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Jelani Cobb on the killing of Daunte Wright, the Derek Chauvin trial, and how to tell the whole story
On Wednesday, Kim Godwin, an executive at CBS News, was named as the next president of ABC News, a rival network. She will replace James Goldston, and be the first Black woman to run a broadcast TV news division. As word of Godwin’s move went around, we also learned that Susan Zirinsky, her boss at CBS, would be stepping down. Zirinsky plans to stay at CBS in a production role, but she will be replaced atop the news division by two new hires—Neeraj Khemlani, currently an executive at Hearst Newspapers, and Wendy McMahon, of ABC News. Between them, as the result of an internal restructuring, the two will oversee both news programming and local CBS TV stations. McMahon, who oversaw ABC’s local stations, was reported to have been in contention for the president job there; she and Godwin are now swapping companies. And McMahon was not the only high-profile leader to leave ABC News yesterday: Michael Corn, the senior executive producer of Good Morning America, is also on the way out. Variety described his departure as “abrupt.”
The carousel may have spun especially fast at CBS and ABC this week, but they weren’t outliers in the world of media. In recent months, there has been lots of turnover in journalism’s top jobs. It started in earnest late last year: in December, Norm Pearlstine stepped back as executive editor of the LA Times and into an advisory role, and MSNBC named Rashida Jones as its new president, making her the first Black woman to lead a cable-news network. The same month, Nicholas Thompson left Wired, where he was editor in chief, to become CEO of The Atlantic; he has since been succeeded at Wired (in a slightly redefined role) by Gideon Lichfield, the former top editor at MIT Technology Review.
Then, early this year, Vox named Swati Sharma, managing editor at The Atlantic, as its next editor in chief, replacing Lauren Williams, who left to launch Capital B, a nonprofit outlet aimed at Black audiences. After more than a year without an editor in chief, and following its turbulent takeover by BuzzFeed, HuffPost appointed Danielle Belton, the top editor at The Root, to the position; on Wednesday, The Root replaced Belton with Vanessa De Luca, the former editor in chief of ZORA, a Medium publication that offered all of its editorial staffers a buyout last month. John Simons, a health and science editor at the Wall Street Journal, joined Time as executive editor; David Cho, business editor at the Washington Post, will become editor in chief of Barron’s. The Paris Review named Emily Stokes, formerly of The New Yorker, as its editor; The New Republic appointed Michael Tomasky, of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, atop its masthead. After Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor in chief of Teen Vogue, left for New York’s The Cut, Condé Nast planned to replace her with Alexi McCammond, a politics reporter at Axios—but the hire was swiftly reversed amid concerns over her offensive past tweets and general suitability for the job; last week, Teen Vogue promoted Danielle Kwarteng, its entertainment and culture director, to executive editor. This week, Reuters promoted Alessandra Galloni, a global managing editor, to editor in chief, replacing Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring.
Several major outlets still have leadership vacancies. Rolling Stone has yet to name a permanent replacement for Jason Fine, who stepped down as editor and took a new role at the company in February. The LA Times is still without an executive editor; Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper’s owner, said recently that the interview process is at an “advanced” stage, and that he has met with most of the candidates. Marty Baron, the editor of the Washington Post, retired at the end of February; it’s unclear exactly how close the paper is to naming a permanent successor, though the names in the frame are said to include a pair of senior editors at the New York Times, Carolyn Ryan and Marc Lacey (who Feven Merid recently profiled for CJR). The Chicago Sun-Times has been without an executive editor since Chris Fusco left last year. Per Poynter, three outlets in Texas are also on the lookout: the Houston Chronicle, where Steve Riley is retiring as executive editor (but staying on for now); the Dallas Morning News, whose executive editor, Mike Wilson, left and became a sports editor at the New York Times; and the Texas Tribune, where Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the editorial director, and Millie Tran, the chief product officer, are stepping down after little more than a year in their respective posts.
Both Ishmael and Tran cited burnout for their decisions; Baron and Wilson also said that their jobs had left them exhausted. “Running a newspaper today is like swimming across a hot fudge river: You gorge yourself on the decadent pleasure of it, but you have to kick like hell to get to the other side,” Wilson wrote, announcing his exit from the Morning News. “So I’m full, and I’m tired.” Yesterday, Megan Greenwell, the editor of Wired’s website, announced that she is leaving her job next week, and said that, like Ishmael and Tran, “I am totally drained.” Scott Rosenfield, Wired’s site director, is also leaving.
There are many reasons for the recent turnover, from the general hellish intensity of the news cycle, to specifically personal factors, to the ongoing industry reckoning with racism and other institutional faults. The upheaval at CBS alone demonstrates this range: Zirinsky had reportedly grown tired of the bureaucratic and managerial demands of her position atop CBS News (according to Page Six, during a recent budget meeting, Zirinsky wrote “I hate my job” on a piece of paper and held it above her head); Peter Dunn, who previously oversaw local CBS stations, was ousted following an LA Times investigation into claims of rampant racism and misogyny on his watch. It’s hard not to see that the collective masthead changes reflect the media industry at a turning point. New editors must juggle the pressures of a treacherous business climate for news; demands, among many staffers and audiences, for greater diversity and equity; and the need for visionary leadership. A source recently told Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo that the Post is looking for a “unicorn”: “an editor of Marty Baron’s stature, but one who has a passport with many more stamps and who is much more in touch with the journalists of tomorrow.” The Post isn’t the only major outlet in need of such a figure.
Below, more on the news business:
- Another notable appointment: Yesterday, Vox announced that Jamil Smith, formerly a senior writer at Rolling Stone, is joining the site as a senior correspondent. According to a press release, Smith will work across Vox’s website, podcast arm, and video department to “interrogate the biggest problems society faces across politics, race, and culture and bring to light new solutions for creating a more just and equitable society.”
- A notable paywall: Reuters isn’t just getting a new editor in chief; it is also instituting a paywall for its website, which is currently free to read, as well as a redesign aimed at “professional” audiences. “After registration and a free preview period, a subscription to Reuters.com will cost $34.99 a month, the same as Bloomberg’s digital subscription,” Katie Robertson, of the Times, reports. Josh London, chief marketing officer at Reuters, said that the website is undertaking its “largest digital transformation” in a decade.
- Substack, I: The newsletter platform Substack will pay thirty journalists one-year stipends to cover local news, Recode’s Peter Kafka reports. The plan is similar to a controversial set of advances that Substack launched to lure high-profile national-level writers, and stems, its founders told Kafka, from “encouraging signs” that the Substack model is already attracting local reporters. (ICYMI, Clio Chang profiled Substack for CJR’s recent magazine on a moment of transition for the press.)
- Substack, II: Recently, Chea Waters Evans quit as editor of the Charlotte News, in Vermont, after clashing with the publisher. Four prominent, locally-based members of the paper’s board—including Adam Davidson, formerly of the New Yorker, and Christina Asquith, founder of the Fuller Project—quit, too, in solidarity. Now they are launching the Charlotte Bridge, a nonprofit outlet, with Evans as editor, that will initially live on Substack. James Finn, of VTDigger, has more details.
