Category Archives: Community journalism

Mainstream media, Silicon Valley gave us Trump

Donald Trump took his ego, his sociopathy, his wealth, his brand, and his unparalleled skills at playing the American mass media and parlayed them into a new domicile, and hopefully one he can’t brand.

No other president-elect has revealed his major policy decisions, his appointments, and his outrageous opinions o Twitter, bypassing the press corps and forcing them to dance to his tune.

Consider, then, this essay, titled “10 ways the tech industry and the media helped create President Trump,” from Damian Radcliffe, Caroline S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, writing in The Conversation, an open source academic journal written for the general public:

Three weeks after Donald Trump won a historic victory to become the 45th president of the United States, the media postmortems continue.

In particular, the role played by the media and technology industries is coming under heavy scrutiny in the press, with Facebook’s role in the rise of fake newscurrently enjoying considerable coverage. This represents a shift from earlier in the campaign, when the volume of media airtime given to Trump was oftenheld culpable for “The Apprentice” star’s political ascendancy.

In truth, a Trump presidency is – in part – a reflection of the status and evolution of the media and tech industries in 2016. Here are 10 ways that they combined to help Trump capture the White House in a manner not previously possible. Without them, Trump might not have stood a chance.

Inside the tech industry’s role

1) Fake news looks a lot like real news. This is not a new issue, but it’s a hot topic, given the social media-led explosion of the genre. As BuzzFeed found, fake news can spread more quickly than real reporting.

President Obama has weighed in on the problem, as have investigative reporters. And The New York Times found that fake news can “go viral” very quickly, even if it’s started by an unassuming source with a small online following – who subsequently debunks their own false story.

2) Algorithms show us more of what we like, not what we need to know. Amazon, Netflix and Spotify demonstrate how powerful personalization and recommendation engines can be. But these tools also remove serendipity, reducing exposure to anything outside of our comfort zone.

Websites like AllSides, and the Wall Street Journal’s Red vs Blue feed experiment – which let users “See Liberal Facebook and Conservative Facebook, Side by Side” – show how narrow our reading can become, how different the “other side” looks, and how hard it can be to expose ourselves to differing viewpoints, even if we want to.

3) Tech doesn’t automatically discern fact from fiction. Facebook doesn’t have an editor, and Mark Zuckerberg frequently says that Facebook is not a media company. It’s true that Facebook content comes from users and partners, but Facebook is nonetheless a major media distributor.

More than half of Americans get news from social media; Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla. “The two-thirds of Facebook users who get news there,” Pew notes, “amount to 44 percent of the general population.” But its automatic algorithms can amplify falsehoods, as happened when a false story about Megyn Kelly trended on Facebook this summer.

4) The rise of robots. It’s not just publications and stories that can be fake. Twitter bots can look the same as real Twitter users, spreadingfalsehoods and rumors and amplifying messages (just as humans do). Repeat a lie often enough and – evidence suggests – it becomes accepted as fact. This is just as true online as it is on the campaign trail.

My mother always warned me not to believe everything I read in the papers. We need to instill the same message in our children (and adults) about social media.

5) Tech has helped pull money away from sources of real reporting. Google, Facebook, Craigslist and others have created new advertising markets, diverting traditional ad revenues from newspapers in the process.

Meanwhile, programmatic advertising, which uses computer algorithms to buy – and place – online ads, is changing the advertising dynamic yet again. This canmean companies unintentionally buy ads on sites – such as those from the alt-right – which don’t sit with their brand or values; and that they would not typically choose to support.

The media played its part, too

1) Fewer ad dollars means fewer journalistic boots on the ground. Data from the American Society of News Editors show that in 2015 the total workforce for U.S. daily newspapers was 32,900, down from a peak of 56,400 in 2001. That’s 23,500 jobs lost in 14 years.

