Ben Smith, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief
“This Is What It Was Like Learning To Report Before Fake News Was The Biggest Problem In The World
As a young reporter in Eastern Europe in 2001, I expected to witness the “end of history” and the flowering of democracy. That was just one of the mistakes I made.
I recognized myself in Suzy Hansen’s recent book on the delusions of our generation of Americans abroad, Notes on a Foreign Country.
“I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilization, and everyone else was trying to catch up,” she wrote.
There’s an axiom in reporting — crystallized by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer — that at the core of journalism is betrayal. I thought that’s what I’d done to Shydlovski. And I’ve thought a lot about the balance of responsibility to your sources and to your readers.
I had left Belarus on an overnight train the day after the election, and crossed the Ukrainian border on the morning of Sept. 11, as clear a day in that region as it was in New York. That afternoon, I sat in a Kiev newsroom watching my past assumptions about American power crumble, and walked outside to watch Ukrainians lining up at exchange bureaus to turn in their dollars. The story moved on.
Kozak, though, stuck around; he’s still working on the Lukashenko project from his desk in Foggy Bottom. And his own experience, he said, had taught him not to trust confident judgments about the future of an authoritarian.
“You get that blithe assumption that the status quo will always remain — or that this guy is so bad he’s got to go,” he said. “Neither are necessarily true, nor necessarily false.”
And Kozak is right: The main lesson I should have learned was about making predictions, about trusting the confidence of my American culture and of official sources on both sides, of imagining I knew more than I did. Even in the era of Steven Spielberg’s The Post and of a kind of glorification of the work of journalists, good reporting doesn’t offer easy lessons. It’s an uncertain business, and a necessarily anarchic one. Now I’m glad I wrote Shydlovski’s story, not despite the fact that I didn’t know where it would lead, but because of it.”
The Rise of ‘Fake News’ is Producing a Record Number of Journalism Majors
Applications have jumped at journalism schools across the country. After five years of “consistent” application numbers, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism saw a 10% increase for the 2017-2018 school year, a spokeswoman said.
News organizations including The New York Times and The Washington Post have said they’ve seen spikes in subscriptions since President Donald Trump’s election.
The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by MarketWatch’s parent company News Corp. NWSA+0.92% has also added subscribers, now totaling more than 2.2 million, including print editions. The Journal added 118,000 digital subscribers between December 2016 and March 2017.
[Shared by the Aspen Institute]
Ben Schreckinger had just experienced the dinner most journalists would die for — especially in light of recent events — and still he was seriously considering law school.
The intrepid young reporter had spent the summer of 2013 as a fellow of the GroundTruth Project, a program to provide young journalists with foreign experience. In Schreckinger’s case, that meant traveling north up the Burma Road through Myanmar to report on the country’s reopening. Yet even as Schreckineger and his fellows were sharing a meal with freedom fighter–turned–lawmaker and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, he remained undecided — until GroundTruth founders Charles Sennott and Kevin Grant found him in the hotel pool later that night.
The nonprofit GroundTruth Project is devoted to narrative storytelling around the world. Its new offshoot, Report for America, is designed to reignite local journalism in the U.S.
“We were talking over a beer and Charlie made me promise that I would give journalism two more years,” Shreckinger, the political correspondent for GQ magazine, tells OZY. “I said, a year — that I would do another year.” It took two before Schreckinger went to Politico, where he covered the Trump campaign and then wrote for the publication’s magazine — and he still took the Law School Admission Test. But in the end, “I owe it all to that promise I made to Charlie in that pool in Burma.”
Now Sennott and Grant, former editors of the news website GlobalPost, want future Schrekingers in places like Youngstown rather than Yangon. Starting in early 2018, Report for America, a spin-off of the GroundTruth Project, plans to grant about 1,000 early-career journalists fellowships over the next five years to work for depleted news organizations in undercovered regions of the U.S. Think Teach for America with a press pass.
THE AD-SUPPORTED, FOR-PROFIT MODEL FOR JOURNALISM IS ON ITS WAY OUT — 95 CENTS OF EVERY [AD] DOLLAR SPENT IS GOING TO GOOGLE OR FACEBOOK.
KEVIN GRANT, REPORT FOR AMERICA EXECUTIVE EDITOR
“Although the shrinking of newsrooms is primarily financially driven, even when local newsrooms do have the budget to hire, they have a tough time recruiting and retaining talent,” Grant says. “Our DNA is global — we’ve been pursuing the big stories around the world — but last year around election time we realized our own country was in crisis. Much as the way we would respond to a crisis in Egypt, we needed to respond to the one in the U.S.”
