IS THE RISE OF MEDIA LITERACY JUST MORE "FAKE NEWS"?

An 1894 newspaper illustration depicting various forms of fabricated news. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

An 1894 newspaper illustration depicting various forms of fabricated news. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

If we can’t trust the quality of the information we use to make choices in a democracy, can democracy survive? Behind that question is a rising effort to combat “fake news,” sometimes with legal measures. According to the advocacy group Media Literacy Now, ten states considered media literacy legislation in 2018 alone.

The inevitable question is rising to the surface: who decides what news is fake and what isn’t? Project Censored, a California-based media watchdog group, is skeptical of the movement that has turned media literacy into a buzz phrase. Its director contends that “the whole fighting of ‘fake news’ has become a Trojan horse to propel other agendas.” Courtesy Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.

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#METOO HITS THE WORLD OF EUROPEAN JOURNALISM

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As outrage piles on outrage in the burgeoning #MeToo movement, a Facebook group of French journalists has been accused of bullying female colleagues via social media - in a perfect example of how slippery a slope sophomoric wisecracks have become in the 21st century.

Members of the Facebook group - “Ligue du LOL” - say the bullying started as “dubious humor” in exchanges that were intended to be private. But the harassment - aimed largely at minority and ethnic fellow journalists - degenerated into pornographic memes, along with photos that were doctored with the intent of humiliating their targets. Six journalists have now been suspended for their roles, including the group’s founder, who was suspended by the left wing French newspaper Libération. Courtesy The Guardian.

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HEDGE FUND SEEKS TO ACQUIRE NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER GANNETT

The Arlington, Virginia headquarters of USA Today, published by Gannett.

The Arlington, Virginia headquarters of USA Today, published by Gannett.

The news industry has been through so many cost saving measures over the last decade that it’s a wonder there is anything left to cut. A group backed by a Denver-based hedge fund begs to differ. It has offered $1.36 billion to purchase Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and other major papers around the US.

The group, Digital First Media, is known in the industry for ruthless cost cutting. “Digital First is really the most avaricious of the newspaper chains these days," and is "unique in the degree to which it is willing to cut" costs and jobs, said a journalism professor from Northeastern University. Courtesy The Chicago Tribune.

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CNN 'JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR' PEDDLES FAKE NEWS, RESIGNS

December is proving to be a real mixed bag for the field of journalism. TIME Magazine named as Persons of The Year “The Guardians” - meaning, reporters who guard the freedom of the press and fight for truth and transparency. So far, so good.

But as the month and year draw to a close comes troubling news of a reporter for the German news magazine Der Spiegel whom CNN had named “Journalist of the Year.” According to a Der Spiegel editor, the reporter apparently “made up stories and invented protagonists” in at least 14 out of 60 articles appearing in print and on the website over a period of years. Courtesy Marketwatch.

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COMING SOON TO A NEWS AGGREGATOR NEAR YOU: PEOPLE

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Since the dawn of the printing press and the town crier, news distribution has always been a labor intensive process. The Internet upended the longstanding dynamic, removing not just the printing press, but in some cases the crier as well: news editors were being replaced by algorithms that automatically tailor news feeds based on what they know about Web surfers’ preferences.

That, of course, eliminates the serendipity factor: stumbling on something that a professional thought was inherently interesting enough for you to see. Amid growing criticism that faceless algorithms are at least partially responsible for the spread of “fake news,” Apple is introducing an innovation to its news feed: human editors. Courtesy The New York Times.

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CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: WHO GETS THE SCOOP?

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Reporters take pride in building what used to be called a Rolodex of sources and contacts, against the day that one of the names on their list will tip them off to something worthwhile. And the story of Christine Blasey Ford, accuser of Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, certainly qualifies in that department.

But when you have both a story - and competing loyalties on which publication to give it to - how do you decide? It’s proving a curious sidebar to the landmark Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. Courtesy The Poynter Institute.

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JOURNALIST: MCCARRICK RUMORS WERE "TOO OUTLANDISH" TO BE BELIEVED

As the Roman Catholic Church reels from the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick following sex abuse charges, there’s been lots of soul searching going on. And not all of it has been in the Church.