Though some of these roles have migrated to online outlets that didn’t exist years ago, this sector is also starting to feel the cold. A reduced workforce has inevitably led to less original journalism, with fewer “on the beat” local reporters, shuttered titles and the rise of media deserts. Cable news, talk radio, social networks and conservative websites – channels that predominantly focus on commentary rather than original reporting – have, in many cases, stepped in to fill these gaps.

Continue reading


Charts of the day II: Dramatic journalism fails

Following up on our previous posts, two charts sum up the fate of American journalism. First, from the Poynter Institute, a graphic depiction of the decline in American newsroom jobs:

BLOG JJob decline

And next, from the Pew Research Center, examples of the drastic declines in value of American newspapers — including their online incarnations [click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG JJob paper decline

EbolaWatch: Patients, vaccine woes, aid, more

We begin with the latest potential case to cross the Atlantic, via the Los Angeles Times:

Nurse exposed to Ebola going to National Institutes of Health

A female nurse who was exposed to Ebola while in West Africa is expected to be admitted to the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, becoming the latest person to be admitted to a U.S. hospital after being exposed to the disease.

Officials with the NIH, based in Bethesda, Md., said the patient was doing volunteer work in an Ebola treatment unit in Sierra Leone. The patient, who will be admitted to the special clinical studies unit for observation, was not identified by name.

Since the current Ebola outbreak began a year ago in West Africa — where the World Health Organization estimates the virus has killed more than 6,000 people — 10 patients have been treated in the United States. Of those 10, eight have recovered and two have died.

The Associated Press offers a new prognosis:

UN says several months needed to control Ebola

The U.N. Ebola chief said Thursday it will take several more months before the outbreak in West Africa is under control, an assessment that makes clear the World Health Organization’s goal of isolating 100 percent of Ebola cases by Jan. 1 won’t be met.

Dr. David Nabarro said there has been “a massive shift” over the last four months in the way affected governments have taken the lead in responding to the epidemic, communities are taking action and the international community has pitched in.

But he said greater efforts are needed to combat Ebola in western Sierra Leone and northern Mali, to reduce the number of new cases in Liberia and to limit transmission to Mali.

WHO conceded that it didn’t meet an interim Dec. 1 target of isolating 70 percent of Ebola patients and safely burying 70 percent of victims in hardest-hit Sierra Leone. But it hasn’t made clear what that means for its Jan. 1 goal, which it set in September. It has acknowledged that its patchy data could compromise the goal, since the agency does not know how many Ebola patients there actually are and is unable to track all of their contacts.

And BuzzFeed News covers the latest disappointment:

Ebola Vaccine Tests Suspended At Geneva Hospital

The trial was put on hold after four patients complained about joint pain in their hands and feet.

Geneva University Hospital has halted clinical trials of the Ebola vaccine after several recipients complained of pain, hospital officials told Reuters.

The vaccine, developed by Merck and NewLink, was suspended “as a measure of precaution” in 59 patients after four of the volunteers complained of joint pain in their hands and feet.

“They are all fine and being monitored regularly by the medical team leading the study,” the hospital said in a statement.

The trials are set to resume on January 5 in up to 15 volunteers after tests are run to confirm the pain is “benign and temporary” the hospital said.

The latest donor, via the Associated Press:

Saudi pledges $35 million for fight against Ebola

The Islamic Development Bank says the Saudi king has pledged $35 million to help fight Ebola in hard-hit West African countries.

More than 6,000 people have died from Ebola in West Africa over the last year, including more than 1,500 in Sierra Leone since June.

The bank says the grant will be used to provide West African schools, bus stations and railway and airport stations with thermal sensors and medical examination equipment designed to diagnose the virus and keep public spaces safer.

From Jiji Press, cooperation:

G-7, Partners Confirm Cooperation in Fight against Ebola

The Group of Seven major countries, Mexico and the European Union reiterated their support Thursday for countries affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“We express our strong determination to remain vigilant in our response and to support all necessary efforts to stop the virus from spreading further,” they said in a joint statement following the 15th ministerial meeting in Tokyo of the Global Health Security Initiative forum.

