The two biggest media misses of 2019 serve as perfect examples of what is plaguing the industry from a public trust and confidence perspective.
First, there is the rush to be first instead of accurate, allowing social media to dictate the narrative without anything resembling a meticulous vetting process. The Jussie Smollett fiasco is a prime example.
Remember what was presented as absolute fact after the story broke: Smollett decided to go outdoors, into a polar vortex, and walk to a Subway fast-food restaurant for a sandwich — at 2 a.m. He says he was then spotted by two men wearing MAGA baseball caps — in subfreezing temperatures, mind you — and recognized by them as an actor on a show that most Trump supporters are unlikely to watch. The two men, he said, screamed “This is MAGA country!” (remember, this is in Chicago) AND both men happened to have rope and bleach on their persons (talk about being prepared ahead of time).
Missing from much of the breathless initial reports was a very key word: Alleged. As in, “the alleged attack.”
“Celebrities, lawmakers rally behind Jussie Smollett in wake of brutal attack” — ABC News
“Analysis: The Jussie Smollett attack highlights the hate black gay Americans face” — The Washington Post
” ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett attacked in possible hate crime” — CNN
“Empire star Jussie Smollett attacked in Chicago by men hurling homophobic and racial slurs” — NBC News
“Celebrities rally behind Jussie Smollett after brutal attack in Chicago” — Buzzfeed
Without that word, “alleged,” the supposed attack — and its context — is presented to the reader or viewer as gospel. And, given the obvious questions that emerged around the actor’s tale and utter lack of evidence, the story absolutely warranted the disclaimer of “alleged” until a foundation of facts could be gathered.
Fortunately, thanks to local reporters and law enforcement in Chicago, the story fell apart. Smollett still somehow got off, but his career is in tatters — as it should be for wasting everyone’s time, particularly an already-overwhelmed department like the Chicago Police Department (more than 530 murders in the city last year).
The Covington Catholic catastrophe also was a classic example of newsrooms allowing loud, partisan voices on social media to dictate their vetting process, or lack thereof.
To review what happened back on that cold January day, social media video of the March for Life rally in Washington appeared to show Covington, Ky., students, some of them wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, taunting a Native American man attending an Indigenous Peoples March. One young man became the focus of media attention after staring at the Native American — who approached the Covington student, not the other way around, as first described — for more than two minutes in what the student later described as an effort to calm things down. The student was widely portrayed at first as, essentially, the face of racism.
Many media outlets initially ran with that angle of the story. After all, it contained the perfect ingredients for media outrage because it involved young white men, it involved the Catholic Church, and it involved President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against windmills: ‘I never understood wind’ Trump faces pivotal year with Russia on arms control Bolton says he doesn’t think Trump admin ‘really means it’ on stopping North Korea nukes MORE, since the kids were wearing MAGA hats. A trifecta for titillation.
“Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March” — The New York Times
“The Catholic Church’s Shameful History of Native American Abuses” — The Washington Post
“The Covington Students Might as Well Have Just Spit on the Cross” — National Review
The student subsequently sued several outlets, including the Post, for hundreds of millions of dollars.
What we witnessed with Smollett and with the Covington Catholic kids is similar to what we saw with the Trump-Russia collusion tale that finally was dismissed after the Mueller report’s release in April, with results that shocked many in the press who had pushed an opposite narrative for two years by working from the premise that President Trump had to be guilty. It is a media that works under this premise: guilty until proven innocent, particularly on cable news, where anti-Trump stories are gobbled up like seagulls eating at the beach. Throw anything negative about this president or his supporters up in the air, and it will be swallowed whole.
United Press International used to have a saying: “Get it first. But first, get it right.”
The Fourth Estate needs to embrace that now more than ever.
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Social media traffic to top news sites craters
Why it matters: Website business models that depended on clicks from social media are now broken.
What’s happening: Regulatory pressure and free speech concerns have pushed tech giants to abandon efforts to elevate quality information, leaving the public more susceptible to misinformation ahead of the 2024 election.
- Meanwhile, news companies are scrambling to find business solutions while simultaneously fighting to protect their work in the AI era.
The big picture: While the news industry has known this day would come, many are still unprepared.
