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Bloomberg Media is buying CityLab from The Atlantic (and some of its fans are nervous)

Bloomberg Media doesn’t do acquisitions often; its last one in consumer media was probably BusinessWeek for a couple of nickels 10 years ago. The company has its own unique culture — derived from long hours, the demands of the terminal, and each iteration of “The Bloomberg Way” — and acquisitions always come with the risk...
Posted: December 10, 2019, 8:40 pm

What happens when a public radio station goes after its state’s favorite tradition?

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 238, dated December 10, 2019. My Favorite Murder’s eight-figure deal. This probably qualifies as the biggest development from last week. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that My Favorite Murder creators Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark have struck a two-year deal worth “at...
Posted: December 10, 2019, 5:31 pm

Silicon Valley’s Stonewalling

During the 2016 presidential race, Cambridge Analytica, a consulting firm, used data from up to eighty-seven million Facebook profiles to target voters on behalf of Donald Trump. An academic researcher had access to the data as part of a standard research arrangement, but then sold it, in defiance of Facebook’s rules. The breach caused a […]
Posted: December 10, 2019, 4:50 pm

Berkeleyside is launching a sister site in Oakland to help fill the void left by pillaged newspapers

With a twin $1.56 million each from the American Journalism Project (as part of its first grantees) and the Google News Initiative, 10-year-old independent news site Berkeleyside is growing from “seven people in one room” to a nonprofit network of local news sites in the Bay Area. Berkeleyside — founded in 2009 by Lance Knobel,...
Posted: December 10, 2019, 3:09 pm

As it settles into Vox, Recode is starting a new project to help people feel power over algorithms

Yes, social media companies are irrevocably altering our way of life, our information streams are more tainted than ever, and you’re tracked everywhere you go (and that could affect your criminal record, your job prospects, and more) — so what are you going to do about it? This is exactly the question that Recode’s new...
Posted: December 10, 2019, 1:22 pm

Here are the American Journalism Project’s first 11 recipients, taking home $8.5 million to grow their business operations

Fresh off painful layoffs, the tally of 7,700 media jobs lost this year, and a warning that the first six months of 2020 will be especially painful for local newspapers, in steps the American Journalism Project with its first set of grantees — aiming to fill some holes in that market with venture philanthropy. AJP,...
Posted: December 10, 2019, 1:00 pm

Reporter Kathy Scruggs maligned in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’ » Bill Hemmer is the new Shepard Smith » Objectified at work, on air

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. The irony of ‘Richard Jewell’ Hollywood often takes dramatic license with movies based on true stories. Happens all the time. But the new Clint Eastwood film, “Richard Jewell,” appears to have gone too far. The film is about the […]

The post Reporter Kathy Scruggs maligned in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Richard Jewell’ » Bill Hemmer is the new Shepard Smith » Objectified at work, on air appeared first on Poynter.

Posted: December 10, 2019, 12:58 pm

The Pentagon Papers redux

“US officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.” That’s how the Washington Post summarized “The Afghanistan Papers,” a slick package of stories it just published revealing the rot at the heart of America’s longest war. Craig Whitlock, a reporter with the paper, obtained more than 2,000 pages of interviews with more than 400 officials—generals, diplomats, aid workers, and more—conducted during a federal review of the “Lessons Learned” in Afghanistan. He also obtained hundreds of pages of memos filed by Donald Rumsfeld when he was George W. Bush’s defense secretary in the 2000s. (Rumsfeld called the memos “snowflakes”; how the right has changed.) Taken together, Whitlock writes, the documents “constitute a secret history of the war and an unsparing appraisal of 18 years of conflict.”

Several of the officials interviewed for the review spoke of systematic efforts to mislead the public—and the press—on the war effort. John Sopko, who leads the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which conducted the review, admitted to the Post that the records show the American people “have constantly been lied to.” In his interview for the review, Bob Crowley, a US Army colonel, said that “every data point was altered to present the best picture possible… We became a self-licking ice cream cone.” In his main story, Whitlock cleverly juxtaposes things officials said in public with what was being said in private. There was no clear rationale and no clear enemy. Good money was thrown after bad—on warfare, aid, and nation-building—with no metric for success. Publicly, officials said they wouldn’t tolerate the corrupt use of US funds in Afghanistan; privately, they admitted they turned a blind eye to it.

ICYMI: The tragic story behind a Harper’s article shows the dirty truth about fact checking 

SIGAR’s review wasn’t entirely secret—the agency has published some reports under the Lessons Learned rubric—but, per Whitlock, its output has been hard to parse, and omitted much of the damning information that was collected. The Post first learned that there might be more to the story during the 2016 election, when a tipster told the paper that Michael Flynn—then a Trump campaign surrogate, now Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser—had given an internal interview castigating the mess in Afghanistan, where he’d served as chief of military intelligence.

