The death of Hong Kong’s free press | How NYT tracked the pandemic | Journalists don’t deserve their bad rap

The death of Hong Kong’s free press: Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s 26-year-old tabloid paper, has finally folded, write Timothy McLaughlin and Rachel Cheung in the Atlantic. Unwilling to publish the propaganda that circulates in other Hong Kong papers, Apple Daily has been an outlet for activism and resistance since its foundation, meaning that the government of Hong Kong has been actively trying to suppress its voice. After multiple raids of the office and the arrest of founder Jimmy Lai, the paper has finally printed its last edition. With the tabloid gone, there is little outlet for resistance in Hong Kong as the pro-democracy fight looks increasingly difficult to win, say McLaughlin and Cheung. 

How NYT tracked the pandemic: In January of 2020, the New York Times began to track every known Covid case in the United States, write Tiff Fehr and Josh Williams in the Times. Two months later, when infection rates began to grow exponentially, the Times moved on from their manual tracking method and began to develop more advanced ways of monitoring the pandemic. Using over 100 Times journalists and engineers, the tracking team developed a successful — and public — ongoing dataset using web scraping and constant attention. Now the most-viewed data collection in the Times’ history, the Covid-tracking project ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize this year for public service.

Journalists don’t deserve their bad rap: Journalists are not immoral con artists, despite what people think, says Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post. Many people, including President Biden, have made comments about how journalists are overly negative, and there is a general lack of trust in the media and in reporters. But the recent deaths of Dick Stolley, who managed to acquire film footage of the Kennedy assassination, and Ron Ostrow, who broke one of the major Watergate stories, should remind journalists and other people alike that there is value and integrity in the profession of journalism. These tough, hardworking, and fair reporters demonstrate the best of what journalism can be. There is much improvement needed in media, and journalists could be much better, but that doesn’t mean they deserve the rap that they get, says Sullivan.

And totally unrelated to our normal fare, but an interesting read (by Matt): Charges against Exodus Road catch attention of anti-sex trafficker world – Global Observer 


The right’s oversimplified “common sense” argument | Gmail as newsletter sheriff | How Buzzfeed is exploiting writers

The right’s oversimplified “common sense” argument: Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi have a track record of powerful work on abuses of power. However, these journalists seem to be getting sucked into the right-wing way of looking at the world, writes Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs. Policy wise, the journalists are fairly left-leaning, but have begun to be critical of the Left as a whole, speaking out against liberal “Woke Authoritarianism” and praising Fox News. The right tends to use “common sense” as a defense for their arguments, even when it doesn’t really apply. People like these journalists consider themselves to be independent thinkers, but looking too much at the “common sense” argument of the right causes “careless and reflexive” thinking, says Robinson. 

Gmail as newsletter sheriff: Gmail’s confusing and complicated inbox-sorting algorithm is hurting newsletter writers, says Brian Contreras in the Los Angeles Times. Many newsletters that users sign up for end up in the Promo folder, a rarely-checked “liminal purgatory” that prevents people from actually reading what they have signed up for. And it’s not just newsletters that have grievances with the algorithm — political fundraising and other mailing-list services have been affected too. If newsletters, which are gaining popularity, are supposed to be like the Wild West, then Google becomes a sort of sheriff by sorting them, says Contreras. 

How Buzzfeed is exploiting writers: Buzzfeed is promoting a “community challenge,” offering up to $10,000 to writers who go viral, promising different amounts of money depending on the number of pageviews. It sounds promising, but the catch is that the likelihood of going viral is extremely low, and Buzzfeed is really just getting a bunch of writers to produce free content. The whole challenge feels scammy, writes Samantha Grasso in Discourse Blog, as writers end up getting significantly less than what they deserve. Waving that amount of money in the faces of unpaid writers is just a slap in the face, says Grasso. 

And for your further reading pleasure, a non-journalism related story: Furor erupts over anti-sex trafficker Exodus Road   

The urgent need for funding public media | Fixing the problem with paywalls | The complicated ethics of photojournalism

The urgent need for funding public media: American public media is grossly underfunded, write Victor Pickard and Timothy Neff in CJR. As trust in mainstream media has reached an all-time low, trust in public media has remained relatively high. To combat growing news deserts and provide valuable information nationwide, the United States needs to pour far more money into public media, they argue. A public media safety net is urgently needed right now to re-strengthen democratic institutions, say the authors. 

Fixing the problems with paywalls: The current revenue methods for digital newspapers are untenable, writes Mark Stenberg in his blog Medialyte. Stenberg suggests a newsstand-style pricing model that he calls “monthly access payments,” or MAPs, which would allow readers to pay a single time for one month of unlimited access to the publication. It’s a commitment-free subscription model that would allow readers to read a wider range of papers and information without having to keep up with subscriptions every month. The fixed rate of the monthly payments would, like a loose copy of a newspaper at a newsstand, be priced slightly higher than the monthly subscription rate, but would come with less commitment. This method would unlock another stream of revenue, and advertising and subscription fees would also still be funding the newsrooms. The concept of a MAP is still in the process of being developed, but it’s a promising option for the future of digital paper revenue, he argues. 

The complicated ethics of photojournalism: Careless photojournalism has dangerous implications for the individuals who are being photographed, writes Taraneh Azar in Poynter. While photojournalists are trying to use pictures to give context to protests, they may be turning people unwittingly into public figures. There is an ongoing debate between implied versus informed consent when it comes to photographing peoples’ faces, but there are no clear ethical answers. The best approach to photographing people at protests would be to look at the task at hand with informed perspectives, she writes. Journalists should have the goal of telling the most accurate story possible while still being conscious of choosing between harm and justice, says Azar.

The lab-leak theory coverage fiasco | Why people read what they do | Plagiarism in VOA

The lab-leak theory coverage fiasco: Progressive media failed in their coverage of the theory that COVID-19 was leaked from a Chinese lab, says Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. No virus origin theory has been proven or disproven, but the liberal media leapt at an opportunity to criticize anyone who may have believed the lab-leak theory and used Twitter as a place to channel right-wing accusations. The cause of the virus is still not clear. But for progressive media to accuse anyone who backs this theory of having political motives points to the confirmation bias and polarization that can happen on Twitter, said Chait. Progressive journalists’ coverage of this theory mirrors the “idiotic conformity of the right’s pseudo-journalistic apparatus,” and journalists on the left need to be more careful online if they want to be credible news sources, says Chait. 

Why people read what they do: Political leanings matter less than you would think when it comes to how digital news consumers select the stories that they read, writes Jesse Holcomb for the Knight Foundation. For the study, Gallup and the Knight Foundation developed Newslens, an online platform meant to mimic a real news site that provided stories from mainstream media sources from across the political spectrum. Using the analytics generated from the site, researchers showed that readers read more of what was personally relevant to them and what would give them the most information, and they weren’t necessarily driven entirely (or even a lot) by their political opinions. These results are what researchers can learn about news consumption patterns from readers without directly asking them, says Holcomb, and may be a more accurate method of studying how people approach the news. 

Plagiarism in VOA: When a Voice of America staffer discovered that there was plagiarism coming from a Paris-based freelancer, it took months before the supervisors he alerted actually took action. When the same thing happened a second time with a different staffer and a different reporter, the time it took for the alert to be processed was even longer. Voice of America is federally funded and is meant to be reliable and consistent, and the length of time that it took for supervisors and managers to pay attention to evidence of plagiarism is certainly notable, writes Paul Farhi in the Washington Post. Since last summer, the accused plagiarizers have been investigated and much of their content has been replaced with an online flag citing plagiarism.