The myth of objectivity | What “linkrot” means for digital journalism | The confusing path to media literacy

The myth of objectivity: Using objective language to cover the Israel-Palestine conflict dehumanizes the violence, writes Annabelle Lukin in The Conversation. As global media outlets rush to produce stories explaining the violence between Israel and Palestine, the so-called “objective” reports read like official statements and often neglect the human impact of the violence. It may be uncomfortable territory for journalists to distance themselves from words like “operations,” “campaigns,” and “offensives,” but it’s necessary in order to provide readers with an intimate view and understanding of the conflict. By using a formulaic style of writing and providing information such as the weapon technology rather than the stories behind victims of the conflict, reporters give the illusion that the violence is equal on both sides, and therefore are not providing a complete story, writes Lukin. 

What “linkrot” means for digital journalism: Digital journalism relies on hyperlinks to provide context and sources to their audience. However, many of the links in a story become obsolete quickly, as the links stop working when articles get deleted or pages get shut down, write John Bowers, Clare Stanton, and Jonathan Zittrain in CJR. In a study analyzing two million hyperlinks on the New York Times website, 25% of deep links, which are hyperlinks to a specific page, had expired. While this data changed depending on the NYT section, it points to the problem with “linkrot” — the decay hollowing out online stories. For an organization that is credited with being a reliable source of online information, the decay of their sources and context provides a big problem when their old articles become little more than shells of stories. The constantly decaying links demonstrate the fragility of the internet, write the authors. 

The confusing path to media literacy: Here’s two related stories on media literacy: “Critical ignoring is just as important as critical thinking,” writes Sam Wineburg in The Conversation. And in a Europe-based study in the International Journal of Press/Politics, results showed that hyper-news consumers actually knew less about political facts than traditional news seekers, writes Joshua Benton in Nieman Lab. Although reading the news regularly is important to staying informed, the quality of the information outweighs quantity, and it’s important to know how to find and distinguish quality news sources, suggest the authors.


The moral dilemma of today’s news | The tech-media divide | The problem with writing “poverty porn”

The moral dilemma of today’s news: Journalism today is in an impossibly difficult position, says Tom Rachman in the Atlantic. “The job of a news reporter today is to declare what you can’t yet know to people convinced that they already do,” says Rachman. Should journalists just provide the truth about what’s happening in the world, or is it up to them to fix it? America has been left with an is-ought problem, says Rachman: facts don’t fall into the same category as moral statements of what they ought to be, but the two are often conflated. There is no single type of source that can provide neutral facts: authority figures, civilians, and online voices all come with their own biases. Furthermore, the landscape of trust itself is constantly changing — trust in the news and in authority shift based on what’s going on in the world. In order for news to have value, journalists must provide neutral facts to an audience who is likely to be defensive rather than open minded. 

The tech-media divide: A widening rift is splitting Silicon Valley and the media, writes Benjamin Wallace in New York Magazine. The tech industry has been changing from “cute and quirky toy-maker to dystopian nightmare factory” for decades, writes Wallace. Reporters have begun to take a more critical view of the industry, writing exposés on Cambridge Analytica’s role in the 2016 election and fraud in the startup Theranos. Tech executives like Elon Musk are outspoken about their distaste for the media, and tech is beginning to recite its own narrative to combat critical reporting. The fight between tech and media is partially performative, according to Wallace, as both sides benefit from the Twitter wars and snipey comments from the other. However, it’s a precarious relationship that the two have, and keeping them in dialogue is in everyone’s best interest, says Wallace. 

The problem with writing “poverty porn”: Journalists tend to tell stories of the extremes, and in doing so miss out on a lot of the stuff in the middle, says Ko Bragg in CJR. Reporters who reach out to nonprofits and other organizations working directly with people dealing with crises like evictions or the repercussions of immigration policy tend to request a certain type of story: those who are suffering the most. While these stories do exist, there’s a certain lack of empathy that comes from cherry picking a story in this way. Instead of doing this, it’s up to the reporters to build real relationships with sources rather than relying on organizations to give them their most desperate people, says Bragg.