The Post, Whitlock writes, requested documents related to Flynn’s interview under the Freedom of Information Act. After a long delay, SIGAR rejected the request, citing a FOIA exemption that allows the government to withhold some deliberative records. The Post appealed, then broadened its request to cover all the interviews it believed SIGAR had conducted. SIGAR went dark. In October 2017, the Post sued the agency, using the Flynn records as a test case for the whole cache. Eventually, SIGAR relented, released the Flynn interview, and agreed to release the others on a rolling basis; it insisted, however, on redacting portions of the documents, and refused to identify the vast majority of its interviewees, because it had promised them anonymity. When SIGAR started dragging its feet again, the Post sued it again. By August of this year, all the interviews had been handed over, but they were still redacted, and mostly anonymized. The Post still wants the names. Expanding on its earlier argument, the government claimed in court that some interviewees are “whistleblowers,” so must be protected. The Post’s lawyers reject this notion.

A final decision in the case is pending; still, the Post decided it had enough to publish, and did so yesterday morning. Its story was immediately and ubiquitously compared to the Pentagon Papers—the explosive internal review of US blunders in Vietnam that the New York Times was the first to reveal in 1971. The Post’s Gillian Brockell ran down the similarities: both reviews were compiled in little-known corners of the Defense Department; both were voluminous; both came to light only after court fights; both showed rampant lying. But there are key differences between the respective sets of documents. Unlike the Afghanistan Papers, the Pentagon Papers were not based on any interviews, because Robert McNamara, the defense secretary who commissioned them, was afraid of leaks. (So much for that.) Perhaps most importantly, the Post’s pursuit of the Afghanistan Papers did not set a legal precedent around the release of government information; by contrast, the Pentagon Papers case produced a landmark Supreme Court ruling annulling Richard Nixon’s efforts to bar the Times from publishing them.

Our present media landscape, too, looks very different from that of the 1970s. The key players are the same—the Times and the Post are both having a moment—but around them, much of the industry is in dire financial straits. Reporting like Whitlock’s is brilliant and essential, but it requires resources—time, money, legal heft—that are at a premium in many of the nation’s newsrooms. The fight for a sustainable press is often rendered in platitudinous, even abstract terms. The Afghanistan Papers are a shocking, concrete example of the stakes.

Below, more on the Afghanistan Papers:

  • The broader context: In September, Trump abruptly scrapped negotiations with the Taliban, right ahead of a scheduled secret summit with Taliban leaders at Camp David. Visiting Afghanistan over Thanksgiving, Trump made a surprise announcement: talks are back on. They restarted in Doha, Qatar, over the weekend.
  • Ell’s bells: CNN’s Brian Stelter called Daniel Ellsberg, the analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in the ’70s, for his reaction to the Afghanistan Papers. Ellsberg said he planned to read every page obtained by the Post. “It affirms my warnings that the situations were the same.”
  • How it played: The Times prominently promoted the Post’s reporting yesterday, including in a breaking news alert and email newsletters. (Paul Farhi, a media reporter at the Post, called the former “rare if not unprecedented.”) Many other outlets covered the Post’s work, too, but its scope was perhaps diluted by the impeachment chaos out of Washington—especially on cable news.


Other notable stories:

  • For CJR’s print issue on disinformation, Amitava Kumar writes that the specter of fake news is haunting fiction writing, and Andrew McCormick, Akintunde Ahmad, and Kevin Zweerink map Fox News spin on the causes of mass shootings. Today, we’re holding a conference on disinformation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; speakers include Emily Bell, Hamilton Nolan, Jonathan Albright, and Carole Cadwalladr, who helped break open the Cambridge Analytica scandal. You can watch the event here from 9:45am Eastern.
  • It was a busy day in Washington yesterday. As anticipated, Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, released his report on the FBI’s decision to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, in 2016. As anticipated, Horowitz found that the probe was justified, but criticized some of its steps; that propelled the right-wing mediasphere’s “Russia hoax” grievance mill, despite the central thesis having been debunked. Also yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee held its latest hearing on impeachment. Today, Democrats are expected to unveil the two articles that they’ll file against the president, alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
  • In October, Shep Smith quit Fox News. Network bosses filled his 3pm Eastern daily slot on a rotation basis; yesterday, they announced that Bill Hemmer, who currently cohosts America’s Newsroom in the mornings, will be Smith’s permanent replacement. Hemmer, CNN’s Stelter writes, is “significantly less confrontational” than Smith. “His general approach is to ask questions and accept the response he receives.”
  • Last week, after the Times and ProPublica reported on McKinsey’s role in implementing Trump’s immigration agenda, pressure mounted on Pete Buttigieg to disclose his past work for the firm. Buttigieg said McKinsey would have to release him from nondisclosure obligations first; yesterday, it agreed to do so. Following pressure from Elizabeth Warren, Buttigieg will also open his fundraisers to the press, and reveal who his top bundlers are.
  • Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center obtained old emails that Stephen Miller, now a senior aide to Trump, sent to Breitbart; the cache cast light on Miller’s influence with the site, and white-nationalist literature’s influence on him. Yesterday, 27 US senators, led by Kamala Harris and five Democratic presidential candidates, wrote the White House demanding that Miller be fired. HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias has more.
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood objecting to the portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, a reporter who died in 2001, in their new film Richard Jewell, about a man wrongly suspected of bombing the 1996 Olympics. In the film, Scruggs sleeps with an FBI agent to get information; the paper said there’s no evidence for this, and demanded that Warner Bros. note that in the film. Variety’s Brent Lang has more.
  • Three days out from British elections, a reporter tried to show Boris Johnson, the Conservative prime minister, an image of a sick child sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded hospital; Johnson took the reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket. Later, Conservative sources told reporters that an opposition activist punched an aide during a visit to the hospital. The story got out—followed by a video that showed it wasn’t true.
  • The New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa profiles Konstantin Ernst, a “discerning auteur” who became “Putin’s unofficial minister of propaganda” as head of a top state TV network. Ernst is “one of the most powerful men in Russia, with the ability to set the visual style for the country’s political life—at least the part its rulers wish to transmit to the public.”
  • And The Outline listed the worst takes of the 2010s. David Brooks, John Derbyshire, Anna Breslaw, Megan McArdle, Matt Yglesias, Jacob Brogan, Kevin Williamson, Jonathan Chait, Virginia Heffernan, Jason Whitlock, Anthony Lane, Bret Stephens, and, erm, The Outline’s Jeremy Gordon all feature.

ICYMI: A student journalist asked her school for records of harassment complaints against teachers. She ended up uncovering a big story.

Posted: December 10, 2019, 12:48 pm

Worried about post-trauma disorders, fact-checkers in India set guidelines for self-care

Working with traumatic imagery is a daily routine for fact-checkers in India. A video showing a naked young couple being beaten up in the street went viral this week in India as if proof of how bad Christians are treated in the eastern state of Odisha. Boom, one of the largest fact-checking organizations in India, […]

The post Worried about post-trauma disorders, fact-checkers in India set guidelines for self-care appeared first on Poynter.

Posted: December 10, 2019, 12:45 pm

The Fox News Spin Zone

In the aftermath of August’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, right-wing politicians placed the blame not on guns, but on mental illness and video games. Yet research by the American Psychiatric Association refutes such claims, and video games have never been tied to violent crime in any scientific study. A CJR review found […]
Posted: December 10, 2019, 11:50 am

Men and white people believe the news is less reliable now than it was in the past. Women and people of color think it’s gotten more reliable.

Different groups of Americans perceive news very differently: It depends on your race, gender, age, education level, and political affiliation, according to a new RAND survey of 2,543 Americans ages 21 and older. The research is part of RAND’s ongoing “Truth Decay” research. There’s plenty here that won’t be surprising to people who’ve followed research...
Posted: December 10, 2019, 5:01 am

Watch: Prepping the press on disinformation efforts in 2020

Next year’s presidential election will challenge journalists, technology platforms, and researchers with an unprecedented wave of disinformation. Is the press prepared? What is the role of foreign intervention in the new wave of disinformation? Are the measures platforms and newsrooms are taking adequate? What is current research telling us about the threats journalists and the […]
Posted: December 9, 2019, 4:20 pm

The IFCN announces updates to its Code of Principles

An updated version of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)’s 2016 Code of Principles has been approved by an overwhelming majority of IFCN’s signatories and will be introduced worldwide in March 2020. The IFCN’s senior adviser, Peter Cunliffe-Jones, announced the changes during the APAC Trusted Media Summit, an event co-organized by the IFCN, First Draft and […]

The post The IFCN announces updates to its Code of Principles appeared first on Poynter.