Hammered by the decline of print advertising, local and regional newspapers have been hemorrhaging jobs for years. A 2015 study by the American Society of News Editors reported that there were 32,900 journalists at nearly 1,400 daily newspapers — a 10.4 percent one-year decline, and down from a peak of 56,900 in 1990. (In the past two years, ASNE declined to release employment figures because of a lack of reliable data.) The remaining jobs, and new ones from digital outlets, are concentrated in coastal cities: The share of American reporting jobs that were in New York, Washington and Los Angeles went from 1 in 8 in 2004 to 1 in 5 in 2014, according to federal government figures. Even in New York, local journalism took a significant blow last week when popular websites DNAinfo, Gothamist and their offshoots were shut down by billionaire owner Joe Ricketts, in part because the journalists voted to join a union.
“The ad-supported, for-profit model for journalism is on its way out — 95 cents of every [ad] dollar spent is going to Google or Facebook,” Grant says. “We found this with GlobalPost before GroundTruth and have the personal experience, as well as the personal sting.” GroundTruth’s solution to keep emptying newsroom cubicles full? Foundation money.
GroundTruth started as a nonprofit division of GlobalPost in 2011. In 2015 — the year after its correspondent James Foley was beheaded by ISIS terrorists in Syria — GlobalPost was acquired by Boston public media producer WGBH. Public Radio International and other public journalism brands started picking up stories from GroundTruth, which is backed by the likes of the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation.
While GroundTruth publishes on international platforms, Report for America is locally driven. It will connect young, aspiring journalists with newsrooms that request the help. RFA will pay half of a fellow’s $40,000 salary package, with the newsroom and local donors picking up the rest. The fellow will work in the local newsroom for one year; the newsroom picks up more of the tab if it keeps the journalist longer.
ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative news site, and other organizations have started similar partnerships. ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network funds salary and benefits for reporters at up to six partner news organizations in cities with populations of less than 1 million.
Substantial questions remain about whether this model is sustainable. More than half of Teach for America recruits leave their initial placements in low-income schools after two years, and only 14 percent remain in their original schools by their fifth year. RFA’s backers don’t proclaim that they will save journalism, just as Teach for America can’t save education and the Peace Corps hasn’t brought about global unity. But GroundTruth did save both Schreckinger and Qainat Khan from law school.
Khan, a native of Tanzania who bailed on Northeastern Law after a year, is now on the road with GroundTruth’s Crossing the Divide project, assisting five early-career journalists from five states to report stories related to a larger national theme. “Local journalism is like providing a public service, and for me, it’s about doing meaningful work — to encounter people I would have never had a reason to encounter,” Khan says. “I’m not an economist and I don’t deal with the business side. But it makes sense to share the risk and share the cost. Perhaps collaboration will save local newsrooms. Otherwise, who are you competing with? It’s like a race to the bottom.”
Incredibly well reported and researched. And deeply moving.
First aired on 9.25.17
‘Now What Am I Known For?’ Trying to Find Oliver Sipple’s Legacy
by Latin Nasser
Our latest episode tells the story of Oliver Sipple, a Vietnam vet who went for a walk one day, and ended up saving then-President Gerald Ford from an assassin’s bullet. A day later, renowned gossip columnist Herb Caen – in conjunction with the activist Harvey Milk – outed Sipple as gay. Sipple hadn’t told his family. The revelation made national news and he eventually sued several newspapers for invading his privacy.
Trying to capture something so evanescent as a reaction to a headline forty years after the fact is no small challenge, but we started calling up some organizations we thought might be able to help. Turns out, we didn’t have much luck. But in all those calls, we did talk to two people who shared what Sipple and his story meant to them. And – although we had to cut them from our story for time – we still wanted to share snippets from those conversation.
More on reporting privacy with a focus on the digital age and the ease of exposing privacy with massive and often debilitating effects.
What is ‘doxing’?
Or that man who was wrongly identified as the Boston Marathon bomber?
These were all examples of how making someone’s personal, and sometimes private, information public on the internet led to intense harassment.
Today, each of the cases could easily be termed a form of doxxing—shorset for “dropping documents.” In the last few years, doxxing has increasingly been used as an online weapon to attack people. People’s “documents”—records of their addresses, relatives, finances—get posted online with the implicit or explicit invitation for others to shame or hector them.
But while doxxing may seem both creepy and dangerous, there is no single federal law against the practice. Such behavior has to be part of a wider campaign of harassment or stalking for it to be against the law.