- Meanwhile, in the UK: Jess Brammar, the editor in chief of HuffPost’s UK edition, announced yesterday that she will leave the site as BuzzFeed, its new owner, plans to implement sweeping cuts to her team. “My role is going along with about half the team,” she wrote on Twitter. “I was offered a new reduced editor role, running a Huffpost UK without a newsdesk, as part of Buzzfeed’s plan to ‘fast track its path to profitability.’ But news is at the heart of what Huffpost was for me. So I am bowing out.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, police in Chicago released body-camera and other footage showing the moment, last month, when Eric Stillman, a police officer, shot and killed Adam Toledo, a thirteen-year-old boy. At the time, the police said that there had been an “armed confrontation,” but the footage appears to show Toledo discarding a gun and turning toward Stillman with his hands raised. The footage renewed a debate, in media circles, around the trustworthiness of police narratives. Also yesterday, Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop charged with murdering George Floyd last year, declined to testify at his trial; his defense rested, and closing arguments will begin on Monday. And, following a backlash, Simon & Schuster axed plans to distribute a book by one of the officers who shot Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, last year.
- Early this morning, police in Indianapolis confirmed that a shooter killed at least eight people at a FedEx facility. Others sustained injuries. The story is still developing; the Indianapolis Star has the latest. The attack follows recent mass shootings in Atlanta; Boulder, Colorado; and Rock Hill, South Carolina, amid a broader rise in gun violence. Recently, CJR and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma convened a virtual summit called “The Inevitable News,” with the goal of improving coverage of guns and shootings. Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher, discussed the effort on WNYC.
- The Post’s Jeremy Barr reports on the harassment and threats that a number of “lesser-known media figures” have faced after Tucker Carlson criticized them on his Fox News show as “symbols of liberalism run amok.” Carlson’s targets have included Taylor Lorenz, of the New York Times; Virginia Heffernan, of the LA Times; and Brandy Zadrozny, who covers extremism for NBC. After Carlson attacked Zadrozny, Barr writes, she received threats that were “so violent and so specific” that she needed security for two weeks.
- Yesterday, seventy or so members of the Ziff Davis Creators Guild—which represents staffers at Mashable, PCMag, and Ask Men—went on strike. The guild wrote on Twitter that “after over two years of bargaining, management has not worked with us in good faith to secure a fair contract for our members,” and called existing wage proposals “egregious and insulting.” (Management disputes this.) The strike ends this morning.
- Next month, the LA Times will launch The Times, a daily news podcast that will be hosted by Gustavo Arellano, a columnist at the paper, and cover topics including climate, immigration, entertainment, culture, and the Asian diaspora. According to Sara Guaglione, of Digiday, “the LA Times believes that, in a market populated with shows like the New York Times’s The Daily, there’s an opening for a West Coast perspective.”
- A bill aimed at bolstering protections for student journalists in Nebraska has stalled after its supporters failed to overcome a filibuster in the state’s legislature. According to the Associated Press, the bill was introduced following numerous incidents of high-school administrators censoring “controversial or unflattering” articles in student newspapers, and would have weakened the oversight role of administrators.
- Recently, authorities in Russia fined Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a broadcaster funded by the US government, for failing to label itself as a foreign agent. The legal harassment may not end there: now, according to BBC Russia, RFE/RL is offering its staff on the ground a chance to relocate to Ukraine or the Czech Republic, and may also move equipment out of Russia. RFE/RL says it will maintain a presence in Moscow.
- This week, after raiding their apartment, authorities in Belarus arrested Andrzej Pisalnik and Iness Todryk-Pisalnik, ethnic Poles who edit the website of the Union of Poles, in Belarus. The arrests follow a recent crackdown on press freedom in Belarus and, per the Associated Press, come amid “rising tensions between Belarus’s sizeable Polish community and the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko.”
- And a dance troupe in Australia accused the ABC, the country’s public broadcaster, of “deceptive editing” after a clip of the troupe twerking at a military event incorporated the apparently-disapproving facial reactions of senior officials who were not, in fact, watching the routine. The dancers said that the clip, which went viral, “exploited” them, and was “very creepy.” The ABC has since apologized for the way it edited the video.
Block Club Chicago offered two versions of the same breaking news story — with and without a horrifying video
Decades before social media allowed players to control the narrative, the National Basketball Association relied on the press to spread the word of an emerging league and its talented players. In this excerpt from “From Hang Time to Prime Time: Business, Entertainment, and the Birth of the Modern-day NBA” (Atria Books, $27), author Pete Croatto, […]
The post Why the 1980s were a golden age for the NBA’s press corps appeared first on Poynter.
A version of this article was first published on April 6, 2020. It has been frequently updated and reformatted since. It was last updated on April 16, 2021 It’s getting hard to keep track of the bad news about the news right now. But we have to. Here’s our attempt to collect the layoffs, furloughs, […]
The post Here are the newsroom layoffs, furloughs and closures that happened during the coronavirus pandemic appeared first on Poynter.
Figuring out who the heck is running network news this week has turned into a dizzying game of musical chairs. CBS News president Susan Zirinsky is giving up her seat. Her No. 2, Kimberly Godwin, grabbed the big chair at ABC News. That left an opening at CBS News. When the music stopped again on […]
The post CBS News names a new president and it’s, actually, two people appeared first on Poynter.
This story was last updated on April 16, 2021. In many places, it started with a cut in print days. Furloughs. Layoffs. Just to get through the crisis, newsroom leaders told readers. In some places, none of it was enough. Now, small newsrooms around the country, often more than 100 years old, often the only […]
The post The coronavirus has closed more than 70 local newsrooms across America. And counting. appeared first on Poynter.
Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 5,800 Americans who have been fully vaccinated have gotten […]
The post 5,800 fully vaccinated people have gotten breakthrough COVID-19 appeared first on Poynter.
Two major events are unfolding in Minnesota: the trial of a former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, and protests over the recent fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright. Both cases involved white police officers and Black men. Many people around the country say that Wright’s April 11 shooting in Brooklyn Center, Minn., is […]
The post How often do police confuse firearms for stun guns? appeared first on Poynter.
A YouTube video claiming to be a public service announcement from the 1950s has gone viral. The video warns of a virus that will break out by the year 2020. But did experts really predict a 2020 virus more than 60 years ago? Here’s how we fact-checked it. Look for evidence When you come across […]
For years, misinformation about the climate has circulated online. Now, some social media users are claiming that billionaire Bill Gates is planning to spray dust into the atmosphere to “block the sun” as a way to combat global warming. These claims have circulated widely across social media, including YouTube, with some questioning how blocking the […]
The post Claims that Bill Gates is going to ‘block the sun’ lack context appeared first on Poynter.
Some of America’s biggest newsrooms are looking to fill vacancies at the top of their mastheads. As editors announce new career trajectories or retirement plans, the newsrooms they leave must assemble search committees and polish up job descriptions. Some of the bigger searches have set off waves of media reporting as onlookers try to guess […]
Some personal news: We have a new series on layoffs and the people who left news during the pandemic
Three words — “Some personal news” — might slow your scroll on Twitter. Someone is leaving their job. Someone is starting a new job. Someone got laid off. We saw that one a lot last year. We don’t have solid numbers for the people who left the news, voluntarily or involuntarily, during the pandemic. And […]
The post Some personal news: We have a new series on layoffs and the people who left news during the pandemic appeared first on Poynter.
