spaces for us,” Bartlett said.

But, unlike Twitter Spaces, the live rooms exist on The Athletic’s app. With prominent cautionary tales about what relying on social media platforms can do to a newsroom ringing in our ears, The Athletic’s choice to build on its own turf makes plenty of sense.

The Athletic prompts all subscribers to follow a team or league and uses these preferences to build a user’s homepage — and to send push notifications when a live room begins. A user who has followed tags for football’s Cincinnati Bengals and the NFL at large, for example, might get pinged for a live room about Cincinnati’s draft picks as well as league-wide news like quarterback Aaron Rodgers being traded to the New York Jets — even if the breaking story discussed in the live room isn’t about their local team.

The majority of listeners make their way to the live rooms through those push notifications from the newsroom’s app, Bartlett said. Others find them through organic discovery (i.e. clicking around in the app) and social media.

When going live postgame, journalists and fans rehash missed opportunities, on-the-field celebrations, and more. During the offseason or in pregame coverage, the group can prognosticate and predict to their hearts’ content. The whole time, both writers and those invited to speak can assume they’re among fellow diehard fans. In my corner of the sports world, that means Jay King might feel free to mention the Kornet contest — a goofy vertical leap a certain Boston bench player attempts even when half a court away from the shooting player — one moment and, the next, dive into bigger-picture narratives like how two of the team’s brightest stars work together or how All-NBA selections could shape the team’s future.

There aren’t strict requirements or quotas for Athletic reporters around the live rooms. (“Our writers are writers first and foremost,” Bartlett said. “We want these to be something that writers want to do. There’s never going to be a mandate around these.”) But for new hosts looking for guidance, Bartlett encourages them to slot something in between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. or between 4 and 6 p.m. local time. Noon has also proven to be a popular option, presumably because listeners are tuning in during lunch breaks.

“We’ve definitely seen our highest rates of engagement around times that you would see in traditional sports radio, including those commuting times,” Bartlett said. “One advantage that we do have over traditional sports talk radio is the ability to send push notifications to all of our followers at different times.”

The largest audiences haven’t always been for rooms about teams in the largest cities. The beat writers who cover the Cincinnati Bengals host a popular live room every Monday at noon. Live rooms from a writer who covers NHL’s Minnesota Wild team were popular enough to break the app a couple of times. The beat writer for the St. Louis Cardinals also tends to draw a crowd.

“Not a lot of those [locations] are super-saturated markets in terms of news coverage,” Bartlett said. “This is a way for us to serve some of the markets [that] don’t have national writers living there or ESPN there every day — but we happen to have a very well-plugged-in writer in that spot.”

Katie Woo, the staff writer for The Athletic who covers the St. Louis Cardinals, said she likes being able to drop information and ideas she might not use in a story in live rooms.

“It’s a great way to make fans and subscribers feel connected to their teams,” Woo said. “Being able to have people call in and actually ask their questions in real time to a real voice, instead of debating online, has led, in my opinion, to productive conversations.”

A lot of listener questions are hypotheticals, “usually pertaining to roster moves, trades, or free-agent signings,” Woo said. She occasionally gets story ideas from the conversations, she added, “but the main reason I use the rooms is [that] it helps me feel more connected to the subscribers. Hopefully they feel the same.”

Saad Yousuf, who covers the Dallas Stars for The Athletic, recently held his first live room. (He has a side gig hosting a weekly radio show in Dallas, so he’s not exactly new to audio.) He described the live two-way audio form as a “great supplemental tool” for his written coverage.

“The fans who joined the live room are subscribers who read my work routinely, which differentiates it from something like Twitter Spaces, where anybody can join, even if they aren’t subscribers,” he said. The rooms help him “get a pulse” on which topics readers feel most strongly about, and which questions he should make sure to answer in his next article.

Bartlett said the live rooms can be a type of training ground — an opportunity to get some audio reps in — for writers who may eventually launch a podcast or earn a hosting gig on an existing show with The Athletic. “It’s one way for us to identify talent down the road,” he said.

With more than 800 live rooms completed, The Athletic has had roughly 2,000 people get “on stage” to ask questions live. Hosts have moderation tools, similar to the ones Twitter Spaces offers, but Bartlett says said they’ve had “zero trolls” thus far. From what I’ve heard, plenty of subscribers “call in” with a question-that’s-more-of-a-colorful-rant that brings legendary sports radio meltdowns to mind but, overall, there’s less casual racism and sexism.

“It’s one of the more positive places on the internet, for the most part,” Bartlett said. “People are just there to talk sports.”

Basketball radio image generated by Midjourney

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In Spain, a new data-powered news outlet aims to increase accountability reporting Tue, 09 May 2023 18:32:26 +0000 In March, Spain passed a gender quotas law aimed at raising the number of women in leadership roles across the country. Among other requirements, the law calls requires political parties to put forward equal numbers of male and female candidates in municipal and national elections.

After months of extracting and analyzing information from parliamentary websites, documents, and other public records, Demócrata — a recently launched news outlet focused on Spanish government and public policy — published a series finding that in general Parliamentary sessions, the ones that get the most attention, men gave nearly two-thirds of the speeches. Women were underrepresented on congressional committees related to “state matters” like defense, economic affairs, and budgeting, but make up the majority of members on committees focused on equality, gender violence, and children’s rights.

Stories like these are what Demócrata aims to provide news consumers in Spain: Data-based journalism that helps to holds politicians accountable. That series, for example, included a methodology of how the journalists obtained the data, organized it, and decided what to include. (For instance: “Participations of less than one minute duration have also been left out. They mostly deal with oaths to take possession of seats, questions of order, requests to speak…They accounted for less than 1% of the total interventions collected.”)

“It brings a lot of transparency to the legislative process,” said Pilar Velasco, a veteran investigative journalist and Demócrata’s editorial director. “When the noise of politics occupies the entire news cycle, it generates a space for opacity that isn’t reported on.”

The site fills a gap in Spain, which will hold its general election in December. “It’s a good year to launch a news outlet with a focus on politics and policies,” said Eduardo Suárez, the head of editorial for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “[Demócrata’s] value proposition is to report on public policies and Parliamentary debates in much more detail than mainstream publications. Newspapers in Spain are much more focused on politics than on public policies, and this might provide an opening for a publication like Demócrata, whose goal is to cover those policy debates in a more nuanced and granular way.”

Demócrata is the country’s only news outlet that specifically covers Parliament and public policy from an accountability lens daily, according to the Iberian Digital Media Map by Iberifier, a European Commission–funded initiative. (Another initiative in Spain, Civio, was founded in 2012 and focuses on data-powered watchdog reporting on the environment, healthcare, and the justice system.)

Demócrata has a team of seven. It’s funded by an initial investment from its board of directors and from advertising, though Velasco wants to expand into sponsorships, paid events, and subscriptions. The site has multiple sections: Agenda (an archive of the weekly newsletter that summarizes what’s happening in Parliament in the coming week), Actualidad (updates and play-by-play of laws and amendments), Políticas (news on proposed and ongoing policies), Quieren Influir (economy stories), and an analysis and opinion section. The site’s initial target audience is political insiders and politics junkies, but Velasco said the stories are written so that general audiences will be able to understand them as well. The Agenda newsletter has around 2,000 subscribers.

Demócrata’s goal is to use its data expertise to tell stories that other outlets can’t. Leading up to the outlet’s launch, the data team spent months building the software it uses to scrape and analyze data that, while technically public, is disorganized and difficult to parse. When the country’s far-right party, Vox, called for a vote of no confidence against the current ruling socialist party this past March, Demócrata published an analysis of Vox’s legislative footprint in the current parliamentary session, finding that the party has so far failed to pass any laws.

Velasco, who was an investigative reporter for Spain’s largest radio network Cadena SER, where she investigated political corruption cases, experienced first-hand the challenges of telling data stories for radio, where it can be difficult to delve into numbers. As a 2018 Yale World Fellow and one of the co-founders of Spain’s Investigative Journalists Association, she also saw American sites like Politico cultivated audiences for in-depth political reporting. When Demócrata founder David Córdova (who is also the director of a public affairs consulting firm, Vinces) approached her for the project, she saw it as a chance to experiment and try something new. (Demócrata is editorially independent from Vinces.)

“The mission is permanent scrutiny of institutions,” Velasco said. “Through continuous supervision of the work of politicians and legislators, information transparency, we believe, can strengthen institutional credibility. [The news] that comes to us from Parliament is often the political discussion, statements, politicians fighting with each other, and press conferences. But the legislative branch is a pillar of the State where many things happen that regulate life in society. It is what orders us and regulates us. And all of that wasn’t being covered in Spain with the specialization it deserves.”

One of Velasco’s goals in the next few months is to continue the work on a platform, already in progress, that will monitor updates to every piece of legislation in Parliament in real time. Down the line, she hopes to launch a chatbot that can answer reader questions. Demócrata has also partnered with Political Watch (a group of academics who monitor Parliament), design studio Flat26, and the think tank Ethosfera, which is helping Demócrata with its own ethics and transparency policies.

“We sort of feel like a hub for people who already had innovative ideas about parliamentary information,” Velasco said. “We get a lot of pitches for [collaborations]. When that you’re a small outlet, to grow you have to put springboards in places to get to the next level, and you can’t get there on your own.”

Image generated using Midjourney.

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Get amped up for this piece on the twisted journey of Google’s AMP, its ersatz savior of news on phones Mon, 08 May 2023 18:05:26 +0000 If you’ve got the attention span for 6,340 words about an outré web component framework — and don’t lie, you do — I suggest you check out this piece by David Pierce just out at The Verge.

Okay, let me sell that a little better: If you want to understand the relationships between tech companies and news publishers over the past decade — how they have sprouted and shrunk, been tainted and curdled — read this piece on the birth, life, and death of Google AMP. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) isn’t dead, technically, since it can always be forked into eternal life. But for web publishers, it’s dropped off their developers’ to-do lists.

The story of AMP involves a tech giant worried about being outflanked by its tech giant peers and a news industry anxious for any Silicon Valley sunshine it could get. Google said publishers should start making their web pages in a new way that would make them load more quickly on phones — while centralizing Google’s control of the web. It was part carrot (C’mon, your mobile site sucks, we’ll make it better!) and part stick (It would be a real shame if something terrible happened to your search traffic, wouldn’t it?). The tradeoffs were baked in from the start, and as I wrote at the time, it was “another stop on the path to powerlessness for publishers — another case of tech companies setting the rules.”

In telling the AMP story, Pierce lays out all the forces at play and why many of us were nervous about creating what amounted to a web-within-a-web, where the fundamental architecture of a website is determined by Google. (Not to mention the obvious problem with abusing its market power in search to force those changes on publishers.) You should read the whole thing, but here are a few tasty bits to whet your appetite.

“If Google said, ‘you must have your homepage colored bright pink on Tuesdays to be the result in Google,’ everybody would do it, because that’s what they need to do to survive,” says Terence Eden, a web standards expert and a former member of the Google AMP Advisory Committee.

This “we care about publishers!” dance is a staple of Silicon Valley. Apple briefly promised to save the news business with the iPad, convincing publishers around the world to build bespoke tablet magazines before mostly abandoning that project. Facebook remains in a perpetually whipsawing relationship with the media, too: it will promote stories in the News Feed only to later demote them in favor of “Meaningful Social Interactions,” then promise publishers endless video eyeballs before mostly giving up on Facebook Watch.

The platforms need content to keep users entertained and engaged; publishers need distribution for their content to be seen. At best, it’s a perfectly symbiotic relationship. At worst, and all too often, the platforms simply cajole publishers into doing whatever the platforms need to increase engagement that quarter.

But while publishers had long been wary of the tendency of Big Tech companies to suck up ad dollars and user data, they had seen Google as something closer to a partner. “You meet with a Facebook person and you see in their eyes they’re psychotic,” says one media executive who’s dealt with all the major platforms. “The Apple person kind of listens but then does what it wants to do. The Google person honestly thinks what they’re doing is the best thing.”

“[Google] came to us and said, the internet is broken, ads aren’t loading, blah blah, blah. We want to provide a better user experience to users by coming up with this clean standard,” says one magazine product executive. “My reaction was that the main problem is ads, so why don’t you fix the ads? They said they can’t fix the ads. It’s too hard.”

“The audience people hated it because it was against audience strategy,” says one former media executive who worked with AMP. “The data people hated it because it was against advertising and privacy strategy. The engineers hated it because it’s a horrendous format to work with… The analysts hated it because we got really bad behavioral data out of it. Everyone’s like, ‘Okay, so there’s no upside to this — apart from the traffic.’”

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Can AI help local newsrooms streamline their newsletters? ARLnow tests the waters Mon, 08 May 2023 13:32:53 +0000 Scott Brodbeck, the founder of Virginia-based media company Local News Now, had wanted to launch an additional newsletter for a while. One of his sites, ARLnow, already has an automated daily afternoon newsletter that includes story headlines, excerpts, photos, and links sent to about 16,000 subscribers, “but I’ve long wanted to have a morning email with more voice,” he told me recently in a text.

Though it could expand his outlet’s reach — especially, in his words, as email becomes increasingly important “as a distribution channel with social media declining as a traffic source” — Brodbeck didn’t think creating an additional newsletter was an optimal use of reporter time in the zero-sum, resource-strapped reality of running a hyperlocal news outlet.

“As much as I would love to have a 25-person newsroom covering Northern Virginia, the reality is that we can only sustainably afford an editorial team of eight across our three sites: two reporters/editors per site, a staff [photographer], and an editor,” he said. In short, tapping a reporter to write a morning newsletter would limit ARLnow’s reporting bandwidth.

But with the exponential improvement of AI tools like GPT-4, Brodbeck saw an opportunity to have it both ways: He could generate a whole new newsletter without cutting into journalists’ reporting time. So last month, he began experimenting with a completely automated weekday morning newsletter comprising an AI-written introduction and AI summaries of human-written stories. Using tools like Zapier, Airtable, and RSS, ARLnow can create and send the newsletter without any human intervention.