This week I wrote about “doxxing” among the more extreme elements of the country’s political left and right, a world of zealotry and paranoia and anger and worry. Over the course of my reporting, the subject of my article got doxxed herself.
It was all fascinating and disturbing, and I think leaves people, myself included, with a lot to think about concerning doxxing—its effectiveness and appropriateness both. Reporters, after all, have been doing a form of doxxing for decades.
But to hope of thinking clearly about doxxing, it always helps to better understand it and its practitioners.
So, how do doxxers dox? They use public records, like property records, tax documents, voter registration databases; they scour social media, real estate websites, and even do real-life surveillance to gather information. Then, they publish the information online.
For some, doxxing is morally troubling. Law professor Danielle Citron is one. “It provides a permission structure to go outside the law and punish each other,” she says. “It’s like shaming in cyber-mobs.”
Then, there is the matter of doxxing the wrong person.
Here’s an example: After the infamous “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, an attendee wearing an “Arkansas engineering” shirt was identified as Kyle Quinn, a professor at the University of Arkansas. Except Kyle Quinn wasn’t in Charlottesville. That didn’t stop the internet, and so when “Kyle Quinn” was doxxed as one of those torch-bearing protesters in Charlottesville, Quinn spent a weekend in hiding due to the amount of online abuse he subsequently received. The real protester, a former engineering student named Andrew M. Dodson, later apologized.
In some cases, people doxxed after taking part in white supremacist marches have been arrested, lost their jobs, or allegedly been disowned by their families.
Other experts question whether doxxing white supremacists is a useful tactic. “Is this an effective means of challenging racist views?” ask Ajay Sandhu and Daniel Marciniak, researchers at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. They argue that doxxing simply isolates people, forcing them into smaller parts of the internet. “You don’t really challenge them, you allow them to exist in those isolated spaces,” Sandhu says.
How do you protect yourself from doxxing? The short answer is: You probably can’t fully. But we have a few tips that will help make the information you want kept private more secure.
‘When we fiercely hate one another, we make ourselves vulnerable to propaganda and demagogues. Hate blinds people to the truth.’
Jimmy Carter’s advice for President Trump: “Keep the peace, tell the truth”
From Maria Popova/Brainpickings
‘Fear & Loathing in Modern Media’
“There is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” -Hunter S. Thompson
So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here — not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.
If you consider the great journalists in history, you don’t see too many objective journalists on that list. H. L. Mencken was not objective. Mike Royko, who just died. I. F. Stone was not objective. Mark Twain was not objective. I don’t quite understand this worship of objectivity in journalism. Now, just flat-out lying is different from being subjective.
Popover: ‘Flat-out lying, in fact, is something Thompson attributes to politicians whose profession he likens to a deadly addiction. In Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie, the very title of which speaks to the analogy, he writes:’
Not everybody is comfortable with the idea that politics is a guilty addiction. But it is. They are addicts, and they are guilty and they do lie and cheat and steal — like all junkies. And when they get in a frenzy, they will sacrifice anything and anybody to feed their cruel and stupid habit, and there is no cure for it. That is addictive thinking. That is politics — especially in presidential campaigns. That is when the addicts seize the high ground. They care about nothing else. They are salmon, and they must spawn. They are addicts.
A Savvy News Consumer’s Guide: How Not to Get Duped
Well news fans, to mix metaphors, the ball is now squarely in your court.
“Fake news” is everywhere. For instance:
- Millions voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.
- Protesters were paid to disrupt Trump rallies.
- Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump.
- And one that turned up just days before the election: Clinton was behind the murder-suicide of an FBI agent involved in her private email debacle.
That’s just a partial list of “stories.” All unequivocally false.
And now, there’s a “fake news” story with real-life consequences: a 28-year-old man fired an assault rifle inside a DC pizzeria recently after reading an outlandish story linking the restaurant and (why not?) Clinton to a child sex-trafficking ring.
There is nothing new about “fake news.” What is different today are the vast social media networks that allow all information — minor or major — to zip around the internet in nanoseconds without regard to truth or importance.
The proliferation of news consumption on social media means Americans are dealing with a firehose of information with little curation or verification. By age 18, according to a 2015 study by the Media Insight Project, 88 percent of millennials get news regularly from Facebook and other social media. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all adults get their news from Facebook, which is currently struggling with how to handle the thorny issue of vetting fake news without violating First Amendment rights.
All of this means that when it comes to determining fact from fake and understanding how one’s own biases affect how news is accessed, processed and shared, the onus in today’s unfiltered media world is irrevocably on the news consumer.