The statement underscored the importance of sharing information in efforts to develop drugs to combat the lethal disease. “We remain committed to the open and transparent sharing of the results of clinical trials to expedite any efforts to protect human lives,” it noted.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa examines:

ECA to launch report on the economic impact of Ebola Virus Disease

While the Ebola outbreaks in both Nigeria and Senegal officially ended in October 2014 and both countries declared free of Ebola, a new United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) report looks at the impact of the 13,241 cases identified and 4,950 deaths reported in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone so far.

The report raises the alarm on the risk of a rise in mortality of diseases not related to Ebola and also points out the wider impacts of the virus on the livelihoods of those affected. Educational systems, rising social stigma, unemployment, and decreased food security are some of the big issues that Ebola-affected countries must deal with, according to the report.

Despite the alarm, Carlos Lopes calls for a careful and cautious approach to the response. The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa notes that while the social and economic situation in the three most affected countries is dramatic, the crisis for Africa as a Continent is exaggerated.

According to the report, West Africa has been the fastest growing region in Africa in recent years. Based on 2013’s estimates, the three Ebola countries taken together only represent 2.42 percent of West Africa’s GDP and 0.68 percent of Africa’s GDP, so West Africa’s overall growth should remain robust.

And from Agence France-Presse, the art of Ebola:

Art exhibition about the Ebola outbreak opens in Conakry

Program notes:

Art exhibition on the theme of the Ebola outbreak goes on show in the Guinean capital.

On to Mali with a declaration of victory — for now — from Reuters:

Mali says has no remaining Ebola cases as last patient recovers

Mali has no remaining cases of the Ebola virus as the last patient in the country has recovered and left hospital, the Ministry of Health said on Thursday.

Six people have died of Ebola in Mali, while two others have recovered. The country is the sixth West African state to be hit by the worst outbreak on record of the hemorrhagic fever.

Ebola first entered Mali through an infant girl who died of the disease in October after arriving from neighboring Guinea. Later that month, an imam who also arrived from Guinea with the disease died in Mali. He infected other people.

“The only remaining case in treatment has recovered and has been released today so there are no more people sick with Ebola in Mali,” said Ministry of Health spokesman Markatié Daou.

And on to Sierra Leone with BBC News and a gruesome discovery:

Ebola crisis: Sierra Leone bodies found piled up in Kono

Health officials in Sierra Leone have discovered scores of bodies in a remote diamond-mining area, raising fears that the scale of the Ebola outbreak may have been underreported.

The World Health Organization said they uncovered a “grim scene” in the eastern district of Kono. A WHO response team had been sent to Kono to investigate a sharp rise in Ebola cases.

The WHO said in a statement on Wednesday that over 11 days in Kono, “two teams buried 87 bodies, including a nurse, an ambulance driver, and a janitor drafted into removing bodies as they piled up”.

More from Reuters:

Twenty-five people had died in a hastily cordoned off section of the local hospital in the five days before the team arrived. They found that villages scattered across eight of the area’s 15 chiefdoms had been hit by Ebola.

Officially the district of over 350,000 inhabitants had reported 119 cases up to Dec. 9.

“We are only seeing the ears of the hippo,” said Dr. Amara Jambai, Sierra Leone’s Director of Disease Prevention and Control, expressing concern that the official figures underrepresented the size of the outbreak in Kono.

A barb aimed at Freetown, via the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Devil Hole chief chides gov’t for Ebola response

  • Headman of the Devil Hole community has chided government for its failure to support them in the fight against the Ebola outbreak.

Adikali Mansaray said they only survive by the grace of God, and that ten residents had died of Ebola in the community in the past four months, noting that they have been using local methods to prevent new infections.

Mansaray further explained that a community taskforce has been set up to monitor movements within the community, especially at night, as people from Port Loko and Makeni sneak in to the area at night.

