The links in this week's newsletter were submitted and contextualized by students in our Fellows Edition of the Media Genius Master Class. Each example relates to the state of journalism – a critical consideration across all of our trends. Learn more about the program here
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The Search for Reliable Information Revisited

In March, we wrote about the search for reliable information as the COVID-19 pandemic surged around the world. The newsletters on trustworthy coronavirus sources were among the most-read of any sent. Revisiting this quest a few months later, it's worth asking the question — are we any better off in regards to trusted sources? Could we be even worse off in light of intentional
disinformation, conspiracy videos, and smear campaigns against public health experts?

Considering the inconsistency of facts during the pandemic — whether it's symptoms, mask effectiveness, case numbers — news literacy feels like an oxymoron even among the most astute. We need to better understand how
social facts are constructed and make informed decisions based on our own analysis versus following a singular source.

COVID-19 is the biggest story of our generation, yet few understand or adequately convey its trajectory. The unknowable elements of the crisis make it uniquely difficult for reporters and the public to have a clear read. But deep-rooted problems within the news, fueled by similar unrest in politics and culture, have made truth around any story increasingly subjective.

Vivian Schiller, a leading expert on media change, spoke about news challenges in our most recent student Master Class. She illuminated reasons journalism is under assault — media distrust, decline of local news, evolving business models, and the proliferation of platforms as the first, and for some, the only source of news. Our student discussion highlighted additional factors that make it nearly impossible to find ultimate truth.

The first was data. Traditionally used to validate facts, many are realizing that data is regularly manipulated or collected to tell a predetermined story. Politically motivated COVID case reporting and questionable sample sizes for national polls about racial disparity demonstrate the numbers alone aren't as reliable as once thought. This awareness has made almost any argument seem refutable and further contributes to fear of "fake news." 

Students also noticed an increase in emotionally-charged news that drives impulsive sharing — as seen on platforms like Instagram stories and TikTok. Not surprising, given recent data from the
Reuters Institute found over a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds in America use Instagram to access news. And this isn't a United States phenomenon. In Germany, 38% of this age group turns to Instagram alone to access news. In Argentina, it's as high as 49%. 

As disheartening as these challenges (among others) can seem, many are working toward promising changes in news models, platform policies, and community sensemaking initiatives. Again, the key is understanding social dynamics around facts and meaning. This is no doubt a work in progress.

Chris Perry

As always, if you find this newsletter valuable we would be grateful if you encouraged others to sign up by directing them here.
What We're Reading
Media Intelligence
How Can the Press Best Serve a Democratic Society?
By Michael Luo, The New Yorker

"Journalism's ideal of objectivity can be problematic given a political climate in which news often falls into a dangerous binary. Is the mindset of 'gotta hear both sides' outdated? Should different viewpoints always (or even usually) be presented equally? The Times' recent controversy over publishing Sen. Tom Cotton's op-ed showed that this problem is both ongoing and newsworthy."
Submitted by Dylan Lanas, The University of Alabama

Media Intelligence
Why No Local News is Bad News
By Tim Adams, The Guardian

"Within the news industry, there has been significant change with the rise of digital platforms, subscription-based news, and the rise ‘clickbait’ funded news. Another key setback? The consolidation of newspapers and holding groups that have created a steady stream of job losses. These losses fall heavily on local and regional newspapers — which have always been crucial when it comes to shedding light on issues like corruption, crime, inequality, and threats to democracy."
Submitted by Sam Forbes, University of Strathclyde

Media Intelligence
It’s Time to Change the Way the Media Reports on Protests. Here Are Some Ideas.
By Kendra Pierre-Louis, NiemanLab