Posted: December 9, 2019, 4:00 pm

Want to start your own local online news outlet? With a new staff and a $1 million grant, LION Publishers wants to do more to help

After leaving her job as the managing editor of a newspaper owned by Digital First Media “due to differences with this company’s management” last year, Kara Meyberg Guzman wasn’t sure what to do next. After a few conversations with a former colleague at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, they decided to launch a local news podcast...
Posted: December 9, 2019, 3:39 pm

Mumbrella tried to copy its successful business model from Australia to Asia — here’s why it didn’t work

Back in 2013, the Australian trade publication Mumbrella launched an expansion into the giant continent to its north to cover Asian media and marketing. Today, it announced that it didn’t work — it’s shutting down its operation in Singapore in a few days — and offered an admirably frank explanation of the various failed strategies that...
Posted: December 9, 2019, 3:30 pm

How Fiction Can Defeat Fake News

A specter is haunting the writing of fiction—the specter of fake news. I fear that my abilities as a novelist are being challenged by those who manufacture lies on social media. There is fiction and then there is fiction—falsities that lead to lynchings and riots. Both rely on storytelling, but that’s like saying soil is used […]
Posted: December 9, 2019, 2:00 pm

Recurring narratives and characters link the Clinton and Trump impeachments

Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, comparisons to Richard Nixon and Watergate have proliferated in our media. Trump’s firings of James Comey and Jeff Sessions were “a slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre”; multiple of his officials were, or could have been, John Dean. In recent weeks, as the House has marched inexorably toward Trump’s impeachment, a different historical comparison—to Bill Clinton—has been widely aired, too, including in an interview with Clinton on CNN last month. We’ve heard that Trump is taking a page from Clinton’s impeachment playbook—travel and photo ops designed to show his “relentless” focus “on doing the business of the American people”—and that actually, he’s not doing that at all. Late last week, Politico’s John F. Harris, who covered the Clinton impeachment, wrote that such comparisons have had things somewhat backwards. “People for the most part misremember that time,” Harris wrote, of the ‘90s. “The mythology that Clinton was a disciplined compartmentalizer… has an element of truth. But it has an equal or greater element of fiction. Impeachment consumed a year of his public and private life, and by all evidence it is doing the same to Trump.”

Beyond the presidential comparisons, a cast of recurring characters links the late ’90s and now. In recent days, some of them have come to the fore. Last Wednesday, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee called Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, as their witness at a hearing focused on the constitutional grounds for impeachment. In 1998, Turley had testified in favor of impeaching Clinton; not doing so, he feared, would “expand the space for executive conduct.” Last week, he expressed his opposition to the impeachment of Trump, noting his concern about “lowering impeachment standards.” Turley stressed that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine were not “perfect”; still, members of the media seized on his U-turn. CNN’s John Avlon called Turley’s recent remarks “an amazing impeachment flip-flop.” Writing for The Nation, Elie Mystal called Turley a “shameless hack” who had “beclowned himself.”

ICYMI: The Rise and Fall of Facts

Some of the recurring characters can be found in Congress. In recent days, discrepancies in their records have been flagged, too. Late last week, Pelosi objected to a question, from Sinclair’s James Rosen, as to whether she was impeaching Trump because she hates him; “As a Catholic, I resent you using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me,” she said. Afterward, a clip of Pelosi saying, in 1998, that Republicans were “paralyzed with hatred” of Clinton did the rounds online, and on Fox News. (Asked to comment, Newt Gingrich, who was speaker back then, said Pelosi was part “of the left’s effort to rewrite history.”) It wasn’t just right-wing media that was at it. On the Sunday shows yesterday, Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of House Judiciary, twice faced questions—from CNN’s Dana Bash and NBC’s Chuck Todd—about his remarks, also in 1998, on the perils of pursuing impeachment without bipartisan support. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos raised similar Clinton-era comments by Zoe Lofgren, another Democratic member of House Judiciary. “What I should have said… was first, you need a high crime and misdemeanor,” Lofgren replied. “Lying about sex is not an abuse of presidential power.”

Politicians’ past statements are fair game—raising them is often instructive. The same is true of history more broadly. Still, when citing the past, context is key. References to the proceedings against Clinton (and Nixon) should emphasize, not elide, the extreme differences we face in Trump’s case. (Points about bipartisanship, in particular, should note the warping effect of our present information hellscape; as CNN’s Brian Stelter put it yesterday, in the 1990s, “the internet was barely a powerful force yet,” but is now “an extension of our brains and bodies.”) We should emphasize, too, that impeachment is a flexible measure. The past can elucidate ways forward, but it can also be used to muddy them, as has been the case with several Republican arguments alleging that Trump’s process rights are being abused.

Most simply, the facts we’re dealing with here are very different, too. In his Politico piece, Harris flipped the script on the Trump-emulates-Clinton narrative by imagining if Clinton had emulated Trump: “Imagine the White House releasing a transcript… of his erotically charged morning phone calls with Monica Lewinsky. Or picture Clinton striding to the South Lawn microphones to say that, yes, indeed, he had a sexual relationship with the former intern, that it was his right as commander in chief to have affairs, and that their furtive West Wing liaisons had been ‘perfect.’” Such “parlor games,” Harris wrote, have a serious point: “Whatever similarities exist between Trump and Clinton, they are minor compared to the differences in American political culture.”

