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Gym and Peloton selfies dominate social media, but fitness may be less accessible than ever



Despite a societal obsession with being in shape, fitness is less accessible than ever, given expensive gym memberships, pricey equipment and costly clothing, says an author and academic who studies contemporary culture.

“You have all of these gyms and all of these brands and all of this exercise messaging in your face, but we have not kept up with that in terms of funding robust physical education,” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, who wrote Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession.

“We haven’t kept up with creating green spaces or lighting streets well, and making it accessible for people to [exercise].”

A woman with a broad smile looks at the camera while sitting with her elbows resting on a table.
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, author of Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession, says despite a culture that reveres the physically fit, personal fitness is less accessible than ever. (Sylvie Rosokoff)

Looking at the history of fitness in the U.S. — from a circus act in the 1800s to what she calls the “conspicuous consumption” of modern exercise, with gym selfies and Peloton pictures taking over social media — Petrzela has studied how it went from a sideshow to a status symbol.


Though exercise feels “kind of everywhere” right now, she says, that wasn’t always the case. As recently as the early 20th century, people who exercised regularly — and not for sport — “were really considered freaks,” said Petrzela, who is also an associate professor of history at The New School, a university in New York City.

Petrzela argues that after the financial crash of 2008 and the advent of Instagram in 2010, exercise began to take on a very different meaning, and the industry became about fitness as a lifestyle — something you bought rather than something you did.

“The conspicuous consumption piece really takes off with the financial crisis,” she says. While it was suddenly uncouth to show off luxury items like expensive cars and pricey bags, in comparison, posting about gym routines and smoothie recipes felt like less controversial humble brags.

Barriers to fitness

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy and a professor in the faculty of law and the school of public health at the University of Alberta, said fitness is often framed as something necessary for external improvement, rather than something that can better one’s health.

“It’s framed as something that you need to do in order to achieve extrinsic goals — you need to look a certain way — as opposed to intrinsic goals,” he said. “When it really should be inviting people to just move. You know, do something that you love. It doesn’t require special clothes, it doesn’t require you to be part of this extreme community.”

Yet according to Statistics Canada, only about half of Canadians regularly get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per week. Clearly, a fitness-crazed culture hasn’t added up to routine exercise for all.

Woman squats in the middle of a gym.
A rapidly expanding fitness industry has not improved access for the less affluent, says author Natalia Mehlman Petrzela. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Petrzela says the story of fitness culture is one of “expansion, expansion, expansion,” but that expansion has not improved access for the less affluent.

She says while the idea that all you need is a pair of running shoes might seem simple, “even shoes are not that cheap.”

Petrzela also argues that it’s more complicated than just getting out for a run, pointing to systemic barriers.

“We have ample evidence now that to be a person of colour, and going for a run through the streets, is not the same experience as being a white person,” she said. She also shares that as a woman, she feels less safe being outside during certain hours, which limits her ability to exercise during the winter.

“Add to that, the fact that lots of people live in neighborhoods without safe streets, or without well-lit streets, or tree cover, and that is another obstacle.”

Environment must be conducive to exercise

Caulfield said the fitness industry’s “hyper-commercialized” view of exercise contributes to some of these barriers by discouraging a broader conversation on how communities can shape their environment to make it easier to exercise.

Tim Caulfield, the Canada Research Chair in health law and policy, says exercise is ‘framed as something that you need to do in order to achieve extrinsic goals — you need to look a certain way.’ (University of Alberta)

“How do we make movement part of our daily lives? That’s about the built environment. Those things matter, but the fitness industry isn’t built to convey those messages, because they want products to be sold, ” he said.

Petrzela hopes to draw attention to the disconnect and “light a fire” under policymakers who have the power to create more bike lanes, green spaces and affordable fitness programs.

For Petrzela, the answer to improving access to exercise starts in schools.

“P.E. is the moment when most kids are going to encounter structured exercise,” she said. That’s why it’s critical to make it “a joyous, meaningful, amazing experience” that encourages life-long exercise, rather than an alienating one.