"This Nieman Lab article by Kendra Pierre-Louis expands on the use of passive voice when it comes to reporting protests, specifically Black Lives Matter protests. 'The role of protest is to publicize grievances from people who typically exist outside of traditional power structures,' and 'The role of journalism is to hold powerful people and institutions accountable to the broader public.' But, Pierre-Louis argues, when journalists use passive voice to describe the behavior of people in positions of authority (in this case police officers) and active voice to describe the behavior of protestors, the reporting of protests is biased right from the start."
Submitted by Sarah Jones, College of William and Mary

Media Intelligence
How Objectivity in Journalism Became a Matter of Opinion
By The Economist

"Objectivity hasn’t always been the epitome of journalistic integrity, only becoming popular in the 1920s. Since then, our trends have put this principle under strain. Consider the stark contrast between the detached style journalists are meant to adopt in print and the personal approach many employ online. The division between news and comment, clear on paper in American journalism, dissolves on the internet. Case in point? A 2018 API study that found 75% of Americans could easily tell news from opinion in their favored outlet, but only 43% could on Twitter or Facebook."
Submitted by Isobel Helme, University College London

Media Intelligence
A Quarter of all U.S. Newspapers Have Died in 15 Years, a New UNC News Deserts Study Found
By Tom Stites, Poynter

"Local news has been on the decline, and the number of 'news deserts' is increasing as communities continue to lose their local newspapers, leaving them with no original reporting. Since 2018, 300 more U.S. newspapers have failed, bringing the 15-year tally of folded outlets to 2,100. In the past, news deserts were usually relegated to rural communities of lower socioeconomic status. But today, even wealthier suburbs are not exempt. So what’s the future of journalism? Experts predict ethnic media becoming a major player, new algorithms for editing and publishing, public broadcasting getting a bigger piece of the pie, and more government support."
Submitted by Ngozi Chukwueke, University of South Carolina

Media Intelligence
Reckoning With Race in Journalism
By Sam Sanders, NPR

"In this NPR episode with The Undefeated's Soraya Nadia McDonald, Futuro Media president and founder and Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa and NPR public editor Kelly McBride, I gained further insight into how 'whiteness still dictates newsroom practices, opportunities, and compensation.' One important point from McDonald – when Black journalists try to publish articles about racism and white supremacy, they are labeled as activists that are trying to make things about race. She explains this work is actually universally essential, as there needs to be a baseline of literacy when it comes to how we talk about race in America."
Submitted by Kriti Lodh, University of Georgia

Media Intelligence
It's Time to Defund Social Media
By Whitney Phillips, Wired

"In this article, Phillips focuses on social media and the idea that we should ‘defund’ it, borrowing from the recent call-to-action to ‘defund the police.’ Her take? ‘Until we fundamentally reimagine our information ecosystem and our respective roles within it, we’ll keep repeating the same patterns over and over – not as a bug of the system, not as a feature of the system, but as the system itself.’ Phillips suggests that reallocating more resources toward positive stories, common sense, and logic instead of devoting so much time on social media to anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, white supremacists, and the like would create a tremendous benefit for social media platforms and its users."
Submitted by Nick Fequiere, California State University, Bakersfield

Emerging Technology
Brief’s Mobile News App Aims to Tackle Information Overload and Media Bias
By Sarah Perez TechCrunch
"Former Google engineers founded an app that aims to eradicate information overload and bias. The app, Brief, 'aggregates and summarizes the news in hopes of tackling a number of problems with today’s news cycle, including information overload, burnout, media bias, and algorithms that prioritize engagement over news accuracy.' 
Submitted by Corinne Findlay, Penn State University
Deep Take
Google’s Top Search Result? Surprise! It’s Google
By Adrianne Jeffries and Leon Yinr, The Markup
Adding to the difficulty of finding diverse news sources is algorithmic bias that favors content from a platform's own network over objectively relevant results. In this example, investigators examined more than 15,000 recent popular queries and found that Google devoted 41% of the first page of search results on mobile devices to its own properties. Is it possible to be truly news literate when the platforms that filter information favor revenue over truth?
Copyright © 2020 Weber Shandwick

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