Since releasing the handbook, Amditis has heard that many publishers and reporters “seem to really appreciate the possibility and potential of using automation for routine tasks,” he told me in an email. Like Brodbeck and others, he believes “AI can save time, help small newsrooms scale up their operations, and even create personalized content for their readers and listeners,” though he raised the widely held concern about “the potential loss of that unique human touch,” not to mention the questions of accuracy, reliability and a hornets’ nest of ethical concerns.

Even when instructing AI to summarize content, Amditis described similar challenges to those Brodbeck has encountered. There’s “a tendency for the summaries and bullet points to sound repetitive if you don’t create variables in your prompts that allow you to adjust the tone/style of the responses based on the type of content you’re feeding to the bot,” he said.

But “the most frustrating part of the work I’ve been doing with publishers of all sizes over the last few months is the nearly ubiquitous assumption about using AI for journalism (newsletters or otherwise) is that we’re out here just asking the bots to write original content from scratch — which is by far one of the least useful applications, in my opinion,” Amditis added.

Brodbeck agrees. “AI is “not a replacement for original local reporting,” he said. “It’s a way to take what has already been reported and repackage it so as to reach more readers.”

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“The news industry takes advantage of the hate-as-commodity ecosystem” Thu, 04 May 2023 17:21:03 +0000 A new study borrows from fandom literature to ask: What if some of our haters make us stronger?

Fans and anti-fans — the haters, in common parlance — have a lot in common, argues Dr. Jane Yeahin Pyo of the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Both groups amass immense knowledge, react with strong emotions, and have a strong passion for their object of love/hate,” she writes.

Her cross-disciplinary study, published in the most recent issue of Digital Journalism, was based on 40 in-depth interviews with South Korean journalists who have been featured on two (in)famous anti-journalist sites in South Korea — “Reportrash” and “Nolooknews” — that rank journalists weekly. The conversations were anonymized for publication.

South Korea has freedom of information laws that are “in line with international standards,” though legislation on national security and defamation causes media outlets to leave out key details in some stories, according to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index. (The country ranked #47 out of 180 countries; the United States, for context, ranked 45th this year.)

We’ve got to start with the obvious: there’s a wiiiiide spectrum of anti-journalist sentiment, and this study is firmly planted at the “not so bad” end. When Pyo quotes South Korean journalists recounting praise they received from news industry peers after being targeted, it brings to mind reporters who proudly make “blocked by [famous politician’s handle]” their header image on Twitter or share less-than-kind feedback they’ve received.

Some harassment, though, is part of coordinated campaigns designed to undercut public trust in journalism — or silence reporters entirely. (At least 67 media workers were killed in 2022, a sharp increase from the previous year that was driven by deaths in Ukraine, Mexico, and Haiti.) Comments can function as digital media criticism that provides reporters with “a lens to read how the field of journalism is being contested and challenged” by the public, as Pyo puts it — or they can be outright harassment of journalists from underrepresented backgrounds. Press observers — including The Washington Post editorial board — have pointed out online environments are producing “dark alleys of hate, misogyny, and violence aimed at female journalists” in particular. Journalists of color are also particularly vulnerable to online harassment.

In this study, Pyo focused on two types of hate that reporters receive: “aggressive” comments left under news articles and being ranked on the sites “Reportrash” and “Nolooknews.”

The journalists Pyo interviewed outlined some of the social and professional upsides to appearing on the ranked lists — from spikes in pageviews to stronger connections with their peers, audiences, and sources — even as they told her the negative attention after a particularly prominent story could be stressful at best. (Pyo is careful to note that “existing literature on media harassment suggests that journalists maintain an avoidance or ‘don’t care’ mindset to mitigate their stress,” and that harassment tends to be worse for female journalists.)

Some reporters told Pyo that appearing on the online lists had helped them establish a reputation that could be recognized by “loyal” audiences of fans and anti-fans alike. Others said the name-calling was “a verification of their journalistic hunch of understanding what is ‘newsworthy.'” From the study:

“When I received a lot of comments calling me names, I knew that what I published was an exclusive piece, getting good traction,” said Eunjin, a young political journalist who broke a controversial story about the former Korean president. To her, negative and hostile news comments directed at her meant she delivered a scoop that successfully brought audience engagement. Similarly, Minjung explained the culture of her company that equates being hated with being impactful: “For political news, an article that did not receive any negative comments is a failure — no one writes harassing comments [to journalists] if no one cares about what they wrote.”

Another reporter, named Jinyoung, echoed the point: “No one pays attention to people whose jobs can’t make any difference in the world.”

I traded emails with Pyo about her research, the media context in South Korea, and mismatched incentives between news companies and individual journalists. Our conversation, edited slightly for length and clarity, is below.

Sarah Scire: Can you tell me what piqued your interest in doing this research in the first place?

Jane Yeahin Pyo: I started this research because I was researching about the widespread culture of harassing journalists in South Korea: Calling journalists names (“giraegi” is the word that journalists are often called, a combination of gija, journalist, and tsuraegi, trash), writing hateful comments, sending emails, etc.

I first set out to interview journalists to ask how they responded to and coped with these attacks. Many were defensive, saying they don’t mind the trolls so much, which is a common reaction according to the existing literature. But soon, I realized that they were speaking in terms of potentially getting something in return from the trolls, like how celebrities become more famous as they are hated. This is how I came to think about the celebrity/influencer studies aspect.

Scire: You mention the professional rewards that can be gained from engagement from anti-fans. Does this “hater” dynamic change if the news organization has a business model dependent on subscriptions or reader-generated revenue (rather than advertising dependent on metrics like pageviews and clicks)?

Pyo: This is a really interesting question. I don’t think the dynamic would change radically, thinking about the broader attention economy and the trend in celebrity culture. For instance, haters may follow a celebrity’s Instagram account just to express their hate. Likewise, readers may subscribe to a newspaper to access the information they completely disagree with and spread it to their own community. To say that a subscription-based business model would only attract readers with favorable attitudes toward the news organizations would be assuming a strict echo chamber in news exposure, which studies have shown is not always the case.

More importantly, as the logic of the attention economy has permeated so deeply in the online sphere, I can’t possibly imagine a news organization’s business model that is completely separate from the advertising revenue driven by metrics.

Scire: How country-specific do you think these findings are? For example, would you say that the U.S. has something similar to these sites in South Korea that rank journalists as “trash”?

Pyo: The online harassment of journalists is a worldwide phenomenon, for sure. Some forms of harassment are similarly happening in the U.S., such as writing uncivil comments and emails, doxing journalists’ personal information, and calling them names. In the U.S., the online harassment of journalists also takes a collective form, as it is used as a right-wing strategy. Still, the culture of creating anti-journalist websites, sharing information, and ranking journalists is unique to South Korea because of the historical distrust in journalism [Ed. note: More on that below.]

The findings that hate works like capital due to the logic of the attention economy are also applicable beyond South Korea, as U.S. journalists are also pressured to make themselves more visible and accessible to the public.

Scire: In the paper, you mention a “decline in trust in journalism after a series of nation-level misreporting from major news outlets” in South Korea. Can you tell me more about those events? Were those responsible for those lapses featured on the sites “Reportrash” and “Nolooknews”?

Pyo: The misreporting event that I’m referring to is the Sewol Ferry Tragedy that occurred on April 16, 2014. On this day, a ferry with 476 people sank and caused 304 casualties, due to the mixture of problems of overloading, the captain’s incapacity, and the failure of the officials’ timely action.

As the whole Korea saw the ferry full of young high school students fall before their eyes, many were shocked. What left them in more chaos was the news media’s continuous misreporting. Right after the incident, two major national broadcasting television channels reported that everyone on deck was rescued. Minutes later, another breaking news broke out that there were still people trapped in the ferry, and the number kept changing, causing trauma and fury among citizens who were anxiously awaiting the rescue. Even during the rescue process, criticisms soared as journalists unsympathetically tried to interview the survivors and the victims’ families. Scholars attributed the press failure to the new organizations’ pressure for breaking news, competition for audience attention, and a lack of professionalism and ethics.

The use of the derogatory name “giraegi” increased exponentially after this. But [Reportrash and Nolooknews] were created around 2018, so these journalists’ names are not featured on these websites. However, the feeling of distrust and disappointment is the fundamental root of the websites.

Scire: It was fascinating to read the participants reflect on some of the upsides to receiving hate online. Ultimately, would it be fair to say that your work suggests the news industry benefits from haters and anti-fans, but individual journalists don’t benefit? You wrote, “While anti-journalist hate is detrimental to individual journalists, the news media industry is overlooking the threats and putting individual journalists at risk because it regards it as an opportunity to gain traction. In this way, this research is also a critique of how the news media industry is increasingly capitalizing on the heightened visibility and digital publicity of journalists, pushing individuals to expose themselves online.”

Pyo: Yes — the news industry takes advantage of the hate-as-commodity ecosystem! It’s not mentioned in this research, but in my dissertation, I demonstrate how journalists are pushed by news organizations to write news articles that will induce more hate. One memorable quote that I got from one participant — he was ranked first on Reportrash’s List — was that news organizations use journalists as “human bullet shields,” a Korean phrase often used to describe scapegoats. He explained that as “human bullet shields,” journalists were placed at the forefront, alluring trolls’ attention and receiving the attack and harassment, while the company stood back and made more revenues from increasing pageviews.

Scire: There have been calls for newsrooms in the U.S. to act and help stanch harassment of their journalists online. Are there similar calls for the news industry and/or individual newsrooms to take an active role in stopping harassment of their employees in South Korea?

Pyo: In South Korea, the protection of individual journalists is greatly lacking. My participants shared that at the senior and managerial level, there is a lack of proper acknowledgment that journalist trolling is a serious matter. Even for mainstream legacy news organizations, there are no systematic or legal protections. Because of the elitist, macho, and exclusive nature of the Korean journalism field, there is also [an expectation] that a journalist should be able to ignore harassment and criticism. I think news organizations’ awareness of the well-being of journalists is the most important thing.

Scire: Can you tell me more about what you learned about how “the consequences of journalist harassment have been harder for already marginalized journalists”?

Pyo: Numerous studies have already documented that female journalists are more likely to be digitally abused and more likely to suffer severely from the attacks. Female journalists across the globe face sexist and misogynistic comments that attack them based on their gender or sexuality. Female journalists are also more vulnerable to stress and trauma because gender/sexuality-based harassment is so daunting, sometimes even resulting in actual sexual and physical violence.

In my research [in South Korea], as in the U.S. and elsewhere, the attacks on female journalists were more severe and left more damage. Male journalists more often told me that they could cope with trolling, demonstrating a “just live with it” attitude. However, for female journalists, digital harassment viscerally impacted them because the attacks often led to sexual threats or comments that made fun of their appearances. Because of the fear, female journalists also shed away from taking a more active role in their reporting. They feared having their profile photos up on the websites. The fear of harassment also limited Korean female journalists’ work-related opportunities and experiences. For example, the attacks affected the topics and issues that female journalists could [cover], such as sensitive social issues (with feminism or progressive perspectives).

Graffiti photo by Steve Rotman used under a Creative Commons license.

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The voices of NPR: How four women of color see their roles as hosts Thu, 04 May 2023 16:42:05 +0000

This story was originally published by The 19th.

Juana Summers is struck by “an incredible sense of responsibility.”

She took over one of the host chairs at “All Things Considered” in June 2022 after many years as a political correspondent for NPR. Now almost a year into her new role, she sees herself as a guide to making the news program — and NPR in general — a place where people can feel represented.

Part of that, Summers believes, starts with the audience knowing her.

“I am never setting at the door that I am a Black woman, I am a stepparent, I am a woman who grew up in the Midwest and lived in a low- and middle-income home growing up, and who went to private religious schools,” said Summers, 34. “All of those dynamics are things that inform how I do my journalism, and the degree in which I lean into any part of that varies from story to story.”

Summers is one of the four women of color — three of them Black — who have taken over hosting duties at flagship NPR programs over the past year. Leila Fadel moved to “Morning Edition” in January 2022, joined just over a year later by veteran NPR host Michel Martin. Ayesha Rascoe became the host of “Weekend Edition Sunday” in March 2022. Their roles extend beyond the voices delivering the headlines. Each are editorial leaders with immense influence over what and who is covered.

“It would seem that after NPR top executives and news managers saw its three most popular women of color hosts departed within the last year, they would have pondered seriously about why these stellar female journalists left, with serious determination to make progressive changes at the public network to recruit and retain women of color hosts,” said Sharon Bramlett-Solomon, an associate professor at Arizona State University and an expert on race and gender in broadcast journalism.

Bramlett-Solomon added that leadership at NPR now faces a unique challenge in showing their commitment “to move forward with dramatic and meaningful transformation in programming inclusion and not simply window dressing on the set.”

Whitney Maddox, who was hired for the newly created diversity, equity and inclusion manager role in January 2021, said that in her role, she has especially focused on women of color at NPR: “What’s happening with them? How are they doing? What do they need?”

She has created a monthly space for women of color at the organization to meet and share about their day-to-day experiences and voice what resources they need. Her work also includes consulting to the flagship programs and checking in on their workplace cultures and how people are supported, including how stories are pitched and edited.

Maddox also started Start Talking About Race, or STAR, which is a twice-monthly event open to everyone in the organization. From these conversations, Maddox said she’s already seen an impact.

“This is moving beyond this space into how people are pitching their stories,” Maddox said. “Editors have come back to me and said, ‘A point that somebody made in STAR — I used that when I brought up a point of how we should think differently about how to source this story.’ There is a process, there is time, there is changing people’s hearts and raising their consciousness to understand why this work is important.”

The leadership of Fadel, Martin, Rascoe, and Summers are key parts in acting on conversations surrounding equity. Their roles in the host chairs are a signal of NPR’s commitment to reflecting their audience, Marrapodi said. “Our job is to be public media for the entire public,” he said. “We’re here for everybody. Our job is to hold a mirror up to society. And this is what society looks like.”

Fadel, 41, is acutely aware that her in the host chair is a representation of what society looks — and sounds — like.

“I just never thought it could happen. Clearly women have held host seats at NPR long before me, and people of color have moved up through the organization, but I just never imagined it,” she said. “How could I have imagined this for myself? There was no one who looked like me, who was an Arab woman, who was Muslim, doing this job.”