Most — if not all — journalists likely share a commitment to a set of journalistic values, including a belief that those in power should be subject to oversight, that transparency is the right approach to important information, that facts are required to get to the truth, that the less powerful deserve a voice, and that revealing the flaws in society helps us to deal with them. But do consumers share a commitment to these values? A study published on Wednesday by the Media Insight Project, a joint venture of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, suggests that many do not, and that this could help explain why there has been a crisis in trust when it comes to mainstream journalism. The authors say their study shows that uneasiness with these core values of journalism crosses ideological boundaries, and the bottom line is that “when journalists say they are just doing their jobs, the problem is many people harbor doubts about what the job should be.”
Only one of the five core journalism values that in the survey was supported by a majority of those who responded—the idea that facts help get us closer to the truth, which was agreed to by 67 percent of those who replied to the survey. Just 29 percent of respondents agreed that the best way to make society better is to highlight its problems. And only 11 percent of those who took the survey fully supported all five of the journalistic values mentioned above. “Rather than distrust toward the media being tied only to the perception of partisan bias,” the study’s authors say, “the problem at the heart of the media trust crisis may be skepticism about the underlying purpose and mission journalists are trying to fulfill.” The debate over trust in news has seemed intractable, the study says, because it involves “journalists believing they are just doing their jobs and critics seeing clear signs of political leaning and the denials of journalists as proof of dishonesty.”
According to the API’s research, people who put more emphasis on authority and loyalty tend to be more skeptical about fundamental journalism principles. These people put a high value on respect for leaders and groups, and according to the study “they worry that some of the things journalists believe in can be intrusive and get in the way of officials doing their jobs. This group would like to see more stories about what works, not just what is going wrong.” In other words, people in this group tend to see journalistic principles as emphasizing the negative and threatening established order. Only 33 percent of the people in this category believe that the news media in general are trustworthy, the study says, and only about 15 percent think the press cares about them, or that the press is morally upstanding. Interestingly, this group is evenly split between political conservatives and moderates, the study says: half said they are Republicans, 30 percent said Democrats, and the remainder identified themselves as political independents.
So what can journalists and media outlets do? The API study recommends they consider reworking stories in order to broaden their appeal to people who belong to multiple groups — those who prefer order and have respect for leaders, those who feel the powerless deserve a voice, and so on. The authors of the research took some basic news stories and rewrote them to emphasize different aspects of the moral attributes in each group, including reworking the lead sentence and headline to emphasize the values of authority or loyalty to the community. In some cases, the authors also added an additional paragraph to the story that emphasized a different moral angle. No facts were changed. The researchers say this editing made some of the stories that were handled this way more appealing to all types of people, and also increased the feeling that the news story was trustworthy, and balanced.
Thinking about these different categories of readers and their moral beliefs could also help media outlets appeal to their readers for financial support, the API study suggests. “To woo subscribers, the media will need to vary its messaging beyond traditional appeals about journalism being a watchdog,” the authors argue. They tested different kinds of messaging in appealing for support for a local news organization. Those who tend to emphasize care for the powerless were more responsive to messages that emphasized the outlet’s commitment to protecting the vulnerable. Those who said they cared more about authority and loyalty seemed to prefer messaging that stressed the organization’s long-term service to the community. “As publishers continue to explore reader revenue as an important part of their sustainability, understanding these and other nuances across the communities they serve may help their pursuits,” the study says.
Here’s more on news and trust:
- Open mind: “I must confess that my first impulse was to resist these findings. After all, I’ve spent decades with the ideas described above as my lodestar, convinced that journalism serves the public good. And after all, investigative journalism is built on the idea of being society’s watchdog,” writes Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post‘s media columnist, in a piece about the API research. “However, given that trust in the news media has fallen from about 70 percent in the early 1970s to about 40 percent now, according to Gallup — it seems worth viewing this report with an open mind.”
- Weak trust: A 2017 study from the API that looked at trust in the media found that many Americans were skeptical of the news media in general, but trusted the news sources that they relied on for information about events. “Americans appear to consider the news media as a general category that includes both good and bad actors, and their confidence in the media in general is shrinking,” the study said, but people said they could still find news sources that they thought were “accurate, fair, moral, transparent about mistakes, and trustworthy.” Americans under 40 tended to trust the media far less than older readers.
- Partisan divide: For its 2020 American Views survey, Gallup and the Knight Foundation polled more than 20,000 US adults and found “continued pessimism and further partisan entrenchment about how the news media delivers on its democratic mandate for factual, trustworthy information,” according to the study. Many Americans, it reported, “feel the media’s critical roles of informing and holding those in power accountable are compromised by increasing bias. As such, Americans have not only lost confidence in the ideal of an objective media, they believe news organizations actively support the partisan divide.”
Other notable stories:
- Three digital media veterans are launching a new paid subscription media company funded by 40 North Media and private equity giant TPG Growth, according to a report from Axios. The co-founders are Joe Purzycki, co-founder of the podcast company Luminary, Jon Kelly, a former New York Times editor and founder of Vanity Fair’s “The Hive,” and longtime digital media executive and early Athletic employee Max Tcheyan. The company, known as Heat Media, plans to give journalists the technology and marketing support needed to help them build their audiences, and let them share in the subscription revenue.
- Hong Kong media mogul and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai has told the staff of his publication, Apple Daily, to “stand tall” in a letter from prison, days before being sentenced in two of several cases against him. He is in jail on remand after prosecutors successfully appealed against a court decision to grant him bail on national security charges. On Tuesday, Apple Daily published a handwritten letter Lai sent to staff, urging them to take care of themselves. “Freedom of speech is a dangerous job,” he wrote. “Please be careful not to take risks. Your own safety is very important.”
- Investigative journalist James Risen writes for The Intercept about the ongoing battle between whistleblowers and the journalists who report on their leaks, and the government’s desire to punish them both. And the media doesn’t help, he says. “Press coverage of leak investigations and prosecutions follows a depressingly predictable narrative arc,” Risen writes. “The whistleblower who is a source for a story is depicted as a criminal who has been cornered and arrested by the heroic FBI, while the investigative reporter who broke the story is described as an accessory to a crime. The press unquestioningly plays up any supposed evidence presented by the government that the reporter made mistakes that were somehow the reason for the whistleblower’s arrest and prosecution.”
- The Marshall Project writes about its decision to avoid terms like inmate and felon when talking about people who are held in correctional facilities. “The words we use to describe people being held in correctional facilities are among the most controversial in journalism,” it says. “Reporters, editors and criminal justice professionals have long assumed that terms such as ‘inmate,’ ‘felon‚’ and ‘offender’ are clear, succinct and neutral. But a vocal segment of people within or directly affected by the criminal justice system argue that these words narrowly — and permanently — define human beings by their crimes and punishments.”
- Gabby Miller writes for CJR about what the future holds for non-profit newsrooms. “Newsrooms are experimenting with alternatives to business models that disproportionately rely on advertising revenue,” Miller writes. “This model has been seen from Oakland, California to Waterbury, Vermont. However, it’s not clear how much ground the nonprofit news model––which primarily entails philanthropic funding and charitable donations––can make up for in a rapidly shrinking for-profit local news ecosystem in the US. Some experts warn of heightened competition for funding and systemic inequities in philanthropic giving.”