Personal expression in journalism | The girl stunt reporter | Amazon’s content moderation responsibilities

Personal expression in journalism: Journalism isn’t supposed to be personal. Or, at least, that’s been the practice for a very long time, writes Barbara Allen in Poynter. However, the line between journalist and activist needs to be re-evaluated, as it’s impossible and unnecessary to totally remove the personality from reporting. George Floyd’s death, for example, led to a wave of emotion and “secondary trauma” among journalists, says Allen. So, why hide it? Emotional reporting isn’t necessarily problematic, but many are hesitant to accept too much personal expression from reporters due to today’s extreme political polarization. However, sometimes personality can really emphasize the importance of an issue, and it’s up to the stories to tell the tale, not the politics, says Allen. 

The girl stunt reporter: In the late 19th century, women were entering the field of journalism as “stunt reporters,” immersing themselves in the stories that they were trying to cover, says Katy Waldman in a New Yorker analysis of author Kim Todd’s “Sensational: The Hidden History of America’s ‘Girl Stunt Reporters.’” The end of the 1800s brought about a slew of women, such such as Nellie Bly, working to expose inhumane conditions in factories, psychiatric hospitals, and other previously unreported places. At the time, their role in reporting confronted the very fabric of the role of women in the era. It’s important to remember their contributions to the field of journalism and acknowledge the work that they once dedicated. There is a significant legacy of the girl stunt reporter that shouldn’t be forgotten, as “she was writing a story that her public didn’t yet know how to read,” says Waldman. 

Amazon’s content moderation responsibilities: Amazon might want to pay a little more attention to what’s on their bestselling book lists, because some make no sense in their categories, writes Benedict Evans in his weekly tech newsletter. This issue brings to mind the question that social media sites have had to address recently: what is the role of online social and retail companies in content moderation? Of the top-selling books in the “Children’s Vaccination & Immunization” category, most are either anti-vaccination or are fictional novels. Given this example, it’s clear that the process by which the books are broken down and categorized is grossly oversimplified, argues Evans. Is the way in which Amazon processes data facilitating the spread of misinformation, or is it merely a tool that the site has no social responsibility to address so long as business is good? Like other sites that have had to deal with censorship and content moderation, there’s no clear answer, says Evans.

The phrase “op-ed” is retiring | Using systems thinking in reporting | People want ‘solutions journalism’

The phrase “op-ed” is retiring: NYT opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury is retiring the long-used term “op-ed” from the New York Times. Short for “opposite editorial,” the phrase “op-ed” is outdated and confusing, writes Sarah Scire in Nieman Lab. Instead, outside opinions will be referred to as “guest essays.” This change is part of an effort to address the spread of disinformation by clearly differentiating between opinion writing and news content. Writers hope that it will also increase trust from readers. “In an era of distrust in the media and confusion over what journalism is, I believe institutions — even ones with a lot of esteemed traditions — better serve their audiences with direct, clear language,” says Kingsbury. 

Using systems thinking in reporting: Oakland-based newspaper El Tímpano is covering the local overcrowded housing conditions in an unconventional way, according to Madeleine Bair in Medium. Using the calculated approach of systems thinking, reporters are making an effort to analyze all factors contributing to the housing crisis. Reporters are looking at economic, public health, and other public policy factors as well as the more intimate experiences of those living in unhealthy housing conditions. By mapping out the structures that contribute to this particular crisis, journalists are able to report a more complete story of the housing conditions. Perhaps this type of thinking can be used as a lesson for covering other crises that stem from systemic issues and affect a web of people, not just a select group of individuals. 

People want ‘solutions journalism’: Audiences respond positively to what is known as “solutions journalism” according to a new study done, reports Solutions Journalism in the Whole Story. Reporting that includes potential solutions to issues rather than just presenting the problem was rated significantly higher than problem-based reporting across a range of metrics, the authors said. Questions asked to the audience included topics like the quality of storytelling, the depth of information, and the ability to capture what matters in a story. Overall, the audience had incredibly positive reactions to solutions-based stories, so maybe journalists need to start looking at what they write by more completely addressing issues and solutions, rather than just the former.