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Friday, Oct. 13, 2017

Lapses, freedoms and diversity

This week's newsletter touches on several important, news-literacy-rich subjects — the Harvey Weinstein scandal rumors that are coming to light only decades later, President Donald Trump's insinuated threat against NBC, the state of newsroom diversity and a variety of fakes that prompted real outrage. As always, thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.

                                                                                                        — Peter 

 Viral rumor rundown

Knowing how to do a reverse image search, shown above as an option in a right-click menu in Google Chrome, is a vital skill for today's students.

 Quick connections

  • The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) published its annual survey of racial and gender diversity in newsrooms across the country. The 2017 survey, released Tuesday, found that compared with last year, the percentage of journalists of color on staff declined slightly at daily newspapers and increased slightly in digital-only newsrooms. Both racial and gender diversity in leadership positions increased slightly at both newspapers and digital-only news organizations. But the long view paints a much bleaker picture: The number of women employed in the newsrooms surveyed increased by less than two percentage points, while the percentage of journalists of color grew by just three points against U.S. census data (ASNE's goal is for racial diversity in newsrooms to match the overall population by 2025).
    • Discuss: Why is newsroom diversity important? What should newsrooms do to improve newsroom diversity? What kinds of diversity goals should news organizations be pursuing? Should the racial and ethnic makeup of newsrooms match those of the communities they cover? Why or why not?
    • Idea: Use this visualization of the ASNE survey findings to explore and evaluate the state of diversity in your local newsrooms.
    • Act: Invite a representative from a local news organization to discuss questions of newsroom diversity with students through an email exchange or a videoconference.
  • ESPN suspended sports commentator Jemele Hill on Monday after she encouraged, in a series of tweets, a boycott of the Dallas Cowboys and the team’s advertisers after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatened to bench players who do not stand for the national anthem. The two-week suspension followed a recent reprimand by the network about another series of tweets in which she called President Trump a white supremacist. While both sets of tweets appear to violate ESPN’s social media policy, the network’s treatment of Hill and its inconsistent enforcement of that policy have drawn significant criticism.
    • Related and relevant: A viral meme about Jones circulated late last month, contending that he had told his players that they were “actors” playing the role of “patriotic super heroes” and therefore had to stand during the national anthem. That meme initially appeared (and was debunked as fake) in 2016; it reappeared this summer and gained traction when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a link to an item about it on the website On Sept. 25, Jones joined his team on the field, where they all took a knee before standing, with arms locked, for the national anthem.
  • On Wednesday, NBC News reported that President Trump had said during a July national security meeting that he wanted a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons. The president responded to the report in a series of tweets that called the story “[p]ure fiction” and suggested that NBC’s license should be revoked. The tweets prompted renewed concerns about the state of press freedoms in the United States.
    • Idea: Have students explore the history of the Federal Communications Commission and its licensing of broadcast stations in the U.S.
    • Discuss: Should the federal government regulate what can be broadcast in the United States? Does NBC have a license that could be revoked by the FCC?
    • Related and relevant: An Indiana state representative has drafted a bill that would require journalists to apply for a license with the state police, presumably to underscore his opposition to gun permits.
  • Ripples continue to spread (and grow) from The New York Times’ report last week that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had made financial settlements to at least eight women who had accused him of sexual harassment. Within days, The New Yorker published a lengthy article making more serious accusations against Weinstein, and questions about how such incidents could have stayed buried over several decades are starting to arise. The Times’ media columnist, Jim Rutenberg, faulted the fact that “too many people in the intertwined news and entertainment industries had too much to gain from Mr. Weinstein for too long,” while Sharon Waxman, a former Times reporter who now runs The Wrap, a website focusing on entertainment and media news, said that a story she had written 13 years ago at the Times about Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct was gutted — due, she said, to pressure by Weinstein. And Ronan Farrow, an NBC News contributor, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that he took a Weinstein exposé he had been working on for months to The New Yorker after he was told by decision-makers at NBC News that it wasn’t ready to run.
    • Related and relevant: BuzzFeed News, citing the decades-long “whisper network” that kept the rumors of Weinstein’s abuse out of the public eye, published a call for readers to send in information about other powerful figures who have engaged in similar behavior in hopes of uncovering more “open secrets.” Also, one of Amazon Studios’ top executives, Roy Price, was suspended Thursday after a producer of two of Amazon’s programs went public about a harassment complaint in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
"Rigorous, thoughtful, and fair reporting has enormous capacity to hold individuals — and the institutions that enable or protect them — accountable. BuzzFeed News is committed to telling these stories — but we need your help.