The days when the mainstream news media were trusted gatekeepers who only published or aired deeply reported stories are long over. Each of us must act as our own editor, adopting the skills and taking the time (yes) to determine the real deal. One of the key newsroom axioms to adopt: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” In other words, the more you are inclined to believe something, the more you should be skeptical.
The failure to do this is why, no matter how rigorously mainstream news outlets fact-check false stories or scrutinize Donald Trump’s statements, it often doesn’t matter. Liberals and conservatives believe what they want no matter how far-fetched. It’s known as confirmation bias. People search out information that confirms or reinforces what they already think. All too often, they are not open to information that should cause them to question those beliefs.
Research shows that when people are confronted with information that contradicts what they believe, our capacity to reason often shuts down! In 2008, I wrote about confirmation bias for NPR. Nothing has changed. In fact, Americans have gotten more entrenched in their beliefs and their unwillingness to absorb information that contradicts or complicates their beliefs:
Philo Wasburn, a Purdue University sociology professor who co-wrote a book on media bias, knows this well. He told me (in 2008) that research going back to the 1960s shows how difficult, if not impossible, it is to change people’s central core beliefs.
“When people are really committed to some ideological position, especially with politics, even if you present them with empirical evidence that supports the opposite of what they believe, they will reject it,” said Wasburn. “Core beliefs are very, very resistant to change.”
There already are efforts underway to educate the next generation on how to navigate news. The News Literacy Projectis a nonprofit dedicated to educating students in middle and high school on how to accurately sniff out the truth. The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University works around the world providing tools to develop smarter news consumers.
The need for such education is clear.
A recent Stanford University study found that 82 percent of middle schoolers did not know the difference between a real news story and an ad that clearly stated it was “sponsored content,” basically unedited advertising.
Those results are no surprise to the eight-person team at the News Literacy Project. Alan Miller, a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter, started it in 2008 after leaving the newsroom to teach teens critical thinking skills. Beginning with schools in New York City and around Washington, DC, the project has expanded to Chicago and Houston. In one New York City school, high school seniors didn’t know Osama bin Laden was dead or that US forces had killed him, according to Miller.
“Students need to be able to understand newsworthiness, sourcing, documentation, fundamental fairness and the aspiration of minimizing bias in a dispassionate search for truth,” wrote Miller in a journal article for the National Council of Social Studies. “They also need to be familiar with concepts of transparency and accountability.”
This is our moment.
— ALAN MILLER, THE NEWS LITERACY PROJECT
After a presidential election in which “fake news” played such a prominent role, the need for news literacy has never been greater.
“The nature of the presidential campaign combined with the recent disclosures of the prevalence and power of ‘fake news’ have underscored the urgency of teaching news literacy to the next generation,” said Miller. “I wish I could say I was prescient and knew how great the need would be eight years later. But as a prospective donor said, ‘The Zeitgeist has come to you.’ This is our moment.”
In eight years, Miller’s project had worked with several hundred educators and 25,000 students. To dramatically extend its reach nationally, the project in May launched the checkologyTM virtual classroom, a cutting-edge resource that teaches the core skills and concepts for making sense of news and information.
“As many as 675 educators in 41 states and Washington, DC have already registered to use it with more than 62,000 students,” said Miller. “We expect those numbers to grow exponentially.”
While baby boomers now miss the days when CBS’ Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America, the problem with “fake news” isn’t going away any time soon. Buzzfeed, which has been a leader in unmasking fake news under the brilliant media whiz Craig Silverman, released a Dec. 6 study showing most Americans who see “fake news” believe it.
So what can you do?
Slow down. Don’t reflexively pass on something. Start by always employing critical thinking skills. Be skeptical, not cynical. Expect to be fooled. Be vigilant. Don’t make sweeping generalizations. Examine news stories on a case-by-case basis.
A savvy news consumer’s responsibility is to learn how to discern credible information from opinion, sponsored content, “fake news,” viral rumors, clickbait, doctored videos or images and plain old political propaganda. Here are some tips on how:
1. Consider the source.
- Is it a site you are familiar with? If not, check the URL. Watch out for URLs with .co added to what looks like a mainstream news site. For example, many have been fooled by a site that looks like it’s ABC News but it’s not: abcnews.com.co
- Also watch for sites that end in “lo” like Newslo. “These sites take pieces of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts” (sometimes for the purposes of satire or comedy),” according to Merrimack College Professor Melissa Zimdars, who has made a specialty of studying “fake news.”
