The U.S. press freedom crisis, diversity in the newsroom, and how the media should report on protests

Our personal weekly selection about journalism and innovation.

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Edited by Marco Nurra

Press freedom in crisis: attacks on the media in U.S. escalates. While covering protests across the nation — spurred by the death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 — an unprecedented number of journalists have been assaulted, arrested or otherwise prevented from documenting history. As the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker verifies more than 440 reported incidents across 60+ cities.

Refugee journalists bring access to stories that would otherwise be missed. The work of refugee journalists is particularly essential at a time when the impact of migration has revealed critical failures in European institutions — including journalism institutions — and a time when a reckoning over diversity is roiling U.S. newsrooms, too, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer. “Diversity is not about political correctness, it’s about the quality of media,” says German journalist Tabea Grzeszyk.

Five problems with how the media covers protests. Doug McLeod, Evjue Centennial Professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, first conducted research on protest narratives nearly 40 years ago, when he began analyzing how the media helped shape public opinion about anarchist protesters in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, in the mid-to-late 1980s. During this time of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, his research provides a powerful way of framing or reframing the stories we tell about protests. Here McLeod has compiled his five recommendations for ethical protest coverage.

It’s time to change the way the media reports on protests. In essence, when it comes to protests, the media is biased toward the status quo. So when Slate published a story with the headline “Police erupt in violence nationwide,” it was almost startling in its forthrightness. The story resonated, being shared widely on social media in and in private text groups, because it was the first national report that made plain what people were seeing in videos. “People kept sharing these videos that were coming up and it was unambiguous what was going on,” said Tom Scocca, Slate’s politics editor, who edited the story. “We weren’t looking at a stream of videos of violence erupting or clashes breaking out. We were looking at cops, attacking people.”

Objectivity isn’t a magic wand. The protests over the death of George Floyd and the way they have been covered (or not covered) by newsrooms around the country has widened existing stress fractures in journalism around the topic of race. One of the things that is being called into question is the concept of objectivity. Wesley Lowery, a reporter with 60 Minutes, put some of this into words with a recent essay in the New York Times entitled “A Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists.” Whatever the ideals behind objectivity might be, Lowery wrote, in practice it translates into an industry in which “the mainstream has allowed what it considers objective truth to be decided almost exclusively by white reporters and their mostly white bosses.” The piece sparked an interesting conversation on Twitter.

The many challenges of covering the coronavirus haven’t gone away. After months of covering the coronavirus, we understand the science better. But we cannot give into fatigue and normalization.

China is reshaping the global news landscape and weakening the Fourth Estate. Beijing’s involvement in media overseas is growing almost faster than it can be tracked. Kindergartens, handicrafts markets, high-tech companies, hydroelectric dams… These are some of the sights international journalists are whisked around when they take part in all-expenses paid tours to China. The motive of these invitations is, in the mantra of Chinese president Xi Jinping, to “tell a good China story” to the outside world. In the past, that “good China story” would have been told through clumsy Communist party propaganda broadcast on its state-run news outlets. But nowadays Beijing is increasingly outsourcing the storytelling to foreign journalists, who often end up amplifying its messages in their own languages in the pages of their own news outlets.

Israeli spyware used to target Moroccan journalist, Amnesty claims. As NSO Group faced mounting criticism last year that its hacking software was being used illegally against journalists, dissidents and campaigners around the world, the Israeli spyware company unveiled a new policy that it said showed its commitment to human rights. Now an investigation has alleged that another journalist, Omar Radi in Morocco, was targeted with NSO’s Pegasus software and put under surveillance just days after the company made that promise.

Press watchdog urges India to drop investigation into journalist over COVID-19 reporting. “Launching a criminal investigation into a journalist for her work in the prime minister’s parliamentary constituency is a clear intimidation tactic and sends a chilling message to journalists across the country,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher.

Google adds contextual fact-checking for some image search results. The feature, available starting this week, provides a few lines of context with select searches, drawing on services provided by third-party fact-checkers. The tool is powered by publishers themselves, who can now opt to tag images that have been fact-checked using ClaimReview, a method for publishers to communicate to search engines that an image has been verified.

Digital ad market set to eclipse traditional media for first time. Digital advertising on platforms such as Google, Facebook and Alibaba is set this year to overtake spending on traditional media for the first time, a historic shift in market share that has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.