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Mike Kelly, a columnist for The Record, a daily newspaper in northern New Jersey, disclosed that a priest telephoned him some twenty years ago, asking for the paper to investigate McCarrick. “Some priests and nuns apparently regularly discussed the rumors of the archbishop’s strange sleeping relationships with his favored seminarians,” the reporter said. “I remember responding by saying something like: ‘The archbishop is sleeping with seminarians? You’ve got to be kidding me.’  I even added a colorful expletive, too.”

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CATHOLIC EDITOR TO U.S. BISHOPS: DITCH THE LAWYERS

Theodore McCarrick, who resigned in disgrace from the College of Cardinals following charges of sexual abuse.  Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Theodore McCarrick, who resigned in disgrace from the College of Cardinals following charges of sexual abuse.  Image via Wikimedia Commons.

If anyone should know how to speak to the public with a human touch, you would think religious leaders would have it down pat.  But as the Roman Catholic Church struggles with yet another sex abuse scandal - this one directly involving an American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, whose egregious behavior led him to resign in disgrace - the hierarchy's handling of the matter is making some wonder if any public relations lessons were truly taken to heart during the previous debacles.  

"When the bishops make statements, it is clear that they have all been lawyered,"  says a British moral theologian and editor of a major Catholic weekly.  "Trouble is, the lawyers remove any trace of humanity too."  Courtesy The Catholic Herald.

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THE UNEXPECTED COST OF SAYING NOTHING

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It's a truism of media relations that "no comment" is itself a comment.   Not only does it leave viewers and readers with the impression that you do not challenge the allegations against you, but refusing comment on a negative story forfeits an important opportunity to respond and correct inaccuracies.  And you never know how big that story will get.

Case in point:  the travails of a former "Shark Tank" contestant, the owner of a woodworking company in Vermont.  A local paper wrote a story about his company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy, noting that the owner "was unavailable for comment."  The story got picked up by a national newspaper, and now that local "no comment" has gotten a far larger audience.  Courtesy USA Today.

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STUDY: AVOID THE "TRUMP TRAP" AND STAY TRUE TO YOUR BRANDS

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When it comes to the current occupant of the White House, many companies feel they're caught between the devil and the deep, and a new study gives credence to that belief.  The technology research and consulting firm  Morning Consult finds that brands should expect backlash if they bring the President into the conversation, either positively or negatively. 

There is good news in the report, however.  Brands that stick to what they know best - their corporate values - face less risk.    Courtesy Axios.

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LOCAL TV NEWS: A LONG FADE TO BLACK

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away," noted General Douglas MacArthur.  Sadly, the fade continues for local television news, a longtime staple of America's media diet. 

A fact sheet released this month by a major media research organization details the uninterrupted long term decline.   The report notes that the decline is cyclical - viewership and revenue both tend to spike in election years - but the overall trend is downward.   And while stations try to squeeze more productivity out of staff by adding more news programming, salaries in newsrooms remain flat.   Courtesy The Pew Center.

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WHEN ADVOCATES BECOME JOURNALISTS

Your local newspaper has shut down or is on life support.  Its muckraking staff has taken early retirement, moved away, or simply left the field in despair.   It's not an unusual story in the first part of the 21st century.   But nature abhors a vacuum, and what is unusual is who is rushing in to take up the investigative role:  advocates for specific causes. 

In an age when journalism is no longer yoked to an expensive printing press or transmission facilities, organizations like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU are embarking on complicated projects that look a lot like what investigative reporters do.  The question is... is that a good thing or not?  Courtesy Columbia Journalism Review.

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THE HIGH PRICE OF LABELING YOUR EARNINGS CALL "BORING"

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Elon Musk has rightly developed a reputation as the auto industry's outspoken maverick - so he was completely in character when he chided a stock analyst on Tesla's recent earnings call for asking "boring questions."  But while that line may earn you great media attention, it simultaneously repels a group you really need in your camp: your investors.   Tesla's stock price fell more than 5 percent after the call, costing the firm more than $3.7 billion in market capitalization. 

"The first 'rule' of being a public company is that if you seek investor capital, you owe them the courtesy of answering their questions," wrote Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter on Twitter.  "If Mr. Musk wanted to run a private company, he should have done so."   Courtesy USA Today.