- Vice said it has removed an article that drew widespread criticism for including photographs of Khmer Rouge victims in Cambodia that had been doctored to show some of the dead smiling. “This story previously included photos from artist Matt Loughrey that were modified beyond colorization,” says a note from the company posted at the story’s original location. “After reviewing this article, and subsequent work from the artist that was featured on VICE and included doctored images of Khmer Rouge victims, this article has been removed because it does not meet our editorial standards. We apologize for the error.”
- Pipewrench, a new digital magazine, launched this week with a feature essay on the pandemic and race, along with companion pieces by a poet, a biblical scholar, a sociologist, a musician, a public servant, an educator and a journalist. The magazine was co-founded by Michelle Weber, a former senior editor at Longreads, and Catherine Cusick, a digital editor and audience strategist from Austin, Texas. Each issue will consist of a longform story and other pieces either reacting to or related to the same topic, they said. “Expect contributions from film critics, activists, theologians, sociologists, poets, chefs, sportswriters, flash fiction specialists. A rotating group of people from a range of perspectives and disciplines.”
- The annual White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner has been canceled for the second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic, the association reported in an email to reporters on Wednesday. “We have worked through any number of scenarios over the last several months, but to put it plainly: while improving rapidly, the COVID-19 landscape is just not at a place where we could make the necessary decisions to go ahead with such a large indoor event,” the association wrote.
Philanthropic support is a small but growing revenue stream for The Guardian, reaching a record-breaking $9M last year
Early yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the US pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine following reports of blood clotting in six recipients, all of them women aged between eighteen and forty-eight, one of whom has died and another of whom is critically ill. States, businesses, and federal facilities quickly followed the guidance. Around seven million people have received the J&J vaccine in the US; the pause is intended to allow officials and experts to investigate the instances of clotting and whether there are more of them, and to communicate care protocols to doctors, given that typical clotting treatments could, in the type of cases at issue here, prove harmful. Bolstering public confidence is also at issue: a source with knowledge of the deliberations told the Washington Post that officials agreed that “there is a tremendous need for vaccines, but also a tremendous need for trust in the vaccine.”
The latter rationale, in particular, quickly sparked a debate in media circles. Some journalists and experts said that the pause ought to strengthen confidence among vaccine skeptics, by projecting high caution and transparency. Others disagreed. “I appreciate the people saying ‘we should feel *more* confident because they’re investigating,’ which is true—it works on me!” Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist and prolific commentator on the pandemic, wrote on Twitter. “But the word ‘should’ is doing a lot of work there. Meanwhile, let’s check in on how this affects dynamics of human cognition, media, and social media.” On the cognition front, some observers made the case that many members of the public will interpret the pause not as reassuring, but as justification for their skepticism, not only around the J&J vaccine but also the Pfizer and Moderna shots; on the media front, press critics questioned the ability of news organizations to clearly separate the pause from unwarranted broader panic. Some experts argued that officials didn’t have any good communications choices around the clotting issue. Others, including Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida, suggested that the agencies erred in allowing “dead time” to elapse between the announcement of the pause and a briefing at which officials worked to contextualize it—a gap in which “the media scrambles for insights but everyone is short on details.”
As the day went on, Nate Silver, of the data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight, observed a split, of sorts: “People in the public health sphere seem to be pretty agnostic on what effect the J&J pause will have on vaccine hesitancy (maybe leaning toward it being a slight positive), while the sentiment of people who cover politics/media is toward it being a clear negative.” Silver, who is in the latter camp, stressed that he could be wrong, but noted that both camps have “relevant expertise,” given “how much COVID is a political/media focal point.” As someone who covers media but has limited public-health expertise, my initial thoughts ran along similar lines to Silver’s. The idea that a pause will boost confidence seems, to me, to assume that skeptics will interpret it, and its attendant nuances, rationally, and not freak out about the alarming signal sent by the decision itself. Transparency is essential, but officials can be transparent about possible issues with a vaccine without suspending it; if anything, the pause recommendation was as much an act of amplification, turning exceedingly rare incidents into a wall-to-wall news story. And as we have seen, for example, with masks, the messaging judgments of health officials are open to question. Ezra Klein, of the New York Times, noted yesterday that “there’s no actual evidence the FDA knows how to manage public psychology correctly on this.”
Then again, I could be wrong. Much of the debate around the pause and vaccine confidence has been rooted in speculative behavioral assumptions that may not play out as we expect, and wrongly imply a uniformity of motivation among vaccine skeptics; plus, as G. Elliott Morris, a data journalist at The Economist, pointed out, “relentlessly tweeting ‘oh my GOD why would the CDC do something so STUPID!!’ is not really the way to convince people who are skeptical of scientists or medical institutions that the vaccine is safe.” It’s possible to go round in circles here; to forget, too, that the science here is complicated and contested, and that public confidence is far from the only reason for the pause. There are a multiplicity of factors to consider, including official reassurances that suspending J&J won’t impede the overall vaccine rollout, and the fact that pauses are common after a new medical product goes on the market.
Still, this isn’t a normal vaccine rollout—it’s universally urgent, and is thus occurring under an intense media spotlight. Some journalists argued yesterday that the messaging around the pause is the responsibility of health officials more than journalists, who, after all, are obliged to cover such interventions. Given the intense spotlight, however, the media is unavoidably a crucial actor in this story, and not just as a passive conduit. Our choices matter. Since COVID vaccines came on line, experts have advised news organizations not to hype stories about very rare potential side effects. Officials acting dramatically on such incidents is, clearly, a very big story. But their actions do not, in themselves, change the underlying available data. So how should we think about reconciling these seemingly contradictory newsworthiness dynamics?
Yesterday, I posed a version of this question on Twitter. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, advised covering the pause as “a high risk maneuver,” while also pulling in various points of view: “Only multiperspectival reporting gets you there,” he wrote. Katya Zimmer, a science journalist (and friend of mine), said that “whether official advice or mere observation,” her approach would be similar: “find a ton of experts and let them guide the story.” Steve Katz, the publisher of Mother Jones, said that his newsroom had debated the same question, and shared a resultant story, by Kiera Butler, concluding that officials had no good options but ultimately made the right decision. Other outlets published nuanced explorations of the issues at stake, including vaccine confidence, without reaching a judgment. Multiple outlets produced explainers aimed at people who recently got the J&J shot. Numerous reporters, or the experts they cited, found different ways of stressing the minuteness of the clotting risk, should a link to the J&J vaccine be proven—by visualizing it, or by comparing it to the greater likelihood of being in a car accident, or dying of COVID. Some headlines centered the extreme rareness of the clots. Others made (sometimes greatly) more sweeping references to blood clot “concerns” or “fears.”