Below, more on impeachment:

  • Department of both sides: Yesterday, Clinton comparisons featured in a New York Times piece stating that impeachment has devolved into a “partisan brawl.” That framing got some flak on Twitter. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, said he read the piece as a “confession” from the Times: “We’re out of ideas. ‘Both sides’ and ‘so divided’ is all we got.”
  • Investigating the investigators: The House Judiciary Committee will hold its second public impeachment hearing today, to take evidence from lawyers for the Democrats and the Republicans. Also today, Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, is expected to publish his report on the circumstances of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia in 2016. According to the Post, Horowitz will criticize certain FBI officials, but assert that the bureau had adequate cause to open its Russia probe. Attorney General William Barr is reportedly unhappy with that finding.
  • “We’ve seen enough”: Over the weekend, the editorial boards of the Boston Globe and the LA Times both called for Trump to be impeached. Yesterday, Fox cited the editorials as evidence of media bias, running the chyron: “MEDIA DECLARES TRUMP SHOULD BE IMPEACHED.” CNN’s Stelter has more.
  • Slow Burn: If you have time (and haven’t listened already), Slate’s Slow Burn podcast walked through the Nixon and Clinton scandals in finegrain detail, and is worth a listen. The parallels—and differences—with the Trump era are obvious.


Other notable stories:

ICYMI: Has our investment in debunking worked?

Posted: December 9, 2019, 12:58 pm

Chuck Todd reacts to Ted Cruz’s Ukraine claims » Bloomberg’s editorial mandate stands » Who will be Time’s Person of the Year?

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. A picture’s worth a thousand words Another weekend. Another “Meet the Press” exchange between moderator Chuck Todd and a guest who believes Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election. This time, it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who had a testy exchange […]

The post Chuck Todd reacts to Ted Cruz’s Ukraine claims » Bloomberg’s editorial mandate stands » Who will be Time’s Person of the Year? appeared first on Poynter.

Posted: December 9, 2019, 12:31 pm

Rumor Has It

In 2004, Lindsay Lohan released her debut single, “Rumors.” The song’s music video opens in a parking garage where the paparazzi are surrounding Fake Lindsay’s car, while the Real Lindsay, on the other side of a concrete divide, gets into a different car. Smirking, Real Lindsay vanishes into the night, only to reappear alone in […]
Posted: December 9, 2019, 11:50 am

Podcast: When facts can’t help

Democracy is reliant on facts, but fact-checking no longer seem to dispel misleading information. As a prelude to next week’s Disinfo 2020: Prepping the Press conference, Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of CJR, discusses disinformation and the failings of the fact-checking industry with Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at […]
Posted: December 6, 2019, 7:55 pm

Newsonomics: This is how the 5 biggest newspaper chains could become 2 — and it all comes down to one day, June 30, 2020

Is an end in sight? The first half of 2020 “will be the final dance of the newspaper industry,” one of my savviest financial sources told me Thursday — someone who’s been right on the money for years. “Everything will get resolved in the first half of 2020.” By “everything,” he means the consolidation of ownership...
Posted: December 6, 2019, 7:08 pm

Disinfo Redux

Disinformation is not new. Wherever there has been power, there has been a struggle for narrative control. The stakes are high: when successful, political actors can construct an information system that serves their ends—inventing facts or rejecting them, to produce an experience of the world. The images that follow capture efforts to gain and regain control […]
Posted: December 6, 2019, 4:50 pm

In 2020, podcasts will be able to win Pulitzers (oh, and radio too)

Podcasters rejoice: There will be a Pulitzer Prize for Audio Reporting in 2020, the Pulitzer board announced Thursday. The prize will be “for a distinguished example of audio journalism that serves the public interest, characterized by revelatory reporting and illuminating storytelling,” and “U.S. newspapers, magazines, wire services and online news sites that publish regularly,” as...
Posted: December 6, 2019, 2:51 pm

News outlets are getting (somewhat) better at handling Trump’s false statements, a study shows

“Twitter feeds of major news outlets are increasingly disputing Trump’s misinformation.” That’s the finding of a new study from progressive nonprofit Media Matters, which had found earlier this year that major news outlets’ Twitter accounts were amplifying Trump’s false claims about an average of 19 times a day — quoting them without context, for instance....
Posted: December 6, 2019, 1:49 pm

Documentary groups challenge Trump’s social media vetting in court

In 2015, the Obama administration assembled an immigration task force to assess the effectiveness, as a national security measure, of screening visa applicants’ social media accounts. In February 2017, shortly after Donald Trump took office, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general declared that there was no evidence the policy worked. Yet a month later, Trump directed his immigration agencies to implement the “extreme vetting” of visa applicants that he had promised on the campaign trail. Following the president’s order, the State Department proposed an aggressive expansion of the social media vetting policy. It took effect in May of this year. Previously, only about 65,000 visa applicants per year—those who had spent time in areas controlled by terrorist groups, for example—were asked to provide information about their social accounts. Now 14.7 million people per year—almost everyone who applies for a visa—must submit any handle they’ve used in the past five years.