“It is disheartening that we are very close to the capital city despite little government intervention in our community towards the fight against Ebola. We give little support from our earnings to the taskforce group to patrol at night,” he said.

The Associated Press covers a plea from Freetown:

Sierra Leone president makes Ebola plea to chiefs

Sierra Leone’s president implored the country’s traditional leaders on Thursday to stop cultural practices that have been blamed for spreading Ebola, like burials that involve touching corpses.

Officials have said up to 70 percent of new infections in Sierra Leone are linked to unsafe burials. The bodies of people who have died from Ebola are highly contagious and must be handled carefully.

“We should stop all traditional practices for now so that we will live to continue to practice them later,” President Ernest Bai Koroma said in a speech to launch the “Ebola Resistant Behavior Change Initiative.”

For months, Koroma has been urging traditional leaders to use their clout to stop burial and other cultural practices that contribute to the spread of Ebola. But the outbreak has only intensified in Sierra Leone in recent weeks.

teleSUR English covers an unusual collaboration:

African, Cuban and US doctors fighting Ebola together in Sierra Leone

Program notes:

African, Cuban, and US doctors are fighting Ebola together at the Maforki Treatment Center in Port Loko, Sierra Leone, and they are building strong links and achieving important results.

After the jump, on to Liberia and a peer-to-peer accolade, a regional victory — at least for now, a new medical facility in Monrovia, communities confront the aftermath, when Ebola goes postal, and journalists take the pledge. . . Continue reading

Schadenfreude alert: Setback for a troll

An old friend forwarded an email to us this week, and the body of the text was brief:

Bulldog Reporter has filed for bankruptcy and has closed its’ door for good as of today. It has been a rough road for us and will be an even rougher road ahead for Jim.

The Jim is James Sinkinson, and Bulldog Reporter was a newsletter for the public relations industry, full of tips on how to cozzen an already enfeebled press into reproducing corporate, political, and NGO press releases in the news media.

More on the bankruptcy from O’Dwyer’s:

Bulldog Reporter, founded in 1979 and which has covered PR and the media for the Infocom Group since 1986, has ceased operations, it was announced by Jim Sinkinson, publisher.

He said that many of the website’s key products and services have declined in profitability and it is winding down its relationships with clients and vendors.

Legal assistance has been retained to assess options in bringing the business to a close.

Some of the 11 members on the masthead of the publication are in the job market.

Sinkinson is also a militant Ziocon, and one of the three main instigators of a ruthless campaign that finally cost the Berkeley Daily Planet many of its advertisers, hastening the newspaper’s demise as a print publication and leaving the city without a non-collegiate newspaper.

Sinkinson and his partners smeared the paper and its publisher with the brush of antisemitism and made all manner of false charges, which we debunked in an extensive investigation.

Sinkinson wrote each of the Daily Planet‘s advertisers and warned them that should they continue to buy ads, they would create backlash in Berkeley’s richest neighborhoods, where the city’s Jewish population is concentrated.

In addition, militant acolytes would show up in businesses, and one advertiser told us she had been left frightened for her well-being after one such visit and would, therefore reluctantly have to discontinue her ads.

Back in 2009 when his campaign was running at fever pitch, Hamilton Nolan of Gawker wrote this about Sinkinson and his war on the newspaper:

Jim Sinkinson, the publisher of Infocom Group and owner of Bulldog Reporter, which many of you PR people subscribe to in an effort to more effectively influence journalists, is currently leading a campaign to put The Berkeley Daily Planet, a liberal weekly, out of business, because he doesn’t like the fact that they publish “letters and other commentary pieces critical of Israel.”

“We think that [Daily Planet editor Becky] O’Malley is addicted to anti-Israel expression just as an alcoholic is to drinking,” Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign to discourage advertisers, wrote in an e-mail message… “If she wants to serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer avoiding the subject entirely.”