Being specific, and not sensationalist, is usually a good idea, especially when it comes to headlines, tweets, and other brief formats. But there are no easy, failsafe answers here. The J&J pause is yet another example of a profound media challenge that I’ve explored throughout the pandemic—the absence of certainty and ready-made expert consensus, within a media ecosystem that prizes those things. And there’s a newer challenge here, too: With vaccinations and reopenings proceeding apace, but COVID still very prevalent, we are in a moment where our collective interpretation of risk, and what constitutes it, is being stretched. The public-health risks of failing to impose tough restrictions last year were comparatively clear; the J&J pause is both highly risk-averse and highly risky, depending on how you look at it. It’s the media’s job to communicate these competing calculations and the increasingly complex—and ambiguous—variables that go into them. That is a very hard job indeed.
Below, more on vaccines:
- The Europe precedent?: The type of clotting observed in the six Johnson & Johnson recipients is similar to that observed in very rare cases that regulators in Europe have linked to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, which has been widely distributed there; many European countries suspended their AstraZeneca rollouts and, in some cases, have continued to recommend restrictions on its use, especially among younger people. According to one recent poll, more than half of respondents in France, Germany, and Spain now view the AstraZeneca vaccine as unsafe—a datapoint that Silver wielded on Twitter yesterday to bolster his criticism of the J&J pause. The situations, however, aren’t entirely comparable: vaccine skepticism manifests differently in different places, and the AstraZeneca vaccine has been embroiled in a string of controversies in Europe related to supply issues and apparent geopolitical sniping. As I wrote in February, news organizations both furthered that confusion and got stuck in the middle.
- Boosting confidence?: On Sunday, Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent, said that Fox News personalities should be more forthcoming in sharing their vaccine stories, especially given high levels of skepticism among Republican voters. “Live on-air vaccinations and personal testimonials and videos and ‘selfies’ are all helpful,” he argues. “They show that it’s safe and easy.” Since then, Fox stars and other right-wing media figures have ridiculed Stelter’s suggestion; Glenn Beck tweeted a picture giving CNN the middle finger. “They can mock me, they can downplay their influence, they can say that getting vaccinated is a personal choice—fine,” Stelter responded yesterday. “But big platforms come with big responsibilities.”
- “Vaccine hesitancy”?: Writing on Twitter yesterday, Stefanie Friedhoff, a journalist and faculty member at Brown University’s School of Public Health, argued that we should retire the term “vaccine hesitancy,” which in her view has become “a catch-all that misrepresents, blames people over systems, and doesn’t help anything.” Instead, she wrote, “the words to start using are: Vaccine confidence. Intent to get vaccinated. But most importantly, we need to stop saying any of these words when it’s not actually about behavior but about the two most important drivers of why people don’t get vaccinated: access and misinformation.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, Aubrey and Katie Wright, the parents of Daunte Wright, who was killed by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Sunday, spoke with Robin Roberts, on ABC’s Good Morning America. “A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right,” Aubrey Wright said, referring to police chief Tim Gannon’s claim that officer Kim Potter shot his son by accident. “This officer has been on the force for twenty-six years. I can’t accept that.” Both Gannon and Potter have now resigned; Potter could face charges as soon as today. Last night, protesters rallied again at the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Officers cracked down on the gathering—including by ordering journalists to disperse.
- The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint reports that Susan Zirinsky will step down as head of CBS News after two years in that post, and take on a production role within the news division and ViacomCBS’s streaming service. Per Flint, Zirinsky’s “first love has always been being a hands-on news producer,” but at present, “much of her time is spent managing talent and dealing with corporate bureaucracy.” The news comes as Kim Godwin, a top deputy to Zirinsky, is expected to leave CBS to take over as president of ABC News.
- In other media-business news, the Walton Family Foundation will fund a new reporting team that will cover US water issues for the Associated Press. Elsewhere, Sara Fischer reports, for Axios, that Air Mail, Graydon Carter’s high-end newsletter business, has expanded since launch, tripling its staff and adding podcast and newsletter products. And for CJR and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Gabby Miller has the story of Isthmus, an alt-weekly in Madison, Wisconsin, that is seeking to become a nonprofit.
- Tech workers at the Times are unionizing with the NewsGuild of New York, which already represents their editorial- and business-side colleagues; hundreds of staffers signed on, and are now asking for voluntary recognition. Two of the staffers, Ben Harnett and Kathy Zhang, write for CNN that tech workers have been crucial to the Times’s success, but have “no job protections or democratic say in the direction of the company.”
- Hamilton Nolan, CJR’s public editor for the Washington Post, writes that as media scrutiny of Amazon—which is owned by the Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos—intensifies, not least around unionization efforts, the paper’s editorial independence should “never be taken for granted.” Currently, the firewall between Bezos and the newsroom appears to be strong—but “Bezos is, despite all appearances, not a robot. And he can snap.”
- The government of Belarus kicked Euronews, a French-based network, off air; officials claimed that the channel violated advertising laws, but the ban follows a brutal crackdown on independent media in the wake of huge protests last year. Euronews has been replaced on air by Victory, a Russian channel focused on the Second World War.
- Yesterday, journalists with Tunisia’s state news agency protested the appointment of Kamel Ben Younes, who they say has close ties to the country’s governing party, as the agency’s CEO. The journalists fear the appointment will threaten their independence; Ben Younes denies this. (In 2019, Layli Foroudi assessed the agency’s future for CJR.)
- In Hong Kong, Apple Daily published a handwritten letter that Jimmy Lai, the jailed pro-democracy media magnate who owns the paper, sent to his staff from prison. He urged them not to take risks, but also to uphold justice. “We need to love and cherish ourselves,” he wrote. “The era is falling apart before us, and it is time for us to stand tall.”
- And the AP’s Stylebook updated its guidance around the word “mistress,” which, it says, should not be used to describe “a woman who is in a long-term sexual relationship with, and is financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else. Instead, use an alternative like companion, friend, or lover on first reference.” Twitter had some thoughts.
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On Sunday afternoon, Kim Potter, a police officer in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, shot and killed Daunte Wright, a twenty-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. Minneapolis was already grappling with the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the cop charged with murdering George Floyd in the city last summer; on Sunday night, protesters gathered at the Brooklyn Center Police Department, and officers used tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets to disperse them. Yesterday, police leaders convened a press conference to address Wright’s killing. Journalists with national and international media, which already had a presence in Minneapolis for the Chauvin trial, were admitted, but local outlets had a tougher time getting in—two of the three journalists sent by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune were denied entry, as were reporters from Minnesota Public Radio and the Minnesota Reformer. The Star-Tribune’s Andy Mannix, who was turned away, said an official he approached “shut the blinds” on him. The situation, Mannix added, was “outrageous.”
An official reportedly told local media that the room was full, a claim that was disputed by the lone Star-Tribune journalist who managed to get inside. Online, observers speculated that baser instincts were at work. “Officials often fear local journalists the most because they have the best context and knowledge to ask the right questions and spot the spin,” Fenit Nirappil, of the Washington Post, noted; MSNBC’s Hayes Brown added that the access block, when added to officers’ decision to quickly release body-camera footage, “seems to indicate a strategy of getting ahead of the normal police shooting narrative: Get the national media in. Show that it was an ‘accidental discharge.’ Move on.” An accident was, indeed, what Tim Gannon, the Brooklyn Center police chief, claimed at the presser: Potter, he said, “had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet.” In the footage shared by police, Potter can be heard shouting “Taser, Taser, Taser,” followed by, “Holy shit. I just shot him.” Gannon told reporters that he can “only see what you’re seeing. I can couple that with much of the training that I have received, and that’s why I’m believing it to be an accidental discharge.”