- A slower ad market and less reliable traffic contributed to a record number of media job cuts this year.
- Efforts to reach voters with trusted information are becoming more difficult as tech platforms lean into viral trends, instead of quality news.
Yes, but: Disruption is often a catalyst for change.
- The over-reliance on social media traffic kept news publishers from focusing on building stronger consumer products of their own.
- Publishers are better prepared now to defend their intellectual property in the AI era having learned from their mistakes of being too heavily reliant on third parties for survival.
Go deeper: Social media news consumption slows globally
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is unlikely to get a lifeline from across the aisle as he fights to keep his job, according to interviews with and statements from nearly two dozen House Democrats.
Why it matters: If a half dozen Republicans support the motion to vacate introduced by right-wing Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), which is set for a vote on Tuesday afternoon, McCarthy will need Democratic votes to survive.
For all the signs of a cooling economy, employers sure had an awful lot of open jobs as summer came to an end, according to a shocker of a labor market report out Tuesday. But it’s probably sending a misleading signal.
Driving the news: Employers reported having 9.6 million job openings at the end of August, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover report, up 690,000 from July, driven by a particularly large surge in professional and business services openings.
India police raid homes of NewsClick journalists in illegal funding probe
Police in India have arrested a prominent journalist and founder of a news website under a stringent anti-terror law over allegations of receiving foreign money for pro-China propaganda.
NewsClick’s founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha was arrested on Tuesday evening under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and criminal conspiracy charges, local media reports said.
Journalist Amit Chakravarty was also arrested in the same case, the reports added.
The arrests came after the office of the New Delhi-based news portal and homes of several journalists and writers linked to it were raided as part of an investigation into suspected illegal foreign funding of the media company. Laptops and mobile phones were taken away as part of the probe.
“A special investigations team launched a search operation to identify all those individuals who were possibly getting funds from overseas to run a media group with the main agenda of spreading foreign propaganda,” said a home ministry official overseeing the raids by the federally-controlled Delhi Police.
Indian authorities registered a case against NewsClick and its journalists on August 17, days after a New York Times report alleged the website had received funds from an American millionaire who, the Times wrote, funded the spread of “Chinese propaganda”. NewsClick denied the charges.
The raids on Tuesday were conducted at more than a dozen homes of journalists and some other writers linked to NewsClick.
A home ministry official said the raids were part of an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate, India’s financial crime control agency, into suspected money laundering by NewsClick, whose office was also sealed by the Delhi Police.
In a statement, the police said 37 male suspects were questioned at the NewsClick office while nine female suspects were questioned at their residences.
Thirty locations connected with the portal and its journalists were searched, the police said. Among those questioned were journalists Urmilesh, Aunindyo Chakravarty, Abhisar Sharma, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and historian Sohail Hashmi.
NewsClick officials were not immediately available for comment. The company’s website says it reports on news from India and elsewhere with a focus on “progressive movements”.
NewsClick founder Purkayastha said at the time the allegations were not new and that the organisation would respond to them in court.
The Press Club of India said it was deeply concerned by the raids. A group of journalists has planned a protest march in New Delhi on Wednesday.
A statement from the INDIA alliance, a coalition of 28 opposition political parties, said in the last nine years, the government has deliberately persecuted and suppressed the media by using different investigative agencies.
“Even if you were … to believe these allegations at worst you could have targeted the management of the website, but what we are seeing now is that even junior employees are getting raided, even contributors are getting raided,” Shoaib Daniyal, political editor at the Scroll news website, told Al Jazeera.
“India has an extremely draconian terror law regime where people can be arrested and locked away for years without trial,” he added.
A spokesperson from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the raids were justified as foreign funding to media groups must be assessed by investigating agencies.
India has fallen to 161st rank in the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, from 150th last year, its lowest ever. Modi’s government rejects the group’s rankings, questioning its methodology, and says India has a vibrant and free press.
A few months ago, Indian tax authorities raided BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, shortly after the British broadcaster released a documentary that was critical of Modi.
Ties between India and China have been strained since 2020, when clashes between the two neighbours’ militaries in a disputed border area killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese servicemen.
Since then, New Delhi has banned many Chinese-owned apps, including TikTok, and launched tax investigations into some Chinese mobile phone companies.
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