“I think about that responsibility and I take it very seriously,” Rascoe said. She said she thinks about her late grandmother, a sharecropper from North Carolina, constantly as she works. “I think about her and I think about my whole family, and I never want to make them not proud of me. I never want them to look at what I’m doing and say, ‘What is she out here doing? How is she representing us? We didn’t raise her that way.’”

Even the sound of her voice has been true to Rascoe’s roots: As her executive producer Sarah Lucy Oliver said, “Ayesha sounds like herself. She says she sounds like a Black woman from Durham, North Carolina.”

Oliver described what she calls “NPR voice” — a low register, stripped of any regional dialects, that registers as white and male — as the prevailing sound of NPR. Rascoe, she said, is a disruption to that.

“For decades, listeners have been accustomed to a particular kind of NPR voice. You can run through the dial and figure out when you’ve landed on an NPR member station,” Oliver said.

Hearing a voice like Rascoe’s “is a definite change in direction, and is exactly the kind of voice NPR wants to bring to the air,” Oliver said. “This is part of the real world. People speak differently. People have different regional accents. People use different kinds of colloquialisms. NPR is trying to sound more like the real world now.”

But Rascoe has had to reckon with the way audiences — used to that staid, white, and masculine NPR voice — perceive her. She has received racist listener feedback: coded messaging urging her to “sound professional,” telling Rascoe about how they don’t like her voice.

Rascoe says this is “all just a way of saying, ‘You are Black, and you are a Black woman from the South, and therefore you are stupid.’” When she first arrived at NPR in 2018 from Reuters, where she was a White House correspondent, it was a shock. “I will not try to pretend that it didn’t hurt and that it wasn’t frustrating,” she said.

Though Rascoe said she has received nothing but support from her colleagues and managers, her experience speaks to the dynamic at play in newsrooms nationwide aspiring to evolve, change and grow in being representative in their journalism.

The work of “disrupting the whiteness that journalists of color so often feel in white newsrooms” is hard and real, Bramlett-Solomon said — but doable, especially when there is real, on-the-ground support from management, with actual dollars behind it to show it.

Rascoe is aware of the fact that by simply being on air in such a high-profile way, she is doing that work of not only changing NPR, but changing American audiences’ expectations more broadly on credibility within the news.

“I have a voice that is not a voice that people necessarily expect — but it’s mine…Hopefully, it helps expand their idea of what authority, what professionalism and what intelligence can sound like,” Rascoe said.

Martin, 63, first joined NPR in 2006 to launch “Tell Me More,” an interview-focused show that aired on NPR member stations nationwide from 2007 to 2014. She then became host of “Weekend All Things Considered,” a position she held until joining “Morning Edition” as one of the hosts in March.

After decades in journalism, and many years at NPR specifically, Martin is deliberate and thoughtful in her imagining of the organization’s future and her role in it. As someone with a long history with the organization — one that includes using her voice to help push NPR forward on how it thinks about and covers race — she brings to her new role the ability to hold the past in the present while continuing to look forward. She said she’s constantly thinking not only about her time at NPR, but the ways journalists of color have worked to serve communities throughout history in how she approaches her role today.

“I just want us to keep getting better,” Martin said. “I want us to keep getting better because if you aren’t, then you are not growing. If you are not growing, then you’re dying.”

Martin steps into leadership at the flagship program at a time when the political climate often makes it tough for journalists to report. Martin says she thinks journalists play an especially important role “to help us understand each other’s experiences.” Without helping audiences dig into the nuances of why people believe what they do — and why the political is so personal for so many — journalists aren’t doing the job they are charged with executing.

“Yes, the words are changing and we’re all having to learn to use different language and to recognize different identities that were perhaps not part of our own experiences before. But that’s life. That’s learning. That’s education. That’s the news,” she said.

Martin said she takes inspiration from the way that Spanish-language and Black newspapers have crafted their coverage strategies.

“The origin of these news outlets was not just to talk about the politics that particularly affected these communities, but also to help people understand how to live in the new world that they were in: telling people things like how to register to vote, how to register your kids for school,” Martin said.

It is exactly this kind of work — often dismissed by editors and audiences alike as “unserious” for being service-oriented or because its target audience is those from historically underrepresented backgrounds — that Martin has always prioritized, and sees as essential now more than ever.

“What I want the most is for us to keep moving forward and not lose sight of our mission, which is to serve the public…I want us to keep doing our jobs because I think the country really needs us,” Martin said. “I want us to get more honest and stronger and more clear in how we serve people by helping them understand the world that does not lead them to carry the baggage of waking up and saying, ‘Whose side am I on today?’ That’s not who we are and I think not being that is so important.”

To think about equitable journalism means to consider the weight and totality of experience that exists behind each voice that feels unheard. That’s something that Martin’s “Morning Edition” co-host Fadel thinks a lot about, too. Fadel said she sees a major part of her job as being someone who can actively make and support a “safe space” for a range of voices, opinions, and perspectives in the editorial process.

Being fully present as herself in the host chair is a critical element of that, Fadel said — while also acknowledging that simply sitting in the seat doesn’t mean her newsroom, or any other, is done with the work of thinking holistically about what representation means in journalism.

“Change doesn’t happen because one person sits in a chair,” Fadel said. “It requires action at every level. This is happening at NPR, but of course there is more work to be done. Diversity isn’t just who is in a newsroom, but whose voices are in a story, and there is still a lot of work to be done there. We have a very diverse newsroom, but we need to always make sure it is more than white men whose voices get to talk about what happened.”

Fadel said she thinks all the time about how her own journalism can help change other people’s — and predominantly white listeners’ — perceptions.

“I didn’t see myself and my family in the stories I saw on the news. My father is from Lebanon and I grew up in Saudi Arabia. Talking about people like my family in the news meant only talking about people who were ensconced in conflict. It was all conflict. But there are real people who exist in these places where there is conflict. And they are nuanced and may all experience pain differently and joy differently and have lives outside of the conflict going on around them.”

Sitting in the host chair at “Morning Edition” is a way that she feels she can change this kind of sentiment across journalism, writ large.

“Representation matters,” she said.

Jennifer Gerson is a reporter at The 19th, where this story was originally published.

Ayesha Rascoe, Michel Martin, Leila Fadel and Juana Summers, four women of color who have taken over host chairs at flagship NPR programs over the past year. Photo by Lexey Swall for The 19th.

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A new fellowship, backed by Robert Allbritton, aims to shake up the Capitol Hill reporting pipeline Wed, 03 May 2023 18:27:14 +0000 In Washington, D.C., a new $20 million effort aims to produce more political journalism while making the profession more accessible.

Founded and funded by Politico founder Robert Allbritton, the Allbritton Journalism Institute (AJI) will launch a nonprofit news outlet that covers government and politics, with veteran journalists overseeing an inaugural fellowship class.

Breaking into journalism can be difficult; journalism school is expensive, and entry-level salaries tend to be low. AJI’s stated purpose is to be a training ground for “aspiring journalists from underrepresented backgrounds” to cut their teeth, according to Semafor, which first reported on the initiative.

“It takes time and repetition to get good at journalism — to build sources, to identify stories, to report them out and write them and present them in a way that actually serves the intended audience,” said Tim Grieve, the former Politico Pro and Protocol editor-in-chief who will lead the institute’s (as-yet unnamed) publication. “We want to give aspiring reporters that time, without asking them to take on student loans or find some other job to support themselves.”

The fellows will be paid $60,000 per year for two years, with benefits. AJI plans to hire 10 fellows to begin this September and add another 10 each year; by September 2004, 10 first-year fellows and 10 second-years will be working on a mix of assigned and self-created beats, Grieve said. The fellowship application (due May 31) asks questions like “Where and how do you get your news?” and “If you were going to change one thing about Washington journalism, what would it be, and why?”

This September, the selected fellows will take a four-week “immersion course in the practical application of journalism skills, from ethics and newsgathering to writing and distribution,” before they start reporting and writing. Throughout the two years, they’ll continue to attend seminars and workshops while also reporting. The teaching faculty so far includes Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta, Washington Post local enterprise reporter DeNeen L. Brown, and The Independent’s Washington correspondent Eric M. Garcia. The newsroom will be led by Grieve, former BuzzFeed News politics editor Matt Berman, former Washington Post Magazine editor Richard Just, and former Axios senior editor Kate Nocera.

Why a journalism institute with a stacked newsroom attached instead of a new newsroom with a robust fellowship program? Allbritton may have his hands tied after selling Politico off to Axel Springer for more than $1 billion in 2021. As Semafor’s Tani reported, “the Politico founder said that while he agreed to some restrictions about his own next business moves as part of the deal (primarily not turning around and starting a Politico competitor), the two sides also agreed to carve out space for Allbritton to pursue nonprofit opportunities.”

With trust in the news media at an all-time low, Grieve said he hopes the fellows will help readers understand “why people in power (or people who want power) think what they think and do what they do — which all helps to explain what Washington does (or doesn’t) do.”

In addition to Politico, Allbritton has launched other news outlets. In 2010, he launched the Washington, D.C. local news site TBD, which ran for six months before being shut down. The tech-focused Protocol had layoffs soon after launch in 2020, then was shut down in 2022 after Politico’s sale.

But the stated purpose of AJI’s associated publication is to develop journalists who will go on to work at other news organizations. According to the site’s FAQ, “By the end of the program, graduates will have the background necessary to cover the inner workings of Washington — and will be ready to take on reporting jobs at the country’s best outlets.”

“A handful of newsrooms have great training programs, and we’d love to learn from their successes. But many don’t, either because they have no one to train or not enough people to train them,” Grieve said. “On an individual level, all the editors I know wish they had more time to mentor their reporters, but they’re under so much pressure to produce that they just can’t do it. We’re turning that on its head: Our editors’ first job is teaching and training their reporters; the journalism they produce will be the result.”

Correction: A previous version of this story suggested that Robert Allbritton shut down Protocol. It was actually shut down after Allbritton sold it with Politico to Axel Springer.

Photo by Jorge Alcala on Unsplash.

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“A stately pleasure barge of a site”: For people who miss websites, there’s a new blog in town Wed, 03 May 2023 12:00:16 +0000 It’s been quite a week for people who like fun on the internet. First there was the sudden rise of Twitter competitor Bluesky, spurring headlines like “I regret to inform you that Bluesky is fun.” And now there’s The Stopgap, a new blog from writers Daniel M. Lavery (who cofounded, with Nicole Cliffe, the beloved and now-defunct The Toast and was Slate’s Dear Prudence) and Jo Livingstone (who previously wrote for The New Republic and Bookforum).

“I think anybody who has in the past enjoyed reading the internet purely for fun can see that there’s a real dearth of URLs to type into one’s address bar these days,” Livingstone told me in a chat with Lavery this week. We conducted the interview in a live Google Doc — my way of allowing both of their internet voices to operate at a maximum, and eliciting comparisons of The Stopgap to “a stately pleasure barge of a site” (Lavery) or “a burnish’d throne??” (Livingstone). The Stopgap launched Wednesday morning, and you can read it here.

Laura Hazard Owen: Hi both. How did you decide to launch The Stopgap, and how you are you envisioning it? Also, why did you call it “The Stopgap”?

Jo Livingstone: Danny texted me and asked if I wanted to make a website with him. Which is funny, because I had thought about it too, because it just seemed — obvious? Right? Inevitable?

Danny Lavery: This is incredible, because I would have sworn up and down that it was Jo’s idea. Was it seriously me who said something first?

Livingstone: Laura, clearly we haven’t conferred, so let’s say we thought of it instantaneously at the same time. I do take credit for the motto of “It’s better than nothing,” which seems to encapsulate a lot about why we came up with The Stopgap and what it’s for. And then the name went with the motto in a rhythmically satisfying way.

I think anybody who has in the past enjoyed reading the internet purely for fun can see that there’s a real dearth of URLs to type into one’s address bar these days.

Lavery: Two minds with but a single etc.! I certainly remember having conversations with Jo throughout the last year, often after news came out that Bookforum was closing, or Paper was laying off its staff — just along the lines of “We used to have so many websites. Who knew you could miss websites so much,” which eventually turned into joking about the idea of putting up something small and obviously inadequate just to sort of stem the tide. So the idea of a stopgap was there from the beginning. Obviously neither of us thought “Let’s resurrect Bookforum,” or anything like that. And like all the best decisions in my life, it sort of jumped over the “just kidding” line without my having realized it after a series of escalating dares. “We should do it,” “Someone should do it,” “Bring back websites,” “We have a meeting with two people, impossibly also named Daniel and Joe, on Thursday to start our website.” That felt like an omen, or at least a portent of some kind.

Owen: You’re not going to pay writers, they’ll just have tip jars — which, in an everything-old-is-new-again way, feels innovative. You’re going into this without a business model or worries about scale or, like, how you’re going to monetize, and you’re not promising writers will be paid well or at all. There’s an implication that this is being done out of joy, which has been so lacking from basically all media recently! Tell me how you’re thinking about money for this from both your side and the writers’ side — like side gig, pleasure blog, etc.?

Lavery: Right, we’re not even paying ourselves. I think we’re both looking for day jobs at the moment, as it happens, so if you hear about anything either of us might be a good fit for, please let us know. It will be a stately pleasure barge of a site, is my hope. It might be possible to make money from a general-interest blog, but it’s very difficult, and if my own experience has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t know how to make money from a general-interest blog. And I’d rather do this and make money elsewhere.

So the idea is that the vast majority of the writing on the site will come from Jo and self, but we’ll be able to publish at a comfortable rate — since we’re not trying to keep to a publication schedule that attracts advertisers — and occasionally put up a post from anyone else who cares to join us. The tip jar was very much Jo’s idea. Maybe it will result in all our guest writers being able to buy themselves a stamp or a cup of hearty soup or something! Who can say.

Livingstone: So for me the barge is more like a burnish’d throne?? Danny’s subtly alluding there to the website he founded and co-ran with Nicole Cliffe, The Toast, which is legendary and the reason that nobody would ever hesitate for even a moment to become a co-proprietor with him on an internet concern.