It’s a full-circle moment for Petrzela, who once dropped out of a high school gym class because she felt intimidated and uncomfortable.


“Oh, I absolutely hated it,” she laughed. “But I eventually really fell in love with it. And I realized there was something called fitness that was very different from sport. And I have basically never looked back in terms of immersing myself in that world.”


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Media Keep Stifling the Covid Debate – WSJ – The Wall Street Journal



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Facebook users consume more fake news than users of Twitter, other social media sites: Study – CTV News



When it comes to election misinformation on social media, Facebook takes the cake, according to a new study which found heavy Facebook users were far more likely to consume fake news than Twitter or other social media sites.

The study, published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed journal Government Information Quarterly, found Facebook users read the most fake news about the 2020 U.S. presidential election and reported the most concern about votes not being counted properly.

They also found the biggest factor in whether a person reported being suspicious about the election results was their level of fake news consumption, not their method of casting their vote.


According to the study, a big part of the problem with relying on social media for news is that these sites have algorithms designed to keep you scrolling and engaged, meaning that they’re likely to keep serving you the same content you’re engaging with and make it harder to climb out of a disinformation hole once you are in it.

“What we saw in this study is that if you aren’t careful, the bias that you bring into your news consumption can be absolutely confirmed and supported if you are in a place like Facebook where the algorithms feed into that,” Robert Crossler, study co-author and an associate professor in the WSU Carson College of Business, said in a press release.

Those who got their news about the 2020 election primarily by navigating directly on a news website were less likely to consume fake news, the study found, and were more likely to believe that the election had unfolded the way it did.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s win in 2020 was accompanied with unproven allegations pushed by former U.S. President Donald Trump that the election had been stolen from him and that many votes for him had gone uncounted. Allegations of voter fraud with mail-in ballots and with Dominion voting machines were spread after the election, but none of these claims stood up in court, and few legal experts supported this position.

However, the lack of factual support didn’t stop the story from spreading widely on social media.

It’s not new that Facebook and other social media sites can be drivers of disinformation and fake news, but it’s trickier to measure how consuming fake news affects a person’s perception of reality.

In order to get a better understanding of this, the Washington State University-led study designed three surveys relating to how political alignment, fake news consumption and voting method each individually impacted a person’s perception of the election.

In the study, “fake news” was defined as articles and sites spreading disinformation that was provably incorrect, not articles or sites with information perceived to be false from a partisan standpoint.

The first two surveys were given to different groups of voters prior to the election, both containing hypothetical scenarios for participants to react to.

The first posited a scenario where the participant would either be voting in-person, through the mail or online. Once the participant had read the scenario of their voting method, they were asked questions about how concerned they were about votes being counted properly, and how much news they got from various news organizations.

The second survey gave the scenario of all voters needing to use mail-in ballots that would be counted either by a government official, a neutral party or by a voting machine. They were then asked again about their concerns regarding votes being counted and their news sources.

The third survey was presented to a group of actual voters after the election. Participants filled out what their voting method had been, and then answered the same questions presented in the previous two surveys. They then reported what percentage of their news they got from direct navigation, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites.

Researchers were surprised to find the voting method — whether people voted by mail or in-person — had no measurable impact on how likely participants were to be worried about votes not being counted properly.

Instead, the more a person reported receiving their news from social media, particularly Facebook, the more likely they were to be heavily concerned about votes not being counted.

This suggested to researchers that Facebook, more so than other social media sites, was elevating sources spreading these fears.

“I don’t think that Facebook is deliberately directing people towards fake news but something about how their algorithm is designed compared to other algorithms is actually moving people towards that type of content,” Stachofsky said. “It was surprising how hard it was to find the websites Facebook was directing people to when we looked for them in a web browser. The research shows that not all social media platforms are created equal when it comes to propagating intentionally misleading information.”