- Read the “About Us” section. Does it seem credible? It too may be made up.
- Is there a way to contact the news organization?
- Does it have a link to its editorial standards? Like PBS does.
- How credible does the website look? Is it screaming ALL-CAPS? Are there distracting gizmos for you to click on and win $10,000? Exit, immediately.
2. Read beyond the headlines.
Too often we read an outrageous headline that confirms our biases and quickly pass it on. Don’t. Read deeper into the story and ask:
- How many sources are there? Is there documentation or links to back up the claim? Could you independently verify the contents? In most mainstream media stories, people are quoted by name, title and where they work (although sometimes they are quoted anonymously), and there are links to reports or court documents.
- Search the names of people, places or titles in a story. For example, the false story about Clinton being behind an FBI agent’s murder-suicide, said it took place in Walkerville, Maryland. There is no such place. There is a WalkerSville. Tricky.
- Check out a far-fetched quote by copying and pasting it into a search engine. Anyone else have that?
- Check out the author’s name. Search it or click on it. Has he or she written anything else? Is it credible?
- Is there any context included in the story? Does it seem fair? Are there opposing points of view?
- Drill down to find out who is behind the site —especially if it’s a contentious issue.
3. Check the date.
Too many times, a story is recycled with a new exaggerated headline. You’d be surprised how many times people die. In July, I got an email that famous journalist Helen Thomas had died. I started to forward it but something didn’t seem right. Why? She had died three years ago.
4. Double check suspicious photos.
This is fairly easy to do by right-clicking on a image and the doing a Google search. Photos of Hillary Clinton stumbling back in February were recycled closer to the election to give the impression she was sick.
Several other helpful sites can assist:
5. Check your biases.
Know your own biases. Try taking Harvard University’s Project Implicit bias test.
6. Learn from a wide variety of sources.
- If you lean left, watch Fox News, read the Wall Street Journaleditorial page, Weekly Standard, National Review and Reasonmagazine. Be aware and skeptical of what’s being said on Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart.
- If you lean right, tune in Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Pay attention to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! While the left doesn’t appear to have as many well-established (and popular) conspiracy-theory, faux-news peddlers, the same goes for what you might hear on the other side. Be skeptical: If it sounds too good to be true, it bears checking out.
- Or watch more middle-of-the-road news on PBS’ NewsHour. Listen to NPR.
- Check out Media Matters, which monitors conservative media and the Media Research Center, which monitors the mainstream media.
If you walk away with one useful piece of information, always ask this question: How do you know that?
Do it all with a healthy skepticism. Every story you agree with isn’t necessarily so. Every story you disagree with is not necessarily biased either. Be open to views you don’t agree with.
Verify, verify, verify. And keep honing your skills.
- The News Literacy Project’s How to Spot Fake News
- Merrimack College Professor Melissa Zimdars’ “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources”
- Factcheck.org’s How to Spot Fake News
- Craig Silverman’s Five Telltale Signs of an Online Hoax
- First Draft News.com provides an excellent guide to navigating the news online.
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With the grave threats to immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, the LGBTQI community and others, we’re joining with our allies to counter the Trump administration and RESIST.
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‘You think the truth took a hit last year? It’s about to get worse. A lot worse.’
Welcome to the media in the Age of Trump.
- False rhetoric.
- False equivalency.
- Ad hominum.
Charles Sykes/Politico Magazine
All of this was a long time coming.
Trump’s victory means that the most extreme and recklessly irresponsible voices on the right now feel emboldened and empowered. And more worrisome than that, they have an ally in the White House. The new media will not only provide propaganda cover for the administration, but also direct the fire of a loose confederation of conservative outlets against critics and dissenters.
So what is this brave new conservative media going to look like? Probably more like Alex Jones than National Review. The appointment of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon as chief adviser to the president-elect was the new regime’s implicit imprimatur on the new conservative media. But perhaps the most revealing moment was Trump’s reported call, on the Monday after the election, to Infowars’ Alex Jones to thank him for his support in the campaign.
Jones is not your garden-variety conspiracy theorist. He is a 9/11 truther, who believes the U.S. government conspired in the attacks to justify the creation of a police state. He has suggested that the government also may have been behind the bombings in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, and at the Boston Marathon, which killed three. And he has repeatedly suggested that the Sandy Hook shootings were a “hoax,” “synthetic” and “completely fake.” He also thinks the government wants to “encourage homosexuality so people don’t have children” and said that Hillary Clinton was “a frickin’ demon and she stinks and so does Obama.”