The money stuff is interesting. Put together, Danny and I have sort of madly comprehensive experience working in different types of publishing, at different ends of the process. Danny has published 10,000 books and run a whole publication in the past, and I’ve worked business jobs at literary nonprofits and writer jobs at “regular” magazines, and events at NYC hotels, and…every kind of job you can think of. Not to brag, but if there was an obvious way to make money here I feel like I would know about it.

There’s only one way that people on the social internet feel comfortable and well-practiced in sending money to strangers: When they know the other person’s name, have some basis for independently assessing whether or not they want to give them money, and they’re already familiar with the process. For some people, maybe that context is typing in their credit card details manually into The New York Times’ website. For most people, it’s throwing a few bucks to somebody who has earned it or needs it via Venmo, CashApp, PayPal, etc.

The tip jar idea encapsulates a lot of what has changed in the topography of the internet since the “golden age of blogging.” Those are heavy irony quotation marks because obviously people have always pumped disgusting shit into the world. There are better free or cheap CMSes available. Small financial transactions are in a different universe.

In short, we pictured what we wanted and then took the absolute shortest route available towards creating it. Right now, for example, I’m playing with a complicated subscription model built into the product we’re using, because I want to turn on comments. But that’s oddly easy, because the product thinks I want to make my living from emails! It’s interesting — we’re just throwing our needs and wants at the internet and seeing what’s sticking. The thing we need and want the most is to enjoy ourselves.

Owen: Ha, yeah, so speaking of making your living from emails! Talk to me a little bit about Substack and also why Jo said The Stopgap would “produce no podcasty newslettery bullshit.” Really, just feel free to vomit out your thoughts on Substack.

Livingstone: I was kidding! Because there are so many incredible newsletters and podcasts out there. Not least Danny’s fabulous one, and all the ones I’ve guested on. However! When a new product shifts from being an exciting available option to feeling compulsory, it’s like you can hear a gigantic creak resounding through the world from all the joy going out of it. Does that make sense? A blog can be a blog, and it doesn’t need to be anything else. Commercial imperatives change from year to year or month to month, but if you don’t have commercial motives there’s no reason you have to take them into account at all. I guess I meant “bullshit” like “work I could be doing right now but am choosing not to.”

Lavery: I’ve made good money at Substack! I have no complaints about making money. “If you like your newsletter, you can keep your newsletter.” Which I’m still doing, to be clear. But writing a newsletter is very different from a website — I missed having colleagues, someone else to develop ideas with. And I take Jo’s line about “podcasty newslettery bullshit” not to mean “half of Daniel’s output over the last five years has been worthless garbage” so much as a charming, off-the-cuff way of making it clear from the jump that this was about blogging for blogging’s sake! I think both Jo and I are very interested in a similar kind of productive idleness, or idle business.

Besides which, sometimes I want to write more often, but I don’t want to email my newsletter subscribers six times a week. If I were to imagine the Platonic ideal of a Daniel Lavery “guy,” who is my biggest supporter in the world and reads every single thing I’ve ever written, I don’t think even he would want to get a newsletter email from me every single day. You can only email people so much!

Livingstone: Danny could not publish garbage or speak it with his mouth if he TRIED.

Owen: Awesome, OK. is there anything else that either of you want to add?

Livingstone: I wanted to note that, personally, this might seem like a big strategic decision or whatever, but really it’s just about what felt necessary to create in order to even keep going. I got laid off from The New Republic, where I’d worked for five years, a little over a year ago. Then my visa expired and I applied for a green card. That means I’ve been unable to work for months, supported by my incomparably excellent partner, bereft of my nice comfortable spot in the media landscape, and generally I kind of lost direction and had no idea what to do.

Now that my green card finally got approved (!!) I feel able to look up and around me suddenly, to realize that my wonderful friend Danny helped me get to make a website that could have gotten me through the last shitty year of my life with a little more ease, and maybe will help someone else. You need to have papers in order to “work” in journalism. You do not need papers to blog. And for that I am so very grateful.

Lavery: Yes, the idea of working together with Jo was something I really wanted to do! And would gladly do for free. I just think this will be pretty fun. And if it’s ever too much work, we’ll just work less on it! But there ought to be a little website. People ought to be able to type a little something into their address bar and get to look at something interesting, every once in a while, else what’s a heaven for!

The Stopgap’s logo is designed by Hallie Bateman.

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Behold: News outlets’ first skeets Tue, 02 May 2023 16:06:48 +0000 Several news organizations are on Bluesky, the app where “the people on it won’t shut up about it.” Here are their inaugural skeets. More to come, surely. (Follow Nieman Lab on Bluesky here.)

The Baffler



Dame Magazine

Detroit Metro Times

Discourse Blog

Hell Gate

The Intercept

Media Matters

Nieman Lab

The Onion

Sahan Journal


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Micropayments. Elon Musk thinks he’s got a “major win-win” for news publishers with…micropayments. Mon, 01 May 2023 18:59:12 +0000 One of the remarkable things about watching Elon Musk “run” Twitter is the ability to observe his learning curve in real time.

People have been running social platforms and media companies for literal decades, after all, all while Musk was busy with cars and spaceships and whatnot. A fair number of lessons have been learned! But Musk — so resolutely convinced of his own genius — has dedicated himself to making old mistakes new again, compressing a lifetime of bad ideas into six short months.1 It’s his most reliable pattern: announce a crazy new policy, preferably on a weekend; face huge blowback from users; reverse the policy, claim you were misinterpreted all along or just pretend it never happened.

So when I saw this tweet on Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

Since embeds of his new longer-than-280-characters tweets don’t show the full text, here’s what it says:

Rolling out next month, this platform will allow media publishers to charge users on a per article basis with one click.

This enables users who would not sign up for a monthly subscription to pay a higher per article price for when they want to read an occasional article.

Should be a major win-win for both media orgs & the public.

Fiiiiiiiiiinally, Elon turns his attention to micropayments. (Pretty sure this is in the Book of Revelation somewhere.)

The idea of news publishers charging readers by the article is not a new one. At least once an hour, someone tweets about “why hasn’t anyone figured out how to let me buy one article????” Literally dozens of micropayments-for-news startups have come and gone; dozens of publishers have run tests of various models; none have gained much traction.

Even today, well into the 2020s, you can find people saying the dream is an “iTunes for news” that — as the iTunes Store did 20 years ago — allows you to buy a single song (an article) rather than the full album (a subscription). (They say this despite the fact that approximately zero people still buy MP3s that way; instead, they pay a monthly subscription fee to Spotify or Apple.)

I’ve long been a micropayments skeptic. Not because I have any philosophical issue with the idea; I’m all for publishers making money and readers consuming news. My skepticism is driven by it being a strategy that sounds appealing but works poorly in practice. Others have written about the problems with micropayments at great length, but here are, to my mind, the most significant:

Friction at the story level.

What do people do when they hit a news site’s paywall? We have some data on that question, from a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey last fall. They asked American adults: “Suppose you were trying to access a news story online and had to pay to keep reading or watching it. Which ONE of the following would you be most likely to do?”

48% said they would “try to access the information elsewhere for free from a different news outlet.” 28% would “move on to something else or to a different news story.” 7% would “try to find information about the news story on social media.” 4% would “sign up for a free trial if available.” 3% would try to “get the story through friends or family who already have access.”

A measly 1% would “pay for access to the story or outlet.”

In the overwhelming majority of cases, a person faced with the need to pay a news site money will say “no, thank you.” You can view that as an artifact of subscription models, or you can view it as evidence of how transient most news stories are in people’s information lives. It’s hard to evaluate how much an individual article is “worth” before you’ve actually consumed it — and there is always free competition available, either on the same topic or in the broader universe of “things to click on in my feed.”

Friction at the payment level.

If an individual publisher sets up their own micropayments system, getting money will require readers setting up an account, attaching a credit card, and all the usual stuff that moving money online requires. Not many people will do that to read a single news story.

So maybe they sign on to one of the many micropayment startups that want to create an industry-wide network of news sites using a common payment platform — either as part of a pan-publisher subscription or on a pay-per-article basis. Unfortunately, none of them have the scale to be appealing or the appeal to build scale. (“Just sign up with your NewzBux account!” isn’t much of a pitch to your readers if they’ve never heard of NewzBux, or InfoCents, or FactCoins, or whatever.) And the companies that might be able to start with scale (Google, Facebook) are not ones that publishers trust with their money. And whoever owns the pipes, they’ll want their 30% cut.

Most paywalls aren’t that hard.

In a digital universe where every news story is behind a hard paywall — one impenetrable to the non-paying reader — then a micropayments model might make sense. But that’s not the digital universe we live in. The number of completely paywalled sites is low and typically either hyperlocal (a county-seat weekly with no competition) or high-end (think The Information or Politico Pro). Nearly all news sites will let a random web user read a story (or two, or five) for free. It’s only after a given number of clicks that the wall goes up.

If you want to think of that as “news sites already offer micropayments for those first five articles — they’ve just set the price at $0,” be my guest. And for those times when someone really wants to read just one article, that free allotment allows all the paywall workarounds that the savvy digital news consumer knows about. (We’re all adults here; we can talk about incognito windows.) If most paywalls aren’t that hard, there’s little pressure for a paid product to get around them on a single story.

No one agrees on what micropayments are.

Is a micropayment 10 cents for one article? That was the number Elon Musk was thinking about in this video from November, when he complained that he should be able to pay 10 cents to read an especially good Philadelphia Inquirer story despite not living in Philadelphia.

If there is a sustainable price for journalism, it isn’t 10 cents an article. A large scale data analysis from Medill found that digital news subscribers don’t even visit those news sites on most days. For small local news sites, the typical subscriber visits once every three days. At larger sites, it’s once every five days. Those visits can include consuming multiple articles, of course, but the point is 10 cents an article would be a radical price reduction for most subscribers — and thus a radical revenue reduction for most publishers. Price points will have to be higher — and thus less appealing to fly-by readers.

Publishers don’t want to cannibalize subscribers.

It’s not at all unusual for a business to insist on their product being purchased in a particular quantity. Try to go to the grocery store and buy one peanut M&M, or one tablespoon of ice cream, or a single Corn Flake. They’ll look at you funny, because the businesses that manufacture those consumer goods have been structured around selling bags, pints, and boxes of them, respectively. Go ask the people at Tesla if you can buy a Roadster that’s only for the weekends — at 2/7ths of the price. The economics of information goods (like news) aren’t identical to those of physical goods, but they both require sustainable business models, and for most quality news sites, that requires paid subscriptions.

And that’s the root problem, from publishers’ point of view: If you sell subscriptions for $15 a month, but you sell individual articles at 15 cents each, you’re telling any subscriber who reads less than 100 articles a month they’re an idiot and should give you less money. There aren’t enough payment-willing fly-by customers to make up the difference for even a few lost subscribers. You’re encouraging your best customers to think of you as an occasional treat rather than a service you pay for — and to pause before every headline they click to estimate its worth in cash. It shouldn’t be surprising than “we’ll charge you $10 a month until you tell us to stop” is more appealing than “we’ll charge you 10 cents now and maybe you’ll come back again someday.”

As Tony Haile once smartly put it, news subscriptions are like gym memberships. Imagine a gym that charges $50 a month for a membership — but also lets anyone pop in for a single workout for two bucks. Why would anyone pay for a membership again? “If you would take the micropayments version of a gym membership, it would be like, ‘I can turn up and I can pay a couple of quid, and I can go into the gym whenever I want to use it.’ No gym works like that.”

All that said — these problems are not insurmountable. Smart people might come up with solutions, even if they haven’t so far. Indeed, I’ve long believed that if anyone could create a micropayment system for news that worked, there were only two real possibilities: Apple and Twitter.

With iPhones, iPads, and Macs, Apple controls the devices that most paying digital news consumers use. They have hundreds of millions of users’ credit cards already on file and attached to your identity. And with Apple Pay, they have a nearly frictionless payment platform that has already been integrated into countless apps and websites. If they decided to offer a “Read With Apple Pay” button for news sites, the technical problems of micropayments would mostly go away. (Along with 30% of publishers’ revenue, no doubt.) And Apple News+ is the closest thing to an all=news subscription that currently exists.2

Twitter, meanwhile, is the center of the digital news universe. There is no place online with more news-curious users clicking links to new-to-them news sites. And it showed interest in the subject, buying Tony Haile’s Scroll and integrating its network of ad-free news sites into Twitter Blue and teasing some sort of paywall integration on the way.

But that was the old Twitter. One of Musk’s first decisions after taking charge was killing off the remnants of Scroll — the closest thing to a foundation for a pan-publisher revenue model anyone had.

Unless you are one of the few Twitter Blue subscribers, Twitter doesn’t have your credit card number. It has no ready payment platform for publishers to integrate into their sites. Twitter would likely only be interested in a payment system that goes through Twitter, not via links that go to a publisher site from Facebook, Google, or elsewhere.

But let’s be honest: The biggest problem is Elon. What mainstream publisher would trust Elon Musk with their money right now? The guy who refuses to pay the rent on his corporate HQ? The guy who has spent the past six months dumping on the media, banning reporters, declaring their work a “relentless hatestream” from “media puppet-masters” that you “cannot rely on…for truth“? This is the guy who says he has a “major win-win” for publishers? The same guy that complains “media is a click-machine, not a truth-machine” thinks the answer is tempting people to pay with a single headline?

(Not to mention that Musk has no deadline cred remaining, and saying that micropayments will “roll out” later this month could mean this summer, late 2024, or never.)

Maybe someone will figure out micropayments for news someday. I think it’s unlikely at scale — but I could be wrong! But I am quite confident the man who has spent the past half-year destroying the news media’s favorite online space won’t be the one to do it.

  1. I believe it was Techdirt’s Mike Masnick I first saw using this metaphor for Musk, specifically around content moderation.
  2. Pro tip: Apple News+ now includes, along with roughly all the magazines, The Wall Street Journal, the L.A. Times, The Times of London, The Globe and Mail, and the metro dailies in Charlotte, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Raleigh, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, plus a few more. If you run into a random local-news paywall, there’s a pretty decent chance that searching for the headline in Apple News might find it. It’s now a much better product for newspapers than it was at launch.
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Searching for gold: Making sense of academic research about journalism Thu, 27 Apr 2023 14:32:00 +0000 Do academics know secrets about journalism that working reporters and editors don’t know?

For curious journalists like me, spending time reading academic research about journalism and democracy reveals a mixed picture.

There’s plenty of research to show that journalism is still a critical part of an engaged society. Decades of evidencebased studies show a correlation between news consumption and political engagement. People who read more news tend to vote more regularly and engage more in their own community.

Newer academic studies tend to look at very specific practices around types of journalism and find insights particular to certain beats or coverage areas — and there’s quite a lot of it. Just a few examples include how journalists use empathy in covering homelessness, whether fact-checking changes false beliefs, and how audiences react to watching coverage of terrorism.

But keeping track of all that academic research across subject areas is no easy task. Here’s where professors Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis have stepped up an email newsletter (hosted on Substack) that aims to showcase the most compelling research published each month. The newsletter is called RQ1, and Nieman Lab republishes it each month.

Want more? Subscribe to our newsletter here and have Nieman Lab’s daily look at the changing world of digital journalism sent straight to your inbox.

Coddington and Lewis are both former journalists who became academics. (For several years, Coddington wrote the “Week in Review” column for Nieman Lab.) They now study their former colleagues amid a changing digital news environment, tackling issues of data journalism, social media, news engagement and news aggregation. (Coddington is at Washington and Lee University, while Lewis is at University of Oregon.)

“We’ve had trouble ourselves keeping up with the constant flow of new research on news and journalism, and we want to help you keep up with it as we try to wade through it as well,” they write in the newsletter.

As editor-in-chief of PolitiFact, I have a high interest in keeping up with academic research on fact-checking, and as a Nieman Fellow I’ve been studying research about the connection between journalism and democracy, so I reached out to Coddington and Lewis with a few questions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Angie Drobnic Holan: When you’re putting together the newsletter each month, is there just a gusher of research to go through? And have you noticed changes in the research over the years?

Mark Coddington: I feel at times overwhelmed by the gusher of research that is out there. Almost every major journal that regularly publishes sends out email alerts when they publish a study, so I subscribe to all of those. And then there are others that I check regularly as well. Any new research goes into a spreadsheet, and that spreadsheet runs to about 75 to 80 articles a month. And that’s a lot of research — a lot. For the newsletter, we select the ones that we think would be of most interest to journalists or researchers.

Seth Lewis: The study of communication has been around for about 100 years, but the focused study of journalism in this field that we now call journalism studies is really only about two decades old. And in fact, that began with the founding of the journals Journalism and Journalism Studies, which both appeared in 2000. The journal Journalism Practice came out in 2007, and then Digital Journalism was launched in 2013…So there has been a real flourishing of research about news in the last two decades, which, of course, kind of ironically tracks the period in which newspapers have contracted. The news industry has seen its fortunes crumble in the last couple of decades, while space and attention given to research about journalism has grown dramatically.

Holan: What are the areas currently in journalism research that are really robust and productive?

Coddington: One of those areas is sociology of journalism, especially the practice of journalism during this time of immense change. Since the late 2000s or so, a lot of strong research looks at how journalists do their jobs, and how it has changed in so many different areas. Researchers have studied the values journalists bring to their work, and how the values changed. A lot of these are practice-oriented sociological questions.

Holan: Do you think it’s helpful for working journalists to read this research?

Lewis: When I worked at the Miami Herald, I remember that sometimes I would wander over to different parts of the newsroom, and near the executive editor’s office there was a coffee table with various reading materials, probably for people who were waiting to meet with the editor. And on that coffee table was a copy of Newspaper Research Journal, which is another journal that covers research about news. And I remember, as a journalist, picking this up and flipping through it and thinking, “What is the purpose of this research? None of this seems very relevant to what we do.” It was a flippant response, and now it’s sort of ironic that I do research about news. But there is research about journalism that, depending on how it’s framed and conducted, can feel pretty detached from the actual working realities of journalism. As journalism research has become more established academically, it’s tended toward specialization and some degree of jargon and terminology that’s opaque.

But strong research does exist, and it has a lot of relevance for journalists. And nowadays, given all of the kinds of networks and social media and email alerts that exist, the opportunities for journalists to come into contact with that good research and find value from it are much greater than ever before.

Coddington: I think it’s partly a question of the level of engagement. As far as deep engagement with journalism research, I’m not sure that’s the best investment of time for an incredibly busy journalist. Because it’s hard for me, on top of my job that actually includes this, to deeply engage with and read and fully understand multiple news studies a month — and to actually understand what they’re saying and how they’re engaging with other areas of research. That’s beyond what a journalist should reasonably be expected to do, and I’m not sure it’s the best investment of their time, because it takes a long time to really thoroughly read and understand an academic study.

But I think some familiarity with research in the field is helpful for journalists to just understand and think a little bit more deeply about what they’re doing.

If you can get an introduction to at least some of the ideas of how people have thought about how journalists do their jobs, it can really help you think from a different angle of what is actually going on in your job, and potentially how to do it better.

Holan: When you write the RQ1 newsletter, what audience do you have in mind? Is it just journalists, or nonjournalists as well?

Coddington: When we started, my intended audience was journalists, but it was also busy academics who want to keep up with research but simply don’t have time. I also thought of it as written for first-year graduate students. That is still, in my head, sort of my happy medium, because somebody in their first month of a master’s program is still learning about this stuff.

Lewis: I also imagine that we might be able to reach people who are interested in news and journalism, even if they’re not actually working journalists. There are people who find news fascinating and interesting, or people who just like to be informed about what’s happening in the world of journalism, because they find it an intriguing space. We want to make sure that the really good stuff rises to the top and gets the notice that it deserves.

Social media has changed the game, and academics have used Twitter as a key medium to talk about their work — to get it noticed, not only by fellow researchers, but also by journalists. But we’ve also seen ways in which these social networks are kind of uneven and problematic. Many academics have pulled back on their use of Twitter. And so there’s a sense that email is the ultimate common denominator. An email newsletter is something that everybody can easily tap into.

Holan: I see a lot of research about journalism coming from a lot of different academic fields, from computer scientists or librarians or philosophers. It can be research that crosses a lot of academic borders. Do you see that?

Lewis: I would say that journalism has become more interesting precisely because its fortunes have become more uncertain. It’s the inherent instability in the space that makes it so fascinating to many researchers. Whether they’re coming from sociology, political science, economics, or computer science, each of them can find in this a highly dynamic space where there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what it’s going to look like in five years or 10 years, and what will happen to legacy players compared to emerging upstarts, and what will be the knock on-effects of losing newspapers in communities, and what the loss of news media means for declines in civic participation, and so on. I think there’s a growing interest in fields to look at the changing dynamics of journalism as a way to examine larger patterns in society.

Coddington: Fundamentally, it can be easy for academics in journalism studies to forget that journalism is actually an object of study rather than a field academically in itself. There is a field of journalism studies, but fundamentally, that’s not an academic discipline, like sociology or anthropology, or philosophy, or something like that. Journalism is an object of study. And I think the more disciplinary lenses through which we can look at it the better. And yes, most often it’s been looked at through a social scientific lens that is housed within communication as a field. But it’s equally legitimate to study it through an economic lens, or a political science lens, or an historical lens.

Holan: Some journalists are starting to do more research on themselves. I work in fact-checking journalism, and many fact-checking newsrooms have put out their own studies on how they see their field developing and what effects fact-checking produces. It might not be considered scholarly, but it is serious research.

Coddington: You asked earlier whether journalists should know about academic research, and I would say that if somebody is going into fact-checking, do they need to read all the research on fact-checking? No, that would take too long to read. You should just focus on being a better fact-checker. But, should you read Lucas Graves’ book, Deciding What’s True? Yes, you absolutely should read that book, if you are going to go into fact-checking in any form. It will help you think so much better about what you’re doing.

Holan: I keep running into sociologist Michael Schudson’s work every time I work on any project about journalism and democracy. His book The Sociology of News influenced me a lot. What books have shaped you?

Coddington: I think every journalism scholar has a book that they either read as a journalist, if they were a journalist, or early on in graduate school — there was a book that kicked open the door to a new way of thinking, and that they would probably recommend to every  journalist. For me, it’s Gaye Tuchman’s Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality, from 1978. Almost every paper I write her work has influenced in some form that I have to cite. She’s a sociologist, and the way that she thought about how journalists know what they know, and how they put that all together within the thought-professional environment that they live in, on a day-to-day basis…It just felt like a new way of thinking about it, that honestly colors and informs so much of the way we talk about the way journalists do their jobs, whether people have read the book or not.

Lewis: For me, it wasn’t so much a book as it was blogging. In particular, it was Jay Rosen’s PressThink blog. I was working as a journalist, but when I had various breaks and downtime, I found that I was gravitating more and more to PressThink, around 2004 to 2005. He was in a sense kind of doing public scholarship through that blog. He was writing about news, although not in a research-driven way, but he was bringing a critical evaluative lens to it that I found really fascinating. It was prompting me to ask questions about the work I was doing, and about how those questions could be explored more fully. When Jay Rosen talked about people formerly known as the audience, as he famously did in 2006, that concept really resonated with me, in a way that ended up informing some of my early research into participatory journalism.

But I also remember when I decided to go back and do a Ph.D., I asked someone what I should read in preparation, and they recommended Herbert Gans’s book, Deciding What’s News, from 1979. That and Tuchman’s book stand as these two pillars of journalism research from the 20th century that still have such a shaping influence on the way we study the sociology of news today.

I do think there is real value in finding those important books that bring together the research on a given topic, either as one of the first key things written about the topic, or because it summarizes a lot of existing research. As an example, my friend and collaborator, Sue Robinson, has a book coming this year called How Journalists Engage: A Theory of Trust Building, Identities, and Care. It will be a book that tells the story of engagement and journalism, which has been one of the really robust areas of research over the past five to 10 years. And so she’ll both synthesize what has been done, but also bring her own new original research to it. That’s the kind of book that a journalist would benefit from reading at least a couple of chapters. They would get a lot out of that, as opposed to trying to summarize and skim 40 or 50 articles.

Holan: Final question: Why do you call the newsletter RQ1?

Coddington: When writing research papers, RQ1 is the shorthand for the first research question. So when you have multiple research questions you will shorten it to say, RQ1, RQ2, RQ3, and then hypotheses are H1, H2, H3. So it is a bit of academic shorthand that almost any academic in our field would get. And for anybody else, at least it wouldn’t turn them off.

Lewis: I think it’s appropriate we call it RQ1 and not H1, because in the field of journalism research, we tend to ask research questions rather than pose hypotheses. Hypotheses work well for studies of things that are well-established, where things feel stable and you’re looking for incremental forms of change. But the study of journalism tends to involve more exploratory, inductive forms of qualitative analysis. That generally begins with research questions as opposed to hypotheses. And that really speaks to the nature of this work right now, that the future of journalism is very much in flux. It’s very much this open-ended question. Our purpose is to point to the research questions that are being asked and answered, and to gesture to more questions yet to be explored.

Angie Drobnic Holan is editor-in-chief of PolitiFact and a 2023 Nieman Fellow.

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How archivists are working to capture not just tapes of old TV and radio but the experience of tuning in together Thu, 27 Apr 2023 14:15:55 +0000 We’ve lived with broadcasting for more than a century. Starting with radio in the 1920s, then television in the 1950s, Americans by the millions began purchasing boxes designed to receive electromagnetic signals transmitted from nearby towers. Upon arrival, those signals were amplified and their messages were “aired” into our lives.

Those invisible signals provided our kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms with access to jazz clubs, baseball stadiums, and symphony halls. For a century, they have been transporting us instantly to London, Cairo, or Tokyo, or back in time to the Old West or deep into the imagined future of interplanetary travel.

The reception of those radio, then television, signals didn’t just inform us, they shaped us. Everyone experienced broadcasting individually and collectively, both intimately and as members of dispersed crowds.

Radio and television fostered an ephemeral and invisible public arena that expanded our understanding of the world — and ourselves. Whether it was the final episodes of radio serials like “Gangbusters”, or television’s “M*A*S*H” or “Seinfeld,” Americans often marked the passage of time by shared broadcast experiences.

Even today, more Americans use standard AM/FM radio broadcasting than TikTok. At a time when most Americans get their news from local TV stations and broadcast television networks, and radio remains pervasive, it might seem frivolous to express concern about preserving technologies so deeply embedded in daily life.

Yet a media evolution is occurring, as paid subscription video streaming and audio services climb in popularity, and fewer Americans are consistently tuning in to broadcast media.

Demise of shared moments

The broadcasting era is becoming eclipsed by new media technologies. In the era of TV and radio dominance, “mass media” was defined by shared experiences.

But now, new media technologies — cable TV, the web, and social media — are changing that definition, segmenting what was once a huge, undifferentiated mass audience. All those new media fragmented what were once huge collectives. Bottom line: We’re not all watching or hearing the same thing anymore.

With fewer Americans simultaneously sharing media experiences, the ramifications of this evolution stretch beyond the media industries and into our culture, politics, and society.

The shared moments that electrified and unified the nation — from President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats to TV news coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and up through the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — have become more rare. Even national events, such as a presidential election, are different today in that our collective experiences now seem more individualized and less communal. People get their news about presidential elections from sources with radically different perspectives on what used to be shared facts.

The very idea of collectively tuning in to history as it happens has been altered, as the profusion of channels and platforms now funnels audience members into self-segregated affinity groups where messages are shaped more for confirmation than enlightenment.

How to remember

As we move into this new media world, broadcasting risks being relegated to the rustic past like other old media such as the rotary telephone, the nickelodeon, the 78-rpm phonograph, and the DVD.

That’s why, from April 27–30, 2023, the Library of Congress is hosting a conference, titled “A Century of Broadcasting,” that invites scholars, preservationists, archivists, museum educators and curators, fans and the public to discuss the most effective ways to preserve broadcasting’s history.

The goal of the conference, convened by the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force, is to begin envisioning the future of this technology’s past. As a radio historian and member of the Radio Preservation Task Force, I was invited to serve on the conference organizing team. Panels, papers, and presentations will look at how broadcasting is currently being archived, and how we, as a society, can think more systematically and formally about how we’ll remember broadcasting. While the task force is primarily concerned with broadcasting’s inception as radio, aspects of television’s past will be included as well.

Preserving radio — and TV — is not as simple as storing machines or tapes. To understand broadcasting history, preservationists must try to describe an experience. It isn’t enough to show somebody the printed script from a 1934 Jack Benny radio program, or the theatrical stage set used when “All in the Family” was taped before a live studio audience in 1973. To comprehend what Jack Benny, Gracie Allen or Jackie Gleason meant to the people of the United States involves trying to imagine, and almost feel, an experience.

“Essential” first step

The Radio Preservation Task Force seeks to go beyond the big corporate commercial collections that already exist. NBC’s radio and TV archives, as well as the Radio Corporation of America’s and others, are already well-preserved and housed at repositories like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution.

The Radio Preservation Task Force is concerned with the diverse universe of broadcasting, including the many types of stations and networks that defined American broadcasting.

“Millions of Americans listened to college, community, and educational radio stations that were less famous than CBS and NBC but still played an important role in daily life,” notes University of Colorado scholar Josh Shepperd, chair of the Radio Preservation Task Force. “Preservation projects associated with the Radio Preservation Task Force have revealed to us that African American radio stations played an important role in helping catalyze the Civil Rights Movement by fostering and inspiring community.”

Shepperd added that “those are just two examples of often-overlooked but essential components of our nation’s broadcast history.”

At the Century of Broadcasting conference, scholars will examine such varied topics as how gender roles were performed on the air and how Spanish-language radio maintained listener identity with the community while broadening outreach. The conference also includes discussion of international and global radio communities, with scholars presenting on broadcasting history from France, Germany, and Latin America.

“There’s even a panel on preserving the history of unlicensed and illegal ‘pirate’ radio,” says Shepperd.

Our media remains so atmospheric — it’s everywhere, all the time — that we too rarely pause to concentrate on how it evolves and how those transformations ultimately influence us.

Radio and TV might not technically be “endangered” right now; after all, we all still use telephones even if they look completely different and serve functions largely unimaginable 40 years ago.

Yet moving beyond the broadcast era holds important ramifications for all of us, even if we cannot precisely discern them in this moment. Recognizing the need to preserve radio and TV’s past marks an essential first step, so that the future will be properly informed about how we lived and communicated for over a century of American history.

Michael J. Socolow is an associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.The Conversation

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Audience loyalty may not be what we think Thu, 27 Apr 2023 13:16:16 +0000

Editor’s note: Longtime Nieman Lab readers know the bylines of Mark Coddington and Seth Lewis. Mark wrote the weekly This Week in Review column for us from 2010 to 2014; Seth’s written for us off and on since 2010. Together they’ve launched a monthly newsletter on recent academic research around journalism. It’s called RQ1 and we’re happy to bring each issue to you here at Nieman Lab.

Loyalty is a concept that’s invoked quite often when news executives and researchers talk about audiences. We talk about loyal audiences who trust our journalism and are “engaged” with our products, who spend a lot of time on our sites and keep coming back, who are willing to subscribe or donate to our organizations. But it’s not always clear what exactly we mean by loyalty in itself, apart from those actions that it has been tied to.

Is loyalty even a distinct phenomenon apart from the behaviors — like giving continued attention, sharing, and subscribing — that are often thought to characterize it? Researchers Constanza Gajardo and Irene Costera Meijer of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam believe it is. In a new study in Journalism Studies, they argued that, at its core, loyalty to journalism is less about actions than about feelings within a relationship, one that is often obscured as we focus on only its most economically beneficial outcomes.

To determine what loyalty means to news audiences, Gajardo and Meijer used a lengthy, multi-part interview process with 35 regular news users in Chile. They wanted to give people open-ended questions to describe loyalty on their own terms, prompting them to compare their feelings about journalists and news organizations to interpersonal relationships.

One of their most striking findings was that loyalty to a news source was not always tied to regular use. Some interviewees described deep, abiding loyalty for news sources they didn’t regularly use. Said one participant of a Chilean TV journalist: “I don’t listen to him religiously, but when I do, I listen to him. I’m 40 years old and I don’t have to talk to my father every day.” Others described sources they regularly use but feel no loyalty for: “I know…I should say that the news site I visit the most is close to me and that I like it, but this is not the case. This has a purely functional purpose: to know what happened here, there and that’s it.”

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In the latter cases, loyalty was inhibited by a lack of political like-mindedness or credibility. But even trust didn’t guarantee loyalty, as some participants described a lack of relationship with trusted investigative or longform news sources they used, characterizing them as too serious or distant or heady.

So what kind of behaviors did mark loyalty for audiences? It wasn’t always the clicks, shares, donations, and subscriptions we might expect. Instead, people discussed their loyalty in terms of adapting to changes those news sources made, tolerating aspects they didn’t enjoy, or forgiving mistakes they made. Perhaps encouragingly for journalists, these were all quite relational actions. But they were more about tolerating and adapting to perceived shortcomings than responding to news with pure enthusiasm.

Other, more direct actions that we often think about as tied to loyalty — liking, subscribing, donating, and so on — weren’t as evident to users as expressions of loyalty. Just as journalists tend to think about loyalty as something audiences possess, audiences in this study saw it as primarily built around what journalists provide. “Users seem to be clear about what to expect from journalism,” Gajardo and Meijer wrote, “but they are somehow unaware of what journalism expects from them.”

This could be a bleak takeaway for journalists — even our most loyal users don’t know how to support us in useful ways! But it could also indicate opportunity for growth, as news organizations try to tap into the deep (and complex) feelings of their loyal audiences to develop mutually beneficial relationships.

Research roundup

“‘They’re making it more democratic’: The normative construction of participatory journalism.” By Tim P. Vos and Ryan J. Thomas, in Digital Journalism. The idea that journalists are obligated to engage with their audiences and allow them to participate in the co-creation of news — well, it has become “something of an article of faith in journalism studies scholarship in the first decades of the twenty-first century,” Vos and Thomas argue in this piece. Such ideas about participatory journalism, which became normalized over recent decades, “synced with broader intellectual currents around ‘participatory culture’ and optimism about the democratizing potential of the internet.”

Optimism about participatory journalism is in retreat these days, as the dark sides of a participatory internet has come fully into view. But it’s worth reflecting, as these authors do, on an enduring question: How did participatory journalism become such a firmly established journalism norm?

Vos and Thomas examine the “metajournalistic discourse” about participatory journalism from 2002 through 2021, focusing on nearly 500 articles representing 20 sites representing journalism discourse that were identified via network analysis. In attempting to trace how participatory journalism came to be a journalistic norm against the backdrop of social, economic, and technological change, the authors find several things.

First, they demonstrate how, over time, key commentators “sought to legitimize audience participation in the news production process by imbuing it with tried-and-tested notions of journalistic mission. Thus, we are confronted with a discourse that addressed something new but is garbed in the normativity of something more traditional.”

Significantly then, they go on to note that “the transformations to the culture unleashed by participatory technologies were treated as both an empirical given and as unquestionably positive. It is, the discourse suggests, simply commonsensical for journalists to embrace these new realities — this has happened, and it is good” (emphasis added).

Notably, however, they find that the discourse about participatory journalism appears to have peaked in 2015 and declined in recent years.

“News can help! The impact of news media and digital platforms on awareness of and belief in misinformation.” By Sacha Altay, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, and Richard Fletcher, in The International Journal of Press/Politics. What should news media do about misinformation? Some researchers have suggested that reporters can inadvertently amplify false claims in their reporting on them — that merely attempting to debunk misinformation can serve to magnify its spread. And it’s true that news media can be manipulated by bad-faith actors masquerading as legitimate sources. But is it true, as some have argued, that “mainstream media are responsible for much of the public attention fake news stories receive”?

No, probably not. That’s the conclusion of this large-scale survey analysis, which involved a two-wave panel study (where the same groups of people are surveyed at Time 1 and Time 2, to check for differences) that was conducted in multiple countries (Brazil, India, and the UK) to avoid problems associated with focusing on one location in isolation. The surveys investigated the impact of media use on awareness of and belief in misinformation about COVID-19.

“We find little support for the idea that the news exacerbates misinformation problems,” the authors write. “News use broadened people’s awareness of false claims but did not increase belief in false claims — in some cases, news use actually weakened false belief acquisition, depending on access mode (online or offline) and outlet type.”

They note that results were not even across countries — “underlining the importance of comparative research to guard against unwarranted generalizations” — nor for all types of news use, but the results were straightforward in the main: “Overall, we find that news can help.”

This research underscores the vital role that news media perform — most of the time, though not always nor everywhere — in “keeping people informed and resilient to misinformation.” Of note as well: the findings suggest that news use via platforms was not associated with greater belief in misinformation, countering somewhat sweeping claims that are often made about platforms and their effects.

“The limits of live fact-checking: Epistemological consequences of introducing a breaking news logic to political fact-checking.” By Steen Steensen, Bente Kalsnes, and Oscar Westlund, in New Media & Society. Political fact-checking has become a global phenomenon during the past decade. Because it often involves going to great lengths to establish evidence-based evaluations of political statements, this form of journalism is assumed to require a lot of “epistemic effort,” or a high degree of time and energy to verify knowledge claims. On the other end of the spectrum of epistemic effort might be another genre of journalism: breaking news. When journalists cover breaking news, especially when they do it from their desk in the newsroom, it’s assumed to involve a lower degree of epistemic effort, because, as noted in this article, “the immediacy of breaking news prevents the journalists from investing time and resources for extensive critical assessments of sources and information.”

So, what happens when fact-checkers attempt to bring a breaking news style to covering political debates with live fact-checks? How do they bridge the gap, as it were, between higher and lower forms of epistemic effort?

Steensen and colleagues, using a variety of research methods, sought to answer this question by investigating the Norwegian fact-checker and its live fact-checking of political debates during the 2021 parliamentary election campaign in Norway. They found that live fact-checking, at least in the case of Faktisk, mainly involves strategies to reduce complexities in how claims are fact-checked, including a reliance on predefined understandings about the relative credibility of sources.

The upshot: live fact-checking of politics tends toward what the researchers call confirmative epistemology, in which fact-checks confirm rather than critique elite perspectives, reinforcing hegemonic views about what’s important, reliable, and true. This raises the “risk that live political fact-checking…might cater to the political elite more so than to the critical public. A potential consequence of this is that live political fact-checking, as performed by Faktisk, might add fuel to the growing criticism of mainstream media lacking diversity of perspectives and critical distance to elites.”

“‘Saving journalism from Facebook’s death grip’? The implications of content-recommendation platforms on publishers and their audiences.” By Yariv Ratner, Shira Dvir Gvirsman, and Anat Ben-David, in Digital Journalism. You’ve seen them at the bottom of many news sites: sections of “Around the Web” and “Recommended for You” articles that tempt readers with sensational photos and headlines (“37 Child Actors Who Grew Up To Be Ugly”) . These “chumboxes,” as they are derisively called, offer up attention-grabbing fare to lure in readers, and many news publishers allow them to live on their sites because they pay more than other forms of advertising. Research, however, suggests that such content leads people to take a dimmer view of news quality and credibility (no surprise!).

But is there a different way of looking at this phenomenon? For one thing, the clickbait aggregators — Taboola and Outbrain, chief among them — argue that they are sparing journalism from the “death grip” of Facebook’s ad dominance by allowing news organizations to work in revenue partnership with these content recommendation platforms.

So, what is the effect of these chumbox aggregators? Ratner and colleagues offer a large-scale analysis of that question, examining nearly 100,000 stories recommended by Taboola and Outbrain that were scraped from nine Israeli news sites. They find that “the spaces created by these partnerships blur the distinction between editorial and monetization logics” — in effect, muddying the waters between journalism and advertising as well as between news brands, and raising new questions about the role of sponsored content and algorithms in challenging journalism.

Additionally, the researchers discovered certain network effects that undermined some news sites: “While large media groups benefit from the circulation of sponsored content across their websites, smaller publishers pay Taboola and Outbrain as advertisers to drive traffic to their websites. Thus, even though these companies discursively position themselves as ‘gallants of the open web’ — freeing publishers from the grip of walled-garden platforms — they de facto expose the news industry to the influence of the platform economy.”

“Improvisation, economy, and MTV moves: Online news and video production style.” By Mary Angela Bock, Robert J. Richardson, Christopher T. Assaf, and Dariya Tsyrenzhapova, in Electronic News. If you’ve been around the journalism block since the early 2000s, you might remember those early hopes for “convergence” — for print and TV newsrooms to join forces in producing multimedia journalism. Those hopes never materialized, but the centrality of video in the digital news ecology has been profound (“pivot to video,” anyone?), and over the past decade digital-native news sites like Vox have worked to develop distinct styles of video storytelling.

Meanwhile, news consumption, to a large extent, has converged to a single screen (a smartphone). This leaves open an important question: Do newspapers, TV, and digital-native news organizations produce the same kind of video? Are they converging stylistically or, as Bock and colleagues wonder, “staying in their legacy lanes”?

Studying a randomized set of U.S. news outlets, the researchers found that “legacy print organizations continue to produce slower-paced videos without scripted narration; TV organizations use scripted narration with one correspondent; and digital natives produce stories with quick pacing and a mix of narrator types.” They argue that diffusion of innovations theory, which points to the role of culture, values, and other social factors in driving innovation adoption, “helps to explain why these organizations offer distinct production styles that are not converging in form.”

So, why isn’t there more similarity in video style? It appears to be at least partly a function of habit: longstanding, entrenched ways of doing things in legacy media routines. “Just because it is possible to create stories with quick edits, engaging graphics, or quality camera work does not mean all journalists are interested in or able to embrace these techniques,” the authors write. “As organizations turn, turn, and turn again to video, it will be important to consider which of these techniques are esthetic fads and which ones best serve the needs of the news audience.”

“Beyond the freebie mentality: A news user typology of reasonings about paying for online content.” By Arista Beseler, Mara Schwind, Hannah Schmid-Petri, and Christoph Klimmt, in Journalism Practice. With pay models popping up on site after site these days, what do news consumers think about being asked to pay for news that they previously accessed for free? While there have been studies on consumers’ willingness to pay, Beseler and colleagues wanted to go a step further in more holistically investigating people’s general attitudes, behaviors, and motivational reasonings around paid online news content.

Through interviews with 64 adults in Germany, the authors developed a typology of five main approaches: paying subscribersfree riderspromisers (“users who do not pay but announce to do so in the future”), occasional buyers, and convinced deniers. This typology, the authors suggest, is helpful for capturing the “extremely diverse” mindsets that may exist among consumers.

“On one hand, many respondents were skeptical or reluctant to pay for online news,” they write. “Even among the paying subscribers, some participants preferred printed news over online news, highlighting the reluctance to pay for something immaterial. On the other hand, some respondents were strong supporters of paid online news, whereby the majority of them have had experiences with or have been socialized with online or parental print subscriptions.”

Chairs of different colors, by Steve, used under a Creative Commons license.

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“They have not been able to silence us”: Exiled Nicaraguan journalists go digital to keep their journalism alive Wed, 26 Apr 2023 15:00:01 +0000 Journalism across Central America is suffering at the hands of the region’s governments.

El Salvador’s El Faro recently announced that it’s moved its business operations to Costa Rica after years of attacks from President Nayib Bukele. In Guatemala, journalist José Rubén Zamora is imprisoned for publishing an investigation into 144 corruption cases linked to President Alejandro Giammattei; the newspaper he founded, El Periódico, was raided and its bank accounts were frozen.

In Honduras — a country that according to Reporters Without Borders has been “slowly sinking into nightmarish disaster for more than a decade” — the government dismantled an agency designed to protect journalists.

In Nicaragua, press freedom has faced attacks from all sides and is only getting worse under president Daniel Ortega, now in his fourth consecutive term. The country now ranks 160 out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. At least 185 journalists have fled the country since 2018, with at least seven going into exile in the first three months of 2023, free press advocacy group Voces del Sur found. As of February, at least 22 journalists had been stripped of citizenship due to their reporting on Ortega’s regime.

Journalists who work through these precarious conditions emphasize that international coverage from mainstream media outlets can help pressure their countries’ governments to reverse course. Such coverage can also influence how humanitarian aid budgets are spent.

At the International Symposium of Online Journalism earlier this month, a panel in the Spanish-language Colloquium on Digital Journalism convened four of Nicaragua’s most prominent journalists, all of whom are living in exile, to discuss the harrowing conditions they’ve lived through — offices being burned down, embargoes on supplies like newsprint and ink, imprisonment for sharing information on social media — and how they’ve innovated to keep publishing.

Below is an excerpt of the discussion of how these Nicaraguan journalists pivoted after being forced into exile, and the challenges they face today. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity, but if you can, you should watch the entire recording of the session here.

The panel was moderated by Dagmar Thiel, the U.S. director of Fundamedios, a free press advocacy group that supports Hispanic journalists in the Americas.

The panelists:

Dagmar Thiel: Let’s talk about how you all have been reinventing yourselves. Anibal, you came from a traditional radio station that was in the commercial center of Nicaragua. Today you’re all digital. How are you reaching your audience?

Anibal Toruño: Since 2018, we saw the need to make a transition to digital. Since [the government] withdrew our licenses to be able to operate in Nicaragua in 2022, that [transition] is one of the great challenges. [As] a traditional medium like radio, which is mainly audio and not necessarily visual or digital, it was a huge effort to understand that we had to make a transition and that the formats had to change. We had to be more audiovisual and make sure our content resided on a web page. There were social media accounts that we had to feed, and for that we had to understand and generate content with new talents to reinforce this new way of communicating.

It has undoubtedly been a difficult and demanding experience. We were thrown into no man’s land. The truth of the matter is that you don’t know you’re not ready until the time comes. At that moment we realized that we had to make a home [online], that our news had to be audiovisual and not necessarily just audio. It was a very fast transformation. It takes a lot of effort and commitment, and also understanding that the struggle that we, the media in Nicaragua, have is Daniel Ortega trying to silence Radio Darío…just like with El Confidencial, just like 100% Noticias, just like La Prensa, just like all the media outlets that have had to reinvent themselves.

The great challenge and the great victory is that they have not been able to silence us and we continue to overcome censorship. We continue to reinvent ourselves to achieve good metrics in this world that is relatively new to us.

Dagmar Thiel: Juan Lorenzo, how did La Prensa reinvent itself with just 12% of its staff?

Juan Lorenzo Holmann: We had announced that we were running out of ink and paper but that we were still in the fight. When the embargo started [in 2019], we began to work hard on strengthening the digital side. When we ran out of paper, we said we would momentarily suspend our print editions, but we would continue [publishing online]. [The government] raided us, they robbed us, they confiscated [supplies]. But La Prensa continues to report.

They will never silence independent journalism. This is something that is not only the responsibility of La Prensa, but it’s the responsibility of the many independent journalists who have accepted this challenge and have done it with great courage. It is true that we are outside of the country, but that country has been kidnapped. But through our journalism, we have the duty to rescue that country — to return and start rebuilding the society we all dream of: A society in which we can all express ourselves freely, without the fear that someone is following us, that we will be persecuted, that we will suffer being exiled or imprisoned or even the loss of life.

Dagmar Thiel: Martha Irene, you have a small media outlet, República 18. As a colleague from Cambodia said, there’s a magical curse of being a journalist — that is, it makes you start a small media company when the big ones are suffering. How are the independent media outlets doing?

Martha Irene Sánchez: The decision to go into exile, which is not easy, in my case was motivated by two reasons. The first was for security, to protect ourselves and our families. Continuing to work in Nicaragua was a risk and an imminent threat to our families.

The second was because being in exile made it possible to continue practicing journalism. I remember my first days in Costa Rica. I said, “What do I do now?” because I came from a TV news outlet and I no longer had that job. I began to get together with other colleagues who were living in forced exile and we said, “We’re going to do journalism. How do we do it?”

We started with Facebook pages, but we continued telling stories about Nicaragua. Some of those stories are about migration from Nicaragua, because in exile we began to find other narratives and realities that perhaps we were not seeing at the time of the most acute crisis.

Leading a media outlet with a small team, [like] República 18, undoubtedly poses many challenges. There are about 30 journalistic initiatives that have been launched by [Nicaraguan] journalists in exile. They started with a lot of conviction, commitment, and volunteerism. However, we know that we need more than conviction, commitment, and volunteerism. We need resources. We have to move from surviving to living. We cannot continue to be victims.

This dictatorship has suppressed too many rights — not only those that concern us, like freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but it has even extended to our families. That is why we also make an important call that we want to continue practicing journalism, but continue doing so with conditions that dignify us as people.

Dagmar Thiel: Miguel, how are you reinventing yourself? Are you still a sports reporter in the United States where you arrived two months ago?

Miguel Mendoza: More than reinventing myself, I think I am continuing the work I was doing. I was released [from prison] on February 9 and from day one, I recovered the passwords of my social media accounts. I started to publish news and share my opinion about what was happening in Nicaragua. It was difficult because I had to catch myself up; I follow baseball and boxing a lot and I hadn’t even watched any sports in the last year.

One of the things I used to ask my wife while I was in El Chipote was if people had unfollowed me on social media. Once, I told her, “If I’m here because of everything I did through social media, it’s going to be a shame if people unfollow me now that I’m here.”

But when I got access to my accounts back, I realized that people had not unfollowed me, but that more had joined me. In the last two months on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, my follower counts have multiplied, and that has motivated me to continue in the trenches — collaborating with my colleagues who are in exile and those who are still in Nicaragua, accompanying them in this struggle to overcome censorship.

I have a small space on YouTube called “De preso a preso.” Because I’m a journalist, it’s better that I ask those [who were imprisoned] about the inner workings of the prison. I have done four [sessions] so far, and with each one there are people who don’t want to talk, but little by little I am convincing them.

The dilemma I have now with my social media is: Which one do I share more? Do I report what continues to happen in Nicaragua or do I give more space to sports journalism? Some people who tell me to focus on sports, but more people tell me to continue doing what I have been doing because I already have been a political prisoner and I have to continue on that path. One dilemma I have is how to differentiate those topics in my social media feeds.

Dagmar Thiel: What are you asking of the international community? How can we help Nicaragua’s independent journalism in this difficult moment it’s going through and has been going through for several years?

Toruño: It has to be understood that we do not have a country. It’s out of our hands. Generally, media companies depended on advertising. La Prensa, which is one of the most important media outlets in Nicaragua, depended on advertising. If our news outlets were anything, they were competitive. Our articles, our programs, our newscasts, were and are still good. The big problem that we have is that we do not have a country, so we don’t have guidelines or a way to generate income from our work.

The only thing that we [want to share] is the importance of continuing to support journalism and independent media. Nicaragua’s problem is Central America’s problem. We are going to depend on the audience and create awareness around this to be able to support and contribute to news outlets.

Holmann: I ask big media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, El País, not to forget about us. Keep the pressure on our country. Keep showing what’s happening to us so that [people] realize what’s going on in our society.

Obviously, we are going through a very difficult situation right now. We cannot sustain ourselves because in our country, those who want to advertise with us are persecuted in the same way that we are. So, unfortunately, right now we need support from government agencies, from private foundations, we need support wherever it can come from. In addition to the support that we must have, we need the support of our society who we owe our work to. That is a symbiosis, that I need you and you need me so that I can help you. Please support independent journalism in Nicaragua.

Sánchez: I would like to focus my appeal to the governments of the countries where we find ourselves exiled. I think it’s important that a real commitment be made for journalists who have arrived seeking international protection and who are in a waiting room with uncertainty of five, ten, or 15 years to have an eligibility interview. We have already been kicked out of our country. We need immigration security for ourselves and for our families.

I especially call on the governments of Costa Rica, Spain, the United States, and Central America, where most Nicaraguan journalists in exile are living now, and on the international community to support this initiative. I believe that it’s possible to advocate for a resolution as soon as possible. I would like to ask our colleagues in the region and around the world to continue to keep an eye on what is happening in Nicaragua, where everything unthinkable has already happened.

Mendoza: A couple of weeks ago I was with a Nicaraguan colleague in Houston. He went into exile in Costa Rica and is now in the United States. He worked on his own media outlet and at a certain point he had to stop because he had no more funding. He had to work to support himself and his family.

I’m going to give it a try. I’m going to establish my own outlet and the web page, and look for funding. I hope that my project does not die. I’m going to hold on until the end and see how far I go. It’s possible that I will do a combination of working a job here in the United States and work on [my news outlet] in my spare time. That [blank] front page of La Prensa when all the supplies were seized: God willing, it won’t be the front page of all Nicaragua’s journalism. Because if the people who are in charge of financing news outlets are the ones fighting while living in exile, then the dictatorship will win, because the media will go dark.

From left: Journalists Miguel Mendoza, Anibal Toruño, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, Martha Irene Sánchez, and moderator Dagmar Thiel during a panel titled “Nicaragua: Journalists Released and Banished” during the Colloquium on Digital Journalism in Austin, Texas in April 2023. Photo credit: Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas

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Disney is shrinking FiveThirtyEight, and Nate Silver (and his models) are leaving Tue, 25 Apr 2023 18:58:43 +0000 FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver and at least some of the data-driven site’s 35-person staff are leaving ABC News as part of broader layoffs at The Walt Disney Company. (Or, in the words of ABC News, FiveThirtyEight is being “streamlined.”)

Silver said on Tuesday that he expects to leave the politics and sports news site when his contract ends this summer. Several others at FiveThirtyEight — including deputy managing editor Chadwick Matlin, sports editor Neil Paine, senior audience editor Meena Ganesan, senior science reporter (and 2015 Nieman Fellow) Maggie Koerth, business operations manager Vanessa Diaz, and senior designer Emily Scherer — announced they were affected by layoffs, too.

FiveThirtyEight — named, of course, after the number of electors in the U.S. electoral college — has its roots in the “Community” section of the liberal news site Daily Kos, where, in 2007, a 29-year-old baseball statistician named Nate Silver began writing posts about the 2008 U.S. presidential election under the username “poblano.”1

Silver launched FiveThirtyEight as its own blog in March 2008, and in the general election that year, his model correctly predicted the results in 49 out of the 50 states, as well as all 35 winners of the U.S. Senate races. The early, wondering coverage of Silver’s work frequently invoked magic. “Silver’s box of tricks sounds baffling, laced as it is with talk of regressions, half-lives and Monte Carlo analysis,” The Guardian’s editorial board wrote in 2008.” The New York Times, announcing its FiveThirtyEight “partnership” in 2010, referred to Silver a “statistical wizard.” FiveThirtyEight quickly became a massive traffic driver for the Times, where his presence provided fodder for then-public editor Margaret Sullivan. (He is now the frequent subject of discussion by the Times’ current public editor, Twitter.)

In 2013, Silver left The New York Times (Sullivan wrote about that, too) and took FiveThirtyEight to ESPN. Under parent company Disney, it was transferred from ESPN to ABC News in 2018 as ESPN sought to distance itself from political commentary, and has operated from there since.

When Silver leaves ABC News, he’ll leave behind the FiveThirtyEight trade name, but his models will go with him. “The models are licensed to them and the license term is concurrent with my contract,” he confirmed to Nieman Lab in a message. “They have limited rights to some models post–license term, but not the core election forecast stuff.”

Van Scott, ABC News’ vice president of publicity, said in a statement that “ABC News remains dedicated to data journalism with a core focus on politics, the economy and enterprise reporting — this streamlined structure will allow us to be more closely aligned with our priorities for the 2024 election and beyond. We are grateful for the invaluable contributions of the team members who will be departing the organization and know they will continue to make an important impact on the future of journalism.”

Not mentioned in that statement: Sports or science, both of which are key verticals on the current FiveThirtyEight.

“A 1950s-style cartoon illustration of a very sad fox,” Midjourney

  1. Bill Kristol, writing in The New York Times opinion section in February 2008: “An interesting regression analysis at the Daily Kos Web site ( of the determinants of the Democratic vote so far, applied to the demographics of the Ohio electorate, suggests that Obama has a better chance than is generally realized in Ohio.”
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The first Substack dedicated to war correspondence launches Tue, 25 Apr 2023 17:30:37 +0000 “I’ve decided to go back into Ukraine to keep reporting,” war correspondent Tim Mak writes in his first Substack newsletter. “This time, alone.”

Mak says he was laid off from his job as an investigative correspondent when NPR cut its staff by 10% last month. On Tuesday, Mak launched The Counteroffensive, the first Substack dedicated to war correspondence. (Others have featured war correspondence from time to time, a Substack spokesperson noted.)

“The idea first occurred to me just a few weeks ago,” Mak told me. “I think one of the benefits of Substack is that it works right out of the box. I just signed up and started writing.”

Reporting from conflict zones is complicated, resource-intensive, and, yes, incredibly dangerous. News organizations often provide equipment, hostile environment training, special insurance, and other resources to full-time reporters headed to the front lines.

In his appeal to subscribers, Mak outlined some of the costs — body armor, medical kits, rental cars, emergency supplies, a Ukrainian interpreter, etc. — that he’ll now pay for out of his own pocket. He told me he expects his operating costs to be, at a minimum, around $7,000 per month. (Substack has offered Mak “guidance and advice, but no financial resources,” he said.)

“I need 1,000 paid subscribers in order to stop losing money,” Mak wrote to me. “Then more to be a little bit more ambitious than ramen and buses. Then after that I can pay myself.”

Mak, a former U.S. Army combat medic, arrived in Kyiv on the night the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, according to his NPR bio. He has been covering the war since. I asked him what he sees as his biggest challenge, now that he’ll be reporting from the country independently.

“The hardest thing will be discipline, I think. As an independent journalist I’ll be on my own, without an institution to pull me out when I need it,” Mak said. “I’ll need to have the discipline to make wise decisions to keep me and my team safe.”

On Twitter, Mak often shares behind-the-scenes photos and stories from Ukraine. He said he was looking forward to taking a more informal, conversation manner with The Counteroffensive — less AP Style, more “like a letter to a friend.”

In other dispatches, Mak has been posting variousdogs of war.” (He also reposts “dogs of peace” that folks back home in the U.S. send him.) He’ll continue the tradition in his newsletter with a mascot named Rex.

You can read the first post from The Counteroffensive here.

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Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News, and what matters is why Mon, 24 Apr 2023 18:51:15 +0000 It was only 48 hours ago that The New York Times was saying we shouldn’t expect much change in how Fox News operates to come out of its $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems. The model — conservative grievance, stoked by targeted misinformation — was just too successful to change.

Anyone expecting that Fox’s $787.5 million settlement with Dominion this week would make the network any humbler or gentler is likely to be disappointed. And there probably won’t be much of a shift in the way the network favorably covers Mr. Trump and the issues that resonate with his followers.

In Mr. Trump’s recent interview with the Fox host Tucker Carlson, he implied that there was good reason to doubt the legitimacy of President Biden’s victory, saying, “People could say he won an election.” Mr. Carlson, for his part, has also dipped back into election denialism recently. “Jan. 6, I think, is probably second only to the 2020 election as the biggest scam of my lifetime,” he said on the air on March 14. (His private text messages, revealed as part of Dominion’s suit, show him discussing with his producers how there was no proof the results of the 2020 election were materially affected by fraud.)

Only time will tell if Fox News writ large will change. But one hour of its weeknight prime-time programming sure will.

Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News. The network’s biggest star — creator of what the Times once called “what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful” — was ousted via terse press release late Monday morning. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the network wrote. The Los Angeles Times is reporting the decision was made by Rupert Murdoch himself.

The suddenness here is remarkable. Carlson’s final show aired Friday, with no indication of an impending end. His final interview was his second of the week with a Pennsylvania pizza delivery guy who had tripped a suspect fleeing police after a chase in a stolen car. (The two suspects arrested, 17 and 19, appears to be Hispanic; Carlson’s chyron called one a “bad hombre.”)

Fox News reportedly didn’t even announce the departure of its biggest star internally: “Everyone outside of top executives, including Tucker’s staff, found out about his exit on Twitter.” The network’s own announcement of the move had, as Aaron Rupar put it, the “vibes of Stalin’s death being announced on Soviet radio.” Only minutes before, Fox News had been promoting an interview set for Carlson’s show tonight.

(Carlson’s ouster seems to have inspired CNN to match moves, dropping Don Lemon only hours (minutes?) after his morning show ended. Carlson and Lemon will now apparently share a lawyer; odd bedfellows.)

The timing of Fox’s move certainly suggests a connection to the Dominion settlement — but Carlson was far from the worst offender on the network, and no host had better ratings. (Why would you fire Tucker over Dominion when Maria Bartiromo is still around?) After all, producer Abby Grossberg’s two lawsuits argue Fox News tried to make Bartiromo a scapegoat for the entire network in order to protect hosts like Carlson.

Then again, Grossberg’s suits (which also names Carlson as a defendant) also describe his show as “a work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes” and says Carlson himself is known for his “derogatory comments towards women, and his disdain for those who dare to object to such misogyny.” It’s worth remembering that it was their treatment of women that finally forced out past Fox News goliaths Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

(The L.A. Times suggests the Grossberg suits were a driving factor in Carlson’s departure. The New York Times also reports that Carlson senior executive producer Justin Wells is also out at Fox. Wells is also a named defendant in Grossberg’s suits; at one point, she accuses Wells of asking her: “Is Maria Bartiromo fucking Kevin McCarthy?”)

Perhaps it was all the Dominion discovery revelations that did Carlson in — the ones that made it clear he didn’t believe the lies Fox was putting on air, or that he “hates” Donald Trump. Maybe — but Trump seemed to be happy to sit with him for an interview a couple weeks ago, and there’s been no sign of Fox viewers abandoning the show out of a sudden burst of self-respect. Carlson’s texts also included his low opinions of Fox management, which likely didn’t help his cause.

Of note: Fox Corporation stock lost 5.2% of its value in the 22 minutes after Carlson’s ouster was announced. That’s about $870 million in lost value — more than the $787.5 million Fox is paying Dominion, to which the market had a more muted reaction.

There seem to be two big questions now — one about Fox, one about Carlson.

For Fox: Is this about Carlson specifically or a shift more broadly? If indeed this is mostly about dealing with another in a long series of workplace issues, Fox News may not think its fundamental DNA needs updating. Will tossing Tucker lead Fox to move further to the right in order to keep its audience from straying — the scenario that got the network in trouble with Dominion in the first place? Will all of the bile Carlson was known for just move to new hosts and new timeslots? Or is this a sign that the market for it is shrinking? (I wouldn’t hold my breath.) This is still the network of Bartiromo, Pirro, Hannity, Ingraham, and Watters; a rebrand this ain’t.

And for Carlson: Where next? Carlson now has the rare honor of having been fired by CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. (RT is already sniffing around. Perhaps Viktor Orbán has an opening?) Would he settle for a right-wing also-ran like Newsmax? Set up shop on Rumble? Go back to his Daily Caller? Fly solo?

Like Bill O’Reilly before him, he seemed bigger than the network he was on. But when O’Reilly was bounced, Carlson was able to take his old timeslot and push ratings even higher. How much of his prominence was about him versus how much was about the grievance machine he worked for? Think about all the people who’ve left Fox News in recent years: O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, Glenn Beck, Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Greta Van Susteren. None have been able to match their fame or reach on the outside. How diminished will he be? Will his audience follow him? And will we ever find out how much he believed and how much was an act?

Photo of Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons license.

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“Tell a more complete story” and other lessons from a new report on mistrust of news media Mon, 24 Apr 2023 14:08:04 +0000 There’s a new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that focuses on distrust of news media — and what news organizations might be able to do about it.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: the news industry is unlikely to find a silver bullet. “There is no single trust problem, and therefore there is no single trust solution,” the first line of the report reads.

The report draws on a series of focus groups with 322 people from “disadvantaged or historically underserved communities” in four countries. (In Brazil, focus groups contained Black and mixed-race audiences. In India, Muslims and those from “marginalized castes or tribes” were interviewed. In the U.K., the authors focused on working-class audiences. And in the U.S., Black and rural audiences were in the spotlight.) Despite differences between and among the focus group participants, several familiar themes emerged. Participants thought the news could be unfair, inaccurate, sensationalized, and subject to “hidden agendas” they believed shaped coverage behind the scenes.

The report’s authors — Amy Ross Arguedas, Sayan Banerjee, Camila Mont’Alverne, Benjamin Toff, Richard Fletcher, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen — wrote they were motivated to highlight these particular perspectives following feedback from newsroom leaders, “many of whom asked how they could better engage with audiences who have been historically underserved or marginalized in their country’s news coverage.”

Many of those interviewed saw news media as an institution “as an extension of systems aligned to serve those in power — systems many felt excluded from.” Those institutions are, not coincidently, also seeing falling trust.

Confirming previous studies, the Reuters focus group participants were more likely to blame news organizations and financial pressures for shortcomings than individual journalists.

“Despite often seeing journalists as out of touch and rarely having shared life experiences,” the report states, “many also emphasized what they believed were considerable constraints journalists faced when trying to cover news stories.”

One American who participated in a focus group said she felt “there are good journalists out there” but that their news organizations were the ones calling the shots: “Like, if you have a journalist for The New York Times…they’re going to write the way that The New York Times wants them to.” (The U.S. ranks last in media trust out of 46 countries, tied with Slovakia, a 2022 Reuters Institute report found.)

Some of the concerns of those interviewed echo critiques expressed by members of majority groups or those currently overrepresented in positions of power in their respective countries. But, the authors note, the stakes can feel very different.

“Privileged audiences may be concerned about, say, sensationalism, but they rarely pay a personal price,” they write. “Disadvantaged communities do.”

The “first and most voiced complaint” from participants was that news coverage of people like them skewed toward negative stories or reflected them in a negative light. Many told researchers that people like them only appeared in the news when something bad happened. For example, in India, several participants brought up widespread news coverage about a religious gathering reported to be the country’s first Covid super-spreader event.

“If you look at the national news, the only time you hear about rural issues is if a tornado went through a trailer park, or if this whole section flooded, or if, whatever,” one American participant said. “I mean, it’s only when you have a natural disaster component that I think you get rural people in.”

But the examples that came up most frequently — and which participants spoke about in the most detail — were about crime coverage. Many said news coverage overemphasizes violence in their communities. “It’s death, crime, murders, shootings,” an American participant named Gabrielle said.

Ultimately, the participants were concerned because they believed news coverage could shape “how others perceived them or even how they — and their children — perceived themselves,” the researchers found. Several people pointed to racial bias in story selection and framing:

  • “‘The white person is never disrespected. They never say that your daughter was killed because you’re a criminal. Oh, and if it’s a Black person, they’re going to say, you know, your son or your daughter was killed because you were a criminal,’ commented Heitor [a participant from Brazil].”
  • “For Alexandra [U.S.], this grievance was especially personal, following the coverage of her own father’s murder, which happened in a public park while he was playing a game of dice: ‘The way he was portrayed, they just were so focused on the dice game and gambling. Everybody gambles. Like, you go to Prairie Meadows right now, you’re gonna see 1,000 white men in there gambling, [but] because he was outside shooting dice in a park, “He’s a gangster, he’s a monster.”…They always make it seem like they deserved to die.'”
  • “When a Black person goes to jail, they make fun of us. No one interviews those [people] or anything. When a white person goes to jail, ‘Oh, my God, poor person.’ They are interviewed and all that. They are treated respectfully,” noted Gabriel [Brazil].

Other examples that made participants distrust media involved a perception that journalists are “complicit with the political establishment” or “at the very least, populated by the same kinds of people.” For example, Timothy, an Iowan, described feeling as if news organizations only cared about people living in rural areas when they needed something…not unlike presidential candidates flying into his state for photo ops with corn dogs.

The report’s authors were clear that though trust is thorny and multifaceted, there are opportunities for newsrooms to improve their standing in underserved communities. Those opportunities include relentlessly rooting out bias and inaccuracies, telling a “more complete story” through news coverage that’s more positive and relevant, diversifying newsroom staffs, and being more engaged and present where people live and work.

“Taking these steps may require reallocating often scarce resources,” the report acknowledges. “This comes down to a question of priorities — just as not taking such steps is also a choice. In other words, there is no neutral path here.”

Tweaks are not enough

The researchers found little evidence that focus group participants would be swayed by “a few tweaks.”

“Just one or two participants specifically focused on the importance of news organizations highlighting their corrections policies or providing audiences with better labeling around separating facts from opinion content — approaches that have received some attention in prior studies on trust,” the report notes.

We’ve seen a number of news startups announce their brand-new newsrooms will tackle the lack of trust in media but it’s unclear if their approach will go beyond tweaks.

There’s more than a hint of frustration in the report’s conclusion:

It is also worth underscoring how similar issues have been raised by study after study after study for a very long time. More than half a century ago, in 1968, the Kerner Commission critiqued the U.S. news media’s distortions and inaccuracies in its coverage of Black people, its use of “scare headlines,” its dependency on inexperienced or prejudiced officials as authoritative sources in stories, its bias towards divisive racial framing of conflict, and a general neglect of the lived experiences and perspectives of Black people and the discrimination they regularly experienced.

While our report echoes many of these concerns in a wider variety of places and among a broader range of groups, the participants in our study are but the latest in a long line of people from marginalized and underserved communities voicing versions of the same frustrations about news media. Those who lead and manage news organizations may feel they are already making good progress towards addressing many of these concerns, but on what timetable and with what urgency? It is not at all obvious to the people who participated in our focus groups that there is any sincere reckoning in the news media, let alone commitment to substantial change.

You can read the full report here. It’s also been translated into Spanish and Portuguese.

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