The study also found there was no age group more likely to read fake news, which is different from other studies, suggesting that there could be a higher proportion of younger adults consuming fake news than had been previously thought.

Authors noted that more research needs to be done to understand how disinformation spreads and how it can be combatted, particularly in a political climate where the partisan divide in the U.S. is increasing the distrust in mainstream media. They’re hoping that this study could spur social media sites to think more about how their algorithms impact their users.

“This supports the argument that people need to be encouraged to be information or news literate,” Crossler said. “Right now, we are talking about the elections, but there are a lot of other issues, such as the war in Ukraine, that directing people to misinformation is not only misleading but also potentially dangerous.”

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2023 Media Layoff Tracker: Rough Year For Journalism Marked By Increasing Layoffs




Board members of the Texas Democracy Foundation reportedly voted to put the progressive Texas Observer on hiatus and lay off its 17-person staff following prolonged economic woes and shrinking readership, marking the latest in a brutal series of closures and layoffs rocking the media industry in 2023.


March 27The Texas Observer’s staff, who reportedly heard about the impending layoffs from a Texas Tribune article, writes a letter to the Foundation’s board asking them to reconsider the decision to close the paper and sets up an emergency GoFundMe page in a last ditch effort to find funding.

March 23NPR cancels four podcasts—Invisibilia, Louder Than a Riot, Rough Translation and Everyone and Their Mom—and begins laying off 100 employees as part of a push to reduce a reported budget deficit of $30 million.

March 21NPR affiliate New England Public Media announces it will lay off 17 employees—20% of its staff—by March 31 after facing “serious financial headwinds during the last three years,” New England Public Media management tells Boston public radio.


March 19Sea Coast Media and Gannett, a media conglomerate with hundreds of papers and Sea Coast Media’s parent company, lay off 34 people and close a printing press in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as part of Gannet’s efforts to reduce the number of operating presses and prioritize digital platforms.

February 26Three Alabama newspapers—The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register—become fully digital publications and reportedly lay off 100 people following a prolonged decrease in print paper circulation, Alabama Media Group President Tom Bates told NPR.

February 17New York public radio station WNYC cancels radio show The Takeaway after 15 years on air after the show reportedly became too expensive to produce amid a declining audience—an unspecified number of people are laid off.

February 9News Corp, which owns the Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins publishers, among others, expects to lay off 1,250 people across all businesses by the end of 2023, Chief Executive Robert Thomson reportedly told investors following compounding declines in profit.

January 24The Washington Post stops publishing its video game and kids sections, leaving 20 people unemployed a little over a month after publisher Fred Ryan foreshadowed layoffs in 2023—executive editor Sally Buzbee reportedly tells employees the layoffs were geared toward staying competitive and no more are scheduled.

January 23The marketing trade publication Adweek lays off 14 people, according to employees.

January 21Vox Media, which owns The Verge, SB Nation and New York Magazine, lays off 133 people—7% of the media conglomerate’s staff— in anticipation of a declining economy, chief executive Jim Bankoff reportedly tells staff.

January 19Entertainment company and fan platform Fandom lays off less than 50 people at affiliated GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Metacritic and TV Guide, Variety reports, mere months after Fandom acquired the four outlets, among others, for $55 million.

January 13The Medford, Oregon-based Mail Tribune shuts down their digital publication after hiring difficulties and declining advertising sales, according to publisher and chief executive Steven Saslow—an undisclosed number of people are laid off and severance packages depend on signing a non-disclosure agreement, the Oregonian reports.

January 12NBC News and MSNBC lay off 75 employees as part of a broader corporate reorganization.

January 4Gannett closes a printing press in Greece, New York, as part of an increased focus on online journalism, resulting in the layoffs of 108 people.

January 4Gannett lays off 50 employees at an Indiana printing press to “adapt to industry conditions,” a spokesperson told the Indiana Star—the press remains open and the layoffs aren’t expected to affect newspaper employees.



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