The Cartel Project, health and science misinformation, and the appeal of Substack

Our personal weekly selection about journalism and innovation.

Stay up to date by subscribing to our Newsletter or by following our Telegram channel, and join the conversation on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Edited by Marco Nurra

42 journalists killed over their work in 2020. Forty-two journalists and media workers have been killed while doing their jobs this year, according to the International Federation of Journalists’ annual tally. A further 235 are in prison in cases related to their work, the report showed. Mexico topped the 2020 list of countries where the most journalists were killed, for the fourth time in five years, with 13 killings, followed by Pakistan with five. Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Nigeria recorded three killings each.

The Cartel Project is a massive cross-border collaboration to finish the investigations of a murdered Mexican journalist. Forbidden Stories—a network of journalists whose mission is to continue the work of reporters who are threatened, censored, or killed—published a new investigation into the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez. The report, part of five-part series about the killings of reporters in Mexico, lays bare serious flaws in the investigation in a context of violence and political corruption. “The Cartel Project” is a collaboration between Forbidden Stories and 25 media outlets across the world. According to the project’s website, 60 reporters have spent 10 months investigating crimes against the press in Mexico.

Gunmen kill female TV anchor and driver in Afghanistan. A journalist and women’s rights campaigner has been gunned down in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a string of targeted killings that have terrorised urban areas as the government tries to negotiate peace with insurgents. Malalai Maiwand, a reporter at Enikas Radio and TV, was killed with her driver, Mohammad Tahir, on her morning commute to work in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province. Her death comes a month after a leading journalist in Southern Helmand, Elyas Dayee, and a prominent former TV news presenter in Kabul, Yama Siawash, were killed in car bombings. This year has also seen human rights workers, moderate religious scholars and civil society activists picked off as they went about their daily lives. Maiwand’s mother, who was also an activist, was also killed by unknown gunmen five years ago.

BBC correspondent describes staying safe, finding journalistic camaraderie during Nagorno-Karabakh’s 6-week war. Journalists who covered the recent six-week-long conflict between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh faced violence to get the story of the region’s latest bloody chapter to the world. At least six journalists were injured in shelling attacks in Nagorno-Karabakh and two were assaulted when a mob descended on a broadcaster in Armenia to oppose its reporting on the November 9 peace treaty, as CPJ documented. CPJ issued safety advice for journalists covering the conflict.

Al Jazeera journalist files hack and leak suit against Saudi Arabian and UAE crown princes. Al Jazeera anchor Ghada Oueiss on Wednesday filed suit against Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, and a group of other officials for allegedly targeting her in a hack and leak operation. Oueiss, who filed suit in the Southern District of Florida, alleged that the crown princes, along with a group of other Saudi and UAE officials and American citizens, carried out an operation intended to undermine her character and her journalistic career due to Oueiss’s critical reporting on the Saudi Arabian and UAE governments. The almost two dozen defendants in the case are alleged to have coordinated in a hack and leak operation that used foreign and domestic influencers to undermine Oueiss’s character.

In 2021, it’s time to refocus on health and science misinformation. Since 2016, the “field of misinformation” has been disproportionately focused on political disinformation. As the election recedes, medical and climate misinformation move to the forefront. There are three recommendations that should be considered. The first is the need to educate journalists about science and research so they are able to adequately question press releases from academics, researchers and pharmaceutical companies when necessary. The second is a need to educate science and health professionals about the current information ecosystem. In this fragmented, networked world, the caution and discipline that define scientific discovery are being weaponized by bad actors. The third is the critical need to raise awareness about the harm done to communities of color globally, and how that harm has created a deep distrust of medical health professionals.

Minding the knowledge gap on COVID-19 vaccine. Last week, Facebook announced it would be taking a more proactive role in fighting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation in an effort to support public health efforts to address the global pandemic. However, in an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” First Draft co-founder and U.S. director Claire Wardle argued that much of the misinformation about the pandemic response may fly under Facebook’s radar. Some of these posts come in the form of questions where there exists a gap about what people want to know about vaccines and what is readily publicly available. “People have got genuine questions that we’re just not answering adequately enough,” Wardle said.

Tips for professional reporting on COVID-19 vaccines. With more than 100 vaccines currently in various trial phases and some reaching the pre-approval stage or being authorized for emergency use, accurate science reporting has never been more important. Journalists play a vital role in informing the public on science, specifically vaccine, developments, in an unprecedented period of scientific publishing. The situation is constantly evolving but there are some general guidelines that should be followed whenever possible.

As online communities mobilize offline, misinformation manifests a physical threat. Although past research has struggled to gauge the real-world consequences of online mis- and disinformation, 2020 has exposed a gap in understanding of the ways online spaces are intrinsically connected to offline spaces, communications and behaviors.

Can Substack CEO Chris Best build a new model for journalism? The Verge has published an interview with Chris Best, co-founder and CEO of Substack, the subscription newsletter startup that’s taken the media industry by storm over the past few months. High-profile journalists have left their jobs at traditional media companies to start paid newsletters on Substack. The appeal of running your own newsletter is obvious and simple: instead of working for a boss, you can work for yourself. Instead of having your salary determined by management, you can make more money just by getting more subscribers. And most importantly, instead of feeling like you’re chasing clicks in an ad-supported business model, getting paid directly by subscribers theoretically incentivizes a different and better kind of journalism. That’s a lot of promise, but there are a lot of details in making that promise real.

Facebook’s Oversight Board plays it safe. “The Oversight Board announced the first six cases it would hear, a small drop in a vast ocean of millions of moderation decisions taken by the platform. Despite the announcement happening on the heels of a highly contentious period for Facebook, weeks after it publicly struggled to adjust flagging and takedown procedures amid a US election dominated by disinformation, the chosen cases stay clear of any US calls altogether while overlooking far more contentious incidents of political speech suppression around the world,” writes Emily Bell.

De Correspondent’s English-language site is shutting down on Dec. 31. The company saw “a projected loss of 900,000 euros in 2021, against only 1 million euros in revenue.”