Yesterday, Doc Society and the International Documentary Association, two nonprofit documentary film organizations, challenged the vetting policy in federal court. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University are representing them. The lawsuit argues that social media vetting has already had a chilling effect on the groups’ foreign collaborators. In particular, filmmakers and activists from countries with limited freedom of expression are censoring themselves on social media and declining to apply for US visas they otherwise would have sought—fearing that their applications may be declined and that details of pseudonymous accounts might be shared with their home governments.

ICYMI: Has our investment in debunking worked?

The suit challenges social media vetting on two grounds. The first argues that the State Department lacks the authority to impose such requirements. The second claims that they are unconstitutional because they “deter expressive and associational activity and are not sufficiently tailored to any legitimate government interest.” Foreigners living abroad typically lack constitutional rights, but the lawsuit notes that the vetting policy applies to individuals who already have close ties to the US—family members, educational experience, existing jobs. Plus, the documentary groups say, the policy violates their rights of speech and association. They rely on social media to communicate with associates overseas.

The suit offers several examples of people already affected by social media vetting, including those who rely on pseudonymous accounts to conduct research. “We regularly work with filmmakers for whom the ability to maintain anonymity online can be a matter of life and death,” Jess Search, Doc Society’s chief executive, said in a press release. “We believe the registration requirement is a deeply troubling and oppressive development, forcing filmmakers to choose between free online expression and their own security.” Twitter also made a statement in support of the lawsuit, saying that social media vetting “has a chilling effect.”

This isn’t the first time reporters have been caught in the Trump administration’s immigration dragnet. Last year, CJR’s Amanda Darrach reported that the approval process for journalists seeking US visas has gotten tougher—they have faced absurdly fine-grain questions about their work and open hostility at consulates, including, in at least one case, ridicule for not having a Pulitzer or Nobel prize. This year, journalists working at the border between the US and Mexico said immigration officials harassed them using tactics that included detention, the confiscation of their reporting materials, and the flagging of their passports. In March, an NBC affiliate in San Diego obtained evidence that the US government maintained a secret database to monitor journalists, most of whom were US citizens, at work reporting on migrants in Mexico. These practices are also now subject to a lawsuit, filed last month by five journalists and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The impact of such policies will outlast the Trump administration: the vetting lawsuit, for instance, notes that the government will be able to keep the social media details it collects in perpetuity. Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute, argued yesterday that asking people for their handles is “the linchpin of a far-reaching and unconstitutional surveillance regime.”

Below, more on immigration, social media, and free expression:

  • The bigger picture: The risks of repressive governments getting their hands on the secret accounts of dissidents are obvious. In yesterday’s newsletter, CJR’s Mathew Ingram recapped a report from Article 19, a UK-based human rights charity; it found that freedom of expression globally has reached a ten-year low, in part due to “digital authoritarianism.”
  • Facial recognition: Recently, the Department of Homeland Security proposed making facial-recognition scans mandatory for everyone entering and leaving the US, including US citizens. Yesterday, following criticism from groups including the ACLU, DHS did a U-turn, meaning citizens will continue to be able to opt out of facial recognition.
  • Another social media lawsuit: Last year, I reported on another Knight Institute lawsuit; this one sought to forbid Trump from blocking other users on Twitter, which Knight claimed violated those users’ First Amendment rights. A district court sided with Knight; in July, a federal appeals court affirmed its ruling. The administration is appealing again.


Some news from the home front:
On Tuesday, December 10, CJR and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism are hosting a daylong conference at Columbia Journalism School to launch our new issue of the magazine, on disinformation, and to explore the challenges the press will face heading into 2020. Speakers will include Whitney Phillips, Masha Gessen, Emily Bell, Hayes Brown, and Jelani Cobb; for the keynote, Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher, will speak with Carole Cadwalladr, who helped break open the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Details on how to attend are here. The event will also be livestreamed via cjr.org from 9am Eastern on Tuesday.


Other notable stories:

ICYMI: What would social media look like if it served the public interest?