Almost immediately, the words “police say” and “accidental” were paired in a barrage of headlines, push notifications, and tweets, as various commentators, politicians, and law-enforcement experts pushed back on Gannon’s claim. On Fox News, anchor Sandra Smith asked correspondent Mike Tobin about the local response to the presser. “I think there is still a great deal of anger,” Tobin said. “You still have a young Black man who has been killed at the hands of police, and when you have something like an accidental discharge, people aren’t going to say that it’s justified, and they’re still going to default to the belief that police… that Black lives matter, and they think that Black people are treated somehow otherwise.” Numerous outlets referred to Wright as an “unarmed Black man,” a framing that can, as Poynter’s Kelly McBride has written, fuel stereotypes and dangerous assumptions about the justification for police killings even when reporters use it to communicate innocence; others referred to Wright’s killing as an “officer-involved shooting,” which, as Mya Frazier has written for CJR, is police jargon that obscures accountability and basic clarity. Some reporters spelled “Daunte” wrong.
On cable news, the bodycam footage looped all night. Networks also patched in reporters on the ground as protesters again stayed in the streets, in defiance of an official curfew, and some of them clashed with police. At one point, a group of protesters surrounded NBC’s Ron Allen, as one shouted “go the fuck home” into the camera; separately, a man approached Sara Sidner, while she was reporting live for CNN, and took her to task, telling her to “get away from here with all that media shit you’re doing,” and accusing the media of making protesters “look crazier than what they are.” Police fired what Sidner described as “the strongest tear gas I have ever faced during a protest,” and also used stun grenades. Carlos Gonzalez, a photojournalist at the Star-Tribune, reported that he was pepper-sprayed in the eye while he covered confrontations outside the police department. Later, police ordered journalists—who were theoretically exempted from the curfew—to gather in a single spot. According to Sidner, reporters were threatened with detention if they didn’t comply.
The protests weren’t limited to Brooklyn Center. Demonstrators gathered in Wright’s memory elsewhere in America, including in Portland, Oregon, where, according to the Portland Tribune, members of the press were confronted by protesters and knocked to the ground in a police charge. Nor was yesterday’s coverage of police brutality limited to Minneapolis: footage circulated, too, of a traffic stop near Norfolk, Virginia, during which officers pulled their weapons on Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino Army lieutenant, pepper-sprayed him, and shouted threats. (The stop occurred in December; on Sunday, officials said that one of the officers had been fired. Nazario also recently sued the officers.) Last night, Nazario’s treatment was paired with the killings of Wright and Floyd in cable coverage. “Policing, let’s just be honest, it’s broken,” MSNBC’s Joy Reid said. “It’s broken at every level in America.” Following Reid onto the air, Chris Hayes asked, “Is anything really getting better in the wake of George Floyd?”
A month ago, I wrote that a wave of individual stories about police brutality and misconduct that were then in the news cycle had not yet added up to a collective, national focus on the institution of policing of the type that we saw last summer, after Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s trial, which has been a huge story for much of the past two weeks, began to retrain that focus—amid much legalistic dissection of courtroom particulars, and whether each day has been a good day for the prosecution. It has taken the killing of another Black man in the Minneapolis area to sharpen it.
Below, more on Minneapolis and the police:
- Local coverage: The Star-Tribune has several pages of special coverage in today’s print edition, under the banner front-page headline, quoting Potter, “HOLY… I JUST SHOT HIM.” Among other stories, Matt McKinney reports that it is “rare” for an officer to mistake a service pistol for a Taser. And Liz Sawyer found, via a Star-Tribune database of “fatal police encounters” in the state of Minnesota, that officers in Brooklyn Center have now killed six people in the last nine years. All but one of the victims were men of color; four of them, including Wright, were Black.
- The trial, I: Yesterday, George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, took the stand for what is known as “spark of life” testimony, in which witnesses humanize the victims of a crime. According to the New York Times, most states don’t allow such testimony prior to the jury returning a verdict; that Minnesota does is “thanks to a 1985 case where the victim was a police officer.” Chauvin’s defense is expected to start calling its witnesses today. Yesterday, Chauvin’s lawyers asked the court to sequester the jury in the case, in light of the Wright protests going on near Minneapolis, and said that individual jurors should be questioned on what they had heard about Wright’s shooting, and instructed, ahead of each day of the trial, to avoid all media. The judge denied the requests.
- The trial, II: The AP’s David Bauder spoke with Black journalists including CNN’s Sidner, NBC’s Shaquille Brewster, and Minnesota Public Radio’s Brandt Williams about their experiences covering the Chauvin trial. “I guess I have sort of compartmentalized what is happening. It’s like when a first responder comes across a scene that is bloody. You can set aside your feelings and do your job,” Williams said. “I know it’s always a possibility that I could be one of those men winding up in a video at the hands of an officer, but it’s not at the forefront of my mind.”
- Meanwhile, in Boston: Over the weekend, Andrew Ryan, of the Boston Globe, reported that the city’s police department concluded, in 1995, that Patrick Rose, an officer, likely sexually assaulted a child, only to cover up its finding and allow Rose to stay on the beat. He has since been accused of molesting several other children. Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, writes that Ryan’s story “is, to my mind, the most important and disturbing local story of at least the past several years.” The Globe, Kennedy adds, will doubtless “push this as hard as they can. We also need an independent investigation, possibly by the federal government. It all has to come out.”
Other notable stories:
- On Thursday, Tucker Carlson, of Fox, invoked the “great replacement” theory on air when he said that Democrats are “trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.” (“White replacement theory?” Carlson said, preemptively. “No, no, no—this is a voting rights question.”) Amid a wider uproar, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called Carlson’s comments an “open-ended endorsement of white supremacist ideology,” and demanded that Fox fire him. In response, Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s CEO, defended Carlson and noted that the ADL once honored his father, Rupert; Greenblatt hit back that “we would not do so today.” Last night, Carlson doubled down and mocked his critics. “They get so enraged,” he said, “it’s a riot.” CNN’s Oliver Darcy has more.
- Julia Carrie Wong, of The Guardian, is out with a new investigation, based on “extensive internal documentation,” showing that Facebook has routinely allowed officials and politicians to “deceive the public or harass opponents” on its platform in “poor, small and non-western countries” where such abuses attract less media attention than those in the US and elsewhere. Sophie Zhang—who was fired from her job as a Facebook data scientist last year, and is now speaking out as a whistleblower—told Wong that “there is a lot of harm being done on Facebook that is not being responded to because it is not considered enough of a PR risk to Facebook.” (Facebook disputed this characterization.)
- The Marshall Project launched “The Language Project,” a package that aims to demonstrate the “human impact” of the language that the media uses to describe the criminal-justice system, and offer a style guide of words to avoid and use instead. “We have learned that in some U.S. prisons, calling someone an ‘inmate’ is tantamount to calling them ‘a snitch,’ or even the n-word,” Akiba Solomon writes. The Marshall Project favors constructions that include person-first language and specific details.