Please, take a moment to reflect on the unapologetically gangster philosophy behind that quote. Reflect, also, on the fact that Sinkinson objects to the paper publishing submitted items that are not even part of the paper’s own editorial output. In other words, this “media relations” mogul objects to free speech, and is an asshole of the first order.

“Serve and please”? Really?

So we will dedicate the following video to Sinkinson, via graphic artist Shane Koyczan:

Troll — Shane Koyczan

Program note:

From the album and Graphic novel, ‘Silence Is A Song I Know All The Words To’ available for purchase, here.

We do hope those 11 folks who lost their jobs will find new employment.

Another Berkeley shaker: Clocks in at 2.6

The temblor hit at 7;41 p.m., with an epicenter southeast of UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

More information here.

Quote of the day: Media, cars, & loss of place

From an interview of California author and journalist Richard Rodriguez by New America Media Executive Director Sandy Close:

To what extent is the fall, the decline in literacy, related to what’s happening to news sources and the changes in the news landscape?

The greatest catastrophe of the news right now is that we’ve given up the notion of news related to place. That’s related I think to the fact that people are not living in the place where they are living anymore. So they no longer care what’s going on in Omaha, Nebraska because they don’t live in Omaha, Nebraska. They listen to Rush Limbaugh and he’s in Florida. They argue with John Stewart and he’s in New York. And they live in a kind of global news empire that has nothing to do, or very little to do, with place. They’re not interested in Omaha, Nebraska.

So what do you see replacing the city newspaper? Is it global news sources? And are people preoccupied with news?

I think people are preoccupied largely with the official news operations with national news out of Washington and groups like Politico. The movement of magazines, the Atlantic Monthly from Boston to Washington, for example, was a very shrewd move because the elite interest right now is in politics! National politics. And in so far as Omaha, Nebraska is concerned it’s only in relationship to Washington.

The essay I wrote on the death of the American newspaper is written as an obituary, precisely because what I was trying to suggest in the piece is that the obituary itself is out of date. People are dying now in my society and their deaths are not being noted in any official obituary.

In some way the death of the American newspaper is related to the death of the American cemetery. People are not being buried in cemeteries anymore. There’s no place for the dead go to, so in some sense Gramps died and we spill his ashes somewhere in the lake or by the sea and no one knows where it is. Or we put Gramp’s ashes in the call-set next to the Christmas tree ornaments. That lack of place I would argue is very deep and I think it’s related to the rise of digital technology.

In what way?

I’m of the opinion that we invented Henry Ford. Henry Ford didn’t invent us. We wanted something, we wanted mobility, we wanted to get away from our in-laws, and we invented this man who gave us a cheap automobile and then we invented the interstate highway system to get as far away from our in-laws and then we found in the suburbs that we were lonely and we invented Steve Jobs, who himself was a son of the suburbs.

Jobs grew up in Mountain View, CA, which is suburban. He was bullied in junior high school and told his parents that because of the black and Mexican kids, “If I have to stay at this school, I’m going to drop out of school.” So they moved to a suburb more suburban, Los Altos, and in many ways what Jobs intuited was this ability to connect to the world without connecting to the world. You could go shopping without leaving your chair. You could meet the entire world without leaving your chair. You could have sex without leaving your chair. And in many ways the success of the Internet is related to the loneliness that generated it and that it tries to, in some sense, alleviate.

PhotoPlay: Encountering a bellicose scofflaw

Back toward the end of our reporting days with the Berkeley Daily Planet, we set out one afternoon to cover a story, then made an impromptu decision to photograph of some of the properties of Reza Valiyee, a landlord who routinely flouted city zoning laws, transforming yards into concrete parking spaces needed to accommodate students who rented former single-family residence and small apartments transformed by more non-permitted construction into densely packed rooming houses. [For one former tenant’s account of life of one of Valiyee’s abodes see this post at Miheespeaking’s Blog, which also uses one of our photos without attribution.]

Even with the concrete paving expanses, the resulting dwellings grabbed more scarce street parking, irritating neighbors, who flooded the city with