Posted: December 6, 2019, 12:59 pm

Gannett layoffs have begun » A new category in the Pulitzers » Must-read pieces include an Alex Jones employee’s mea culpa and a terrible jailhouse deal

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. The axe is starting to fall at Gannett Ugh. We knew this was coming. The post Gannett-GateHouse merger purge has begun. A heavy round of layoffs began on Thursday. Sadly, this might only be the beginning. Previously, Poynter media business […]

The post Gannett layoffs have begun » A new category in the Pulitzers » Must-read pieces include an Alex Jones employee’s mea culpa and a terrible jailhouse deal appeared first on Poynter.

Posted: December 6, 2019, 12:47 pm

U.S. fact-checkers gear up for 2020 campaign with 50 active platforms

With the U.S. election now less than a year away, at least four dozen American fact-checking projects plan to keep tabs on claims by candidates and their supporters – and a majority of those fact-checkers won’t be focused on the presidential campaign. The 50 active U.S. fact-checking projects are included in the latest Duke Reporters’ […]

The post U.S. fact-checkers gear up for 2020 campaign with 50 active platforms appeared first on Poynter.

Posted: December 6, 2019, 12:45 pm

The Newseum is closing this month. Here’s the plan for what’s inside.

The Newseum’s closure is an opportunity, not a death sentence, said its leader. “I have great optimism that we’ll have an exciting new footprint somewhere, maybe footprints,” executive director Carrie Christoffersen told Poynter in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ll have to see what the future really brings and what we settle on as our next […]

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Posted: December 5, 2019, 5:12 pm

Drawing on ten years of expertise, the Texas Tribune wants to coach you on its money-making lessons

It’s always bigger in Texas. The Texas Tribune is introducing a training hub — replete with DIY videos, rounds of cohorts, and maybe even a road trip — to help spread the wisdom and minimize the mistakes the Tribune has learned in its ten years and $56 million-plus raised. Longtime chief product officer Rodney Gibbs...
Posted: December 5, 2019, 2:47 pm

These how-to podcast videos are designed to help beginners — and they come in six languages

Last month, public media organization PRX released a series of 10 instructional videos, called Podcasting 101. We produced the videos alongside Google Podcasts as part of the Google Podcasts creator program, and they’re intended to train and support early stage podcasters around the world. A core value underscored in PRX’s approach to training podcasters is […]

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Posted: December 5, 2019, 1:21 pm

Why liberal satire and conservative outrage are both responses to mainstream media — but with very different powers

1996 was a banner year for America’s polarized media ecosystem. In October, a new 24-hour news channel was introduced to American audiences. “I figure there are 18 shows for freaks,” the former Republican strategist and Rush Limbaugh producer Roger Ailes told the Associated Press in 1995. “If there’s one network for normal people it’ll balance...
Posted: December 5, 2019, 12:00 pm

Looking for the future of data journalism awards? Here are a few communities coming together after GEN’s closure

If you’re seeking a community around data journalism, fear not: Several are bubbling up in the wake of the Global Editors Network’s closure, which was announced a month ago. GEN had maintained the Data Journalism Awards ceremony and Slack for the past several years. This year, the DJAs brought in 607 project contenders (a third...
Posted: December 4, 2019, 8:15 pm

$400 a year too steep for you? The Information will now sell mere mortals an app for $30 a year

Since The Information launched six years ago today, its primary target audience has been a high-end tech industry crowd that can afford its $400/year (and up) price tag. And it’s done so successfully: It can now count “tens of thousands” of subscribers across 84 countries, and its editorial staff has expanded to 25 (from 6...
Posted: December 4, 2019, 5:36 pm

The most important traffic driver for news publishers worldwide? Still Google

Audiences paying for print and digital news worldwide grew very slightly in 2019, according to WAN-IFRA’s recently released 2019 World Press Trends report, with — no surprise here — that growth coming almost entirely from digital. Nonetheless, print in newspapers still dominates, accounting for 85 percent of their revenue worldwide (down from 89 percent last...
Posted: December 4, 2019, 12:19 pm

Seeking a new international audience, The Washington Post launches its first Spanish-language news podcast

The Washington Post published the first episode of its new Spanish-language podcast today, its latest effort to expand its international audience and cross over into another language. Today’s news? Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum against Brazil and Argentina — plus an interview with former Bolivian president Evo Morales, who fled to Mexico after...
Posted: December 3, 2019, 9:12 pm

Can there be a third way to discover new podcasts, somewhere between word-of-mouth and soulless algorithms?