- Reuters is promoting Alessandra Galloni, its global managing editor for news planning and creation, to editor in chief, replacing Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring after a decade at the helm. (He also chairs CJR’s Board of Overseers.) Galloni will be the first woman to lead Reuters. Elsewhere, the Clarion Ledger, in Jackson, Mississippi, named Marlon Walker as executive editor. He will also be Mississippi editor for the USA Today Network.
- For the Washington Post Magazine, Graham Vyse profiles Jane Coaston, a former Vox and MTV reporter who now hosts The Argument podcast at the Times. Coaston “is a registered Libertarian who got her start in right-leaning college media and professes ‘a healthy skepticism of state power,’” Vyse writes. At The Argument, she aims to “add a lot of external viewpoints that maybe haven’t been as well represented on the show.”
- BuzzFeed’s Scaachi Koul explores how the celebrity bloggers Perez Hilton and Elaine “Lainey” Lui—once famous for their mean coverage—apologized, and tried to change. “The cruel jokes that once made these bloggers popular now make them cancellable,” Koul writes. “Hilton’s newfound tone is, frankly, boring—there’s no longer anything that sets him apart from any other entertainment network, blogger, or aggregator.”
- Bild, Germany’s best-read daily newspaper, is planning to launch a TV channel ahead of national elections later this year. Axel Springer, which publishes Bild, said that the channel will focus on “politics, sports, celebrities, crime, and service topics, among others.” (ICYMI, Andrew Curry profiled Axel Springer for CJR back in 2019.)
- For Rest of World, Priya Sippy assesses the prospects for greater digital rights and press freedom in Tanzania following the death of the country’s president, John Magufuli. Magufuli limited broadcasters’ coverage, revoked newspapers’ licenses, and clamped down on bloggers, including by forcing them to pay extortionate registration fees.
- And Jim Waterson reports, for The Guardian, that the BBC’s wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Prince Philip is now “the most complained-about moment in British television history.” More than a hundred thousand viewers groused to the broadcaster after it preempted all other programming on Friday. (ICYMI, I explored the coverage yesterday.)
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Around lunchtime on Friday, BBC One, a TV channel in the UK, cut away from its scheduled programming, and faded to black. A “News Report” card, drained of the broadcaster’s typical bright color scheme, appeared on screen, followed by the newsreader Martine Croxall, who was set behind a desk in a black blazer. “We are interrupting our normal programs to bring you an important announcement,” she said. “A short while ago, Buckingham Palace announced the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.” The channel then showed a picture of Philip—the Queen’s husband, who was ninety nine and had been in ill health—as the British national anthem played. The BBC’s other TV and radio channels cut into their programming, too. On the music station Radio 1, an announcer interrupted “Tulsa Jesus Freak,” by Lana Del Rey; on its dance-music substation, a pulsing dance anthem mashed right into the national anthem, with no prior warning. It was, Twitter agreed, quite the beat drop.
When (non-patriotic) music returned to Radio 1, it was notably low-key. On TV, Philip coverage remained wall to wall. The BBC preempted its entire schedule—the final of the popular cooking contest Masterchef, a satirical news quiz, a women’s soccer match between England and France—across all its main channels; BBC Two ran Philip tributes in tandem with BBC One, while BBC Four put a card on screen telling viewers to switch over to BBC One. Similar instructions appeared on CBBC, the BBC’s dedicated channel for children. (In case you’re wondering, there is currently no BBC Three on linear TV.) The BBC’s traditional broadcast rivals, ITV and Channel 4, also cleared their schedules to varying degrees, though the latter still made time for The Simpsons, among other shows. The typical bells and whistles of BREAKING NEWS coverage—always less migraine-inducing on British TV than in the US—were absent, giving way to a grave somberness of tone as networks cycled through packages about Philip’s life, interviews with prominent people, and live reports outside Windsor Castle, where Philip died, and Buckingham Palace, where members of the public paid tribute, despite the pandemic.
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As day turned to night, whispers that this all might be a bit too much grew louder. “Is anyone actually making the BBC do this?” Tom Peck, a journalist with The Independent, asked on Twitter, shortly before 11pm local time. “It’s genuinely making me feel uneasy now. If this was North Korean TV the world would be pissing itself laughing.” He wasn’t the only observer to make that comparison. “I’m sensing that very few people are giving much of a fuck,” Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, wrote the next day. “Even older royalist relatives of mine in England are moaning about the embarrassing overkill.” The early ratings seemed to match Welsh’s sense—according to Deadline, BBC One’s Friday-night audience fell six percent from the week before, with BBC Two down sixty-five percent, and ITV down sixty percent. The day’s highest-rated program (to appear only on one channel) wasn’t Philip coverage, but Gogglebox, a Channel 4 show—in which viewers watch other people watching TV—that attracted more viewers than the concurrent Philip documentaries on BBC One, BBC Two, and ITV combined. So many people complained about the BBC’s excessive coverage, meanwhile, that the broadcaster opened a special online form to make complaining easier. (Some prominent conservatives said that the existence of the form was, in and of itself, evidence of liberal bias.)
On the BBC and ITV, the special coverage continued through Saturday morning and into the early afternoon, when, more than twenty-four hours after the Philip news broke, viewers were finally allowed to watch sports. Those who didn’t want the respite may have turned, at that point, to their Saturday newspapers, which were also saturated with coverage. The Daily Mail, a right-wing tabloid, ran an “HISTORIC 144-PAGE ISSUE WITH MAGICAL SOUVENIR MAGAZINE.” The Daily Express, also a right-wing tabloid, had forty-nine pages of Philip coverage, and even liberal newspapers, which tend to be less fawning of the monarchy, had huge front-page tributes and ample content inside. Some of the coverage made at least some attempt to explore the nuances of Philip’s character, but much of it was hagiography. The BBC dismissed a racist comment Philip once made about Asian people as a “diplomatic gaffe,” and wrote that “many saw” his many errant remarks as “nothing more than an attempt to lighten the atmosphere and put people at their ease.” The Oldie’s Harry Mount, who was once on the receiving end of a Philip “gaffe,” reached a similar conclusion; Madeline Grant, of the Telegraph, dubbed him “the Prince of Banter” in an article that was (somewhat confusingly) headlined, “To me, Prince Philip was the nation’s grandfather.” The colonial legacy of the royal family didn’t get much attention. Philip’s status as a deity to a “remote tribe” in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, did.
Programming is mostly back to normal by now, but the media tributes are far from over. The papers are still full of them (the Mail is promising “HISTORIC EDITIONS INSIDE ALL WEEK”), and Britain has now entered a period of national mourning that will last until next Sunday morning, during which time the government will not hold press conferences or let ministers conduct media interviews. Britain is hardly a news vacuum right now—the minds of many are preoccupied with the fact that pub beer gardens and other business are reopening today after months of enforced closure—but coverage of Philip will likely continue to dominate, much of it downstream of formal maneuvers that have been carefully choreographed in advance. (While major newsrooms often pre-write obituaries for famous people, few such figures have code-named PR operations planned around their deaths.) Philip’s funeral, which is scheduled for Saturday, is already shaping up to be a generational media event, even though COVID will limit its size and curtail mass popular gatherings, and Philip will not lie in state. (Apparently, he didn’t want any “fuss.”)