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HOW TRUMP'S FAKE NEWS MANTRA SPREAD

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It isn't just the Collins Dictionary that voted "fake news" 2017's Word of the Year.  Millions of social media users seem to agree.   And because one of the simplest uses of the term is meant to imply that reporters are biased, malicious, careless, or all three, as the term has moved around the Internet it's spelled trouble for the Fourth Estate.

"All that makes it hard for honest reporters to do their job in America," writes veteran foreign correspondent Christopher Dickey.  But it's made life "even more difficult - and dangerous - for reporters around the globe."  Courtesy The Daily Beast.

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WHEN THE TWITTER MOB CAME FOR KEVIN WILLIAMSON

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Conservative writer Kevin Williamson is witty, colorful, and controversial.  You would think traits like that are tailor made both for the Twittersphere and magazines of opinion.  But Williamson's recent experience demonstrates that in today's overheated social media environment, the two don't always mix.

Just three days after being hired away from National Review, Williamson was fired by his new employer, The Atlantic.  The problem?  A six-word, four year old tweet on abortion and capital punishment.  The lesson?  Choose your words on Twitter carefully - or you could be next.  Courtesy The Wall Street Journal.

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JOURNALISM SCHOOL APPLICATIONS RISE

The Columbia University School of Journalism saw a 10 percent increase in applications in the past year.

The Columbia University School of Journalism saw a 10 percent increase in applications in the past year.

For years, pundits have been predicting the slow death of traditional journalism.  Fewer and fewer Americans get their news from newspapers.  Venerable daily outlets are closing, and staff reporters are being put out of work - or hired back as freelancers at a fraction of their former salaries.

Despite this dismal backdrop, applications at journalism schools have increased across the country.  Just as the Watergate scandal encouraged many young people to consider journalism as a field in the 1970's, so the onslaught of "fake news" seems to be doing today.  Courtesy the New York Post.

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HOW TO MONITOR FAKE NEWS

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The Mueller investigation may not have pinpointed collusion between the Trump Administration and Russia, but for months evidence has been accumulating that the Kremlin did try to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential race.  Facebook alone claims some 80-thousand Russian backed posts may have reached as many as 126 million Americans during the election season. 

Those posts are created and distributed using privately held social media algorithms, so arcane that even the creators don't know for days or weeks who they reached and how.  Making the results of those formulas public, argues the author, would go a long way toward shining a light on the shadowy fake news industry.  Courtesy The New York Times.

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THE MOST STRESSFUL JOBS OF 2018

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You'll have to deal with pressure, wrote Billy Joel.  But how much?  In the workplace, it's no secret that some jobs are more stressful than others, but attempts to measure stress levels across a range of occupations have been spotty.

Now, comparing metrics across a wide variety of fields, comes a list of the Top Ten Most Stressful Jobs of 2018.   Not surprisingly, newspaper reporter, broadcaster, and public relations executive all make the cut.   Courtesy Benefit News.

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THE LATEST CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE: LA WEEKLY

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LA Weekly, a free "alternative" newspaper serving the Los Angeles area, made news itself last week following an unusual ownership change.  The new owner, a private company known as Semanal LLC, declined to disclose the identity of its backers - prompting outcries from press freedom groups. 

"It is an absolute outrage that the public doesn't know," said the Society of Professional Journalists in a press release.  "No media outlet should hide who its owners are,"  the orgaization said.  Meantime, the new owners fired most of LA Weekly's staff and asked for "unpaid contributors" to help provide content - spurring calls by some readers and former employees for a boycott.  Courtesy The Wrap. 

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TIME INC. REPORTERS HAVE A KOCH AND A SMILE

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The Sulzbergers.  The Grahams.  The Murdochs, and more recently Jeff Bezos.  The wealthy have a long track record of buying - then running - influential media outlets.  So what's the big deal when Charles and David Koch announced their backing of Meredith Corporation's most recent attempt to buy Time Inc.?

The big deal, of course, is the Koch brothers' libertarian politics.   But the news industry's travails in recent years have derailed the careers of a great many journalists.   So many who would normally criticize the Kochs' involvement are viewing them as something of a savior.   Courtesy Vanity Fair.

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