"What don't we know? Who is the Harvey Weinstein — or Ott, or Kelly, Caldbeck, or Bill Cosby — of your industry? Who is abusing their power, and who is looking the other way? Who do women quietly warn each other to avoid? What are the stories people have been too afraid to tell until now? Which open secrets should no longer be quite so secret?"
  — BuzzFeed News

 Las Vegas: Ongoing debates, lingering rumors

  • Last week I touched on several ongoing word choice debates that were reignited by the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. NPR’s ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen, summarized how these debates manifested themselves in listener comments, especially the perception that racial biases may be involved in the use of the terms “terrorist” and “lone wolf.” She checked NPR’s archives to see if NPR has been consistent in its use of those terms, and found that it has been — but she did recommend discontinuing the use of “lone wolf,” calling it “a cliché” and “police jargon.” Jensen also explored reader comments that criticized the decision to air the sounds of the actual gunfire, that asked whether emphasizing the number of fatalities serves as a challenge for others to try to top it, and that questioned whether public social media posts written by family members of victims should be quoted on air without the writer’s permission.
    • Discuss: If you were in charge of standards at NPR, how would you respond to these listener comments? What changes, if any, would you make to standards guiding coverage of mass shootings?
    • Act: Search the archives of other news organizations and look for word choice consistency in coverage of shootings just as Elizabeth Jensen did with NPR's, then share your findings.
  • Jerry Davich, a columnist at the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana, points out that the conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas shooting, like others that persist about similar tragic events, are “another reminder that wild speculation is much more interesting than the somber truth.”
  • An outrageous tweet that circulated just hours after the Las Vegas shooting expressing hope that those killed were supporters of President Trump — purportedly written by a teacher who advocates resistance to Trump — appears to be a fake. Abby Ohlheiser of The Washington Post ran down the strange story of this “tweet” (which apparently was never actually posted on Twitter, but rather was created as an image that merely looks like a tweet) that rocketed around conservative media.
    • Note: Students should be especially skeptical of tweets and other social media posts that exist only as images, as opposed to those that can be located in the live feeds of actual social media accounts. While image-only tweets are sometimes authentic posts that have since been deleted, they are often fakes created using online image generators.

According to NewsWhip Analytics, an analysis tool that tracks and measures highly engaging content shared on social media, the publisher with the most likes, shares, comments and reactions on Facebook in September was Bored Panda, which posts “feel good” viral content. The site’s engagement numbers on Facebook have more than tripled since the beginning of this year, from 9.2 million interactions to 32 million.
In this section, NLP's director of education, John Silva, NBCT, offers weekly suggestions for connecting news literacy with civic engagement and action.

Ask your students: ‘Whom can you trust?’

Recently one of my old teachers posted a photo and a historical quote on Facebook. Naturally, I was skeptical; quotes shared online are often false or misattributed, so I checked it out. It turned out to be true.

I replied to the post with a question: “How many of you had to check this out?”

I evidently touched a nerve. In their comments, other former students suggested that they didn’t need to check it out because Mrs. O would never post something that wasn’t completely true. Mrs. O herself got a little defensive.

I have great respect for my former teacher — but should that also mean that I trust everything she posts? And that got me thinking about trust, especially with students.

There are some figures in their lives they trust implicitly, but the world of social media is very different. This experience, I think, highlights the need to have conversations with students about trust — especially as it relates to content shared on social media. A study released by the American Press Institute in March found that while most Americans like to think they determine what to trust by evaluating pieces of content, their trust is actually more influenced by who shared it.

Have students consider this same effect in their own feeds and think about which people they trust to check things out before posting. When, if ever, should someone’s posting history and reputation for being careful translate into higher levels of trust for what they share? If you’d like to tweet some of their thoughts (no need to identify the students) to @MrSilva, I’d love to hear their views.

Other Stuff We Read This Week

  • “It comes back to the question of brain pathology, of monological thinking. It comes back to why they have to feel this way, that they know something that you don’t know, that they feel like they have some power, like they matter in the world. They have to prove their narrative because it’s too much a part of how they identify and validate their existence on this planet.”
  • “YouTube videos of police beatings on American streets. A widely circulated internet hoax about Muslim men in Michigan collecting welfare for multiple wives. A local news story about two veterans brutally mugged on a freezing winter night.

    “All of these were recorded, posted or written by Americans. Yet all ended up becoming grist for a network of Facebook pages linked to a shadowy Russian company that has carried out propaganda campaigns for the Kremlin, and which is now believed to be at the center of a far-reaching Russian program to influence the 2016 presidential election....

    “Copying other people’s content without proper attribution can be a violation of the social networks’ rules. But the content itself — the videos, posts and Instagram memes borrowed and shared on the Russian pages — are not explicitly violent or discriminatory, so they do not violate the rules of those services. Instead, they are precisely the type of engaging content these platforms are hungry for.”

Please share this newsletter with others who may find this information useful (subscribe here). For more examples and ideas like these, you can follow me on Twitter (@PeterD_Adams). Also follow @TheNewsLP and @MrSilva.

If you have suggestions for future issues of The Sift, please share them here.

If you're looking for engaging and effective news literacy resources, check out NLP's checkology® virtual classroom. We’re giving away student licenses for 1:1 functionality for the entire 2017-18 school year. Yes, it’s free.
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