According to Jim Waterson, of The Guardian, the BBC’s extensive Philip coverage was a reaction, in part, to the death of the Queen’s mother, in 2002, when right-wing newspapers tore chunks out of the broadcaster for what they saw as insufficient deference, and for failing to mandate black ties for anchors; according to Kate Duffy, of Insider, the BBC now has black clothes on standby, including the blazer that Croxall donned on Friday. The BBC’s tone, at moments such as this, is always closely watched on the right—including inside the Conservative government, with which the BBC is currently negotiating its public funding arrangement. As well as politics, those talks are being shaped by the splintering of the broadcast-TV landscape in this digital age. Taken together, twin forces of political and media fragmentation likely account for much of the reason that so many viewers tuned out on Friday; over the weekend, much commentary situated these trends as troubling for the BBC, which, more than being a news outlet, has mythic status, among many Brits, as a cultural unifier. The appropriateness and performance of this function have always been open to question—though the political trend here, in particular, has deeper roots. As Waterson put it, “the UK really needs to stop asking the BBC complaints department to rule on all our deepest cultural issues and just go to therapy.”
Below, more from the UK:
- The view from abroad: Anchors on ABC, the public broadcaster in Australia, which is part of the British Commonwealth, also cut into regular programming and wore black after Philip died—but Waterson reports, for The Guardian, that in many Commonwealth countries, “the duke’s death was treated as a foreign affair with most focusing on British reaction to the news.” Philip’s death “was less noticeable in India, where the Times of India and the Hindustan Times carried small pictures beside the papers’ mastheads,” Waterson writes. “Newspapers in the Caribbean were more concerned with the eruption of La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent, but Trinidad’s Saturday Express found space for a small picture of the duke on its front page.”
- The duke from abroad: This morning, Prince Harry, who now lives in the US, reportedly landed in the UK ahead of Philip’s funeral, which he plans to attend; Meghan Markle, Harry’s wife, is pregnant and has been advised not to travel, according to officials. Meghan and Harry’s relations with the royal family have been strained since they “Megxited” the institution last year, and especially so since their recent bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, on CBS, which some British pundits—including the since self-canceled Piers Morgan—griped was insensitively timed given Philip’s poor health. We can look forward to the British press scrutinizing Harry’s every move this week.
- Let’s talk about Lex: In recent weeks, David Cameron, Britain’s former prime minister, has found himself at the center of a lobbying scandal after the Financial Times and other outlets reported that he recently contacted senior officials on behalf of Greensill Capital, a finance firm founded by the Australian financier Lex Greensill, in which Cameron now holds shares. (Cameron also lobbied the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a camping trip that took place after a UN report already implicated MBS in the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.) Cameron has steadfastly avoided commenting to the media—when the Financial Times reached his cellphone, he told the paper to contact his office, which never responded—but yesterday, he finally broke his silence. In a lengthy statement, he denied breaking any rules but said he should have gone through more “formal channels.” He also said he raised “human rights” in Saudi.
Some news from the home front: In the runup to Earth Day, on April 22, Covering Climate Now, a global climate-journalism consortium led by CJR and The Nation, is coordinating coverage on the theme of “Living Through the Climate Emergency.” This morning, we’re out with a statement—cosigned by Scientific American, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Noticias Telemundo, Asahi Shimbun, and La Repubblica—calling on the world of journalism to “recognize that the climate emergency is here.” Why “emergency”? we ask. “Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately.” You can read the statement here, and an introduction to Covering Climate Now’s pre-Earth Day coverage here.
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, police shot Daunte Wright, a twenty-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis; Wright drove off, but crashed his car, and was later declared dead. The shooting inflamed “already raw tensions between police and community members in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. Last night, protesters marched on a local police building; per the paper, police officers “repeatedly ordered the crowd of about five hundred to disperse as protesters chanted Wright’s name and climbed atop the police headquarters sign, by then covered in graffiti,” and “used tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets on the crowd.”
- Edmund Lee, of the New York Times, has a deep dive inside the Wall Street Journal, where an innovation team and many staffers believe that the paper must “widen its scope if it wants to succeed in the years to come”—including by paying “more attention to social media trends and covering racial disparities in health care, for example, as aggressively as it pursues corporate mergers”—but have yet to convince top executives of their vision. Their recent strategy report has landed in the middle of a feud between Matt Murray, the Journal’s top editor, and Almar Latour, its publisher, who have very different styles and, one executive told Lee, “hate each other.” (The Journal denies this.)
- Also for the Times, Ben Smith explores why media types are “freaking out about Substack.” Among other details, Smith reports a slew of high-profile new arrivals on the platform—including Grace Lavery, editor of the Transgender Studies Quarterly; Hunter Walker, former White House correspondent for Yahoo News; and Charlie Warzel, a tech columnist at the Times—and says he turned down an advance to go there himself, “in part because I didn’t think I’d make it back—media types often overvalue media writers.” (Elsewhere, Smith says Bustle Digital Group is reviving Gawker, under Leah Finnegan.)
- Vox Media is acquiring Cafe Studios, a podcast company founded by Preet Bharara, the former Manhattan US attorney who was fired by the Trump administration, in 2017. Benjamin Mullin, of the Wall Street Journal, reports that Vox is working “to expand its growing audio business”; Bharara, for his part, sees selling Cafe as “a quicker alternative to fundraising” that “would create bigger opportunities. Together, the companies hope to explore creating scripted shows and documentaries and hosting live events, he said.”
- NPR’s Ari Shapiro spoke with three trans journalists—Imara Jones, of TransLash Media; Kate Sosin, of The 19th*; and Orion Rummler, of Axios—about their coverage of a wave of state-level bills targeting transgender youth. “I’m probably more familiar with the anti-trans point of view than your average cisgender reporter,” Rummler said. “I’ve had those conversations with people who don’t believe my way of living is appropriate.”
- On Friday, Giorgos Karaivaz, a prominent crime reporter for Star TV, in Greece, was shot and killed near his home, in Athens. The gunmen have yet to be identified and their motives are still unclear, though a statement that was posted to Karaivaz’s blog said that “somebody chose to silence him, to stop him with bullets from writing his stories.” Greek reporters are not often murdered, though Socratis Giolias was also shot dead, in 2010.
- Over the weekend, the government of Cambodia criticized Vice for running colorized photos of victims of the country’s genocide that appeared also to have been edited to add smiles to some of their faces. Vice confirmed that the photos, which were edited by the artist Matt Loughrey, had been “modified beyond colorization”; later, it said that the photos did not meet its editorial standards, and took them down. Reuters has more.
- Pranav Dixit, a Delhi-based tech reporter for BuzzFeed, explains how India’s slide into authoritarianism has intersected unavoidably with his beat. “Separating what I cover from the horrors unfolding around me became my coping mechanism,” he writes. “For years, I tried to live in the comforting fiction that what was happening in India and what was happening in the world of tech were separate things—but that isn’t true anymore.”
- And Politico’s Christopher Cadelago explores how someone posing as a reporter called “Kacey Montagu” from an outlet called “White House News”—neither of which actually exist—duped members of the White House press corps into relaying their questions to officials. The hoax, Cadelago writes, was possibly a bid for bragging rights on “the online global gaming platform called ROBLOX, where users jokingly call themselves ‘Legos.’”
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