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 237, dated December 3, 2019. Peaky platforms. Two associated things, in case they’re the kind of bananas that interests you: (1) Apple has published a “Best Listens of 2019” page for the Apple Podcast platform, which contains both picks by the in-house editors who...
Posted: December 3, 2019, 3:32 pm

Inspired by The Daily, dozens of daily news podcasts are punching above their weight worldwide

More than 15 years after the term was first coined, podcasting has become one of the hottest topics in media. Our Reuters Institute Digital News Report shows that podcasting is now a worldwide phenomenon: Across 38 countries surveyed, 36 percent said they had listened to a podcast at least once a month, and about 15...
Posted: December 3, 2019, 1:56 pm

An old FCC rule is being used to justify shrinking the Dayton “Daily” News to three days a week

This surfaced over the Thanksgiving break here in the United States, but I don’t want to let it pass without noticing: To increase the quality of local journalism in Ohio, the Federal Communications Commission is requiring three newspapers to stop printing daily. No, really. The ruling came down on November 22, but it appears no...
Posted: December 2, 2019, 6:52 pm

“Our national discussions…need to also consider whether we’re using the right business model to build the contemporary internet”

Remember when news cycles didn’t refresh every hour? Or when digital ads weren’t tracking your every move online? Or when nation-states weren’t weaponizing the unregulated flow of information? Ethan Zuckerman of the MIT Center for Civic Media retraces those days, when the radio emerged as a publicly funded public service, and reimagines how the internet...
Posted: December 2, 2019, 6:17 pm

Baltimore Beat is rebuilding its community ties as an alt-weekly after corporate cut-downs

After a day of teaching high school students about journalism and simulating a “Three campers are missing! How do you report on it?” experience for them, a question one student asked left Baltimore journalist Lisa Snowden-McCray a little flabbergasted. “We sort out what information is important. We put together a rough story. We relearn how...
Posted: December 2, 2019, 3:25 pm

In South Korea, independent newsroom Newstapa has seen what happens when it investigates its donors’ favorite politicians

The South Korean nonprofit investigative newsroom Newstapa was born from frustration with the country’s media landscape in 2012. Its founders were a group of journalists who had been either dismissed or marginalized in their newsrooms for demanding editorial independence. Tapa means “defying conventions” in Korean; think of “Newstapa” as “breaking away from conventional news.” Newstapa...
Posted: December 2, 2019, 2:24 pm

Political hashtags like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter make some people doubt the stories they’re attached to

Whether you’re a conservative or a liberal, you’ve most likely come across a political hashtag in an article, a tweet, or a personal story shared on Facebook. Hashtags are functional tags widely used in search engines and social networking services that allow people to search for content grouped under a word or phrase, denoted by...
Posted: November 26, 2019, 6:00 pm

“Today, there’s a fear of viral content”: Jonah Peretti talks about BuzzFeed at 13

As the 2010s come to a close, New York is publishing “long talks with people who helped shape the decade — and were shaped by it.” Among them (alongside Margaret Atwood, Kim Kardashian, and Ta-Nehisi Coates) is BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti. Max Read’s full interview with him is here. Some excerpts: In the early days of...
Posted: November 26, 2019, 4:27 pm

Are host-read podcast ads too old-school to survive? This new platform wants to give them post-programmatic life

Welcome to Hot Pod, a newsletter about podcasts. This is issue 236, dated November 16, 2019. Scaling the host-read ad. At times, the discourse around the future of podcast advertising can feel like it’s presenting a coin flip between two maximal outcomes. On one side, you have a view towards the preservation of the historical...
Posted: November 26, 2019, 4:19 pm

Amid corporate uncertainty, McClatchy is digging into community-funded reporting labs

McClatchy — now the country’s second-largest local newspaper company, after the merger of Gannett and GateHouse closed last week — is trying to diversify its revenue with a focus on investing in its journalism as it teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. Ken Doctor’s piece here last week reviewing McClatchy’s options and examining how the...
Posted: November 25, 2019, 4:00 pm

A new Report for America partnership with the AP will fill statehouse reporting gaps in 13 states

The Associated Press will add a statehouse reporter in 13 states as part of a new partnership with Report for America, the organizations announced Monday. “Government accountability is a huge issue and editors are acutely aware of how the powers that be can run amok in a lot of places where there isn’t good coverage,...
Posted: November 25, 2019, 3:00 pm

The EU doesn’t have a sense of its disinformation problem — this report suggests the policy changes it can make

For European media to thrive in an increasingly confusing environment, it needs three things: freedom, funding, and help finding a future. In that order. That’s the argument of a new report out today from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and addressed to the European Commission. (A new Commission president, Ursula von der...
Posted: November 25, 2019, 12:25 pm

Damaged newspapers, damaged civic life: How the gutting of local newsrooms has led to a less-informed public

Local news is important. Local newspapers are important, regardless of whether or not you’ve read a word on a dead tree in the past year. As I put it in a piece back in April: What do strong local newspapers do? Well, past research has shown they increase voter turnout, reduce government corruption, make cities...
Posted: November 22, 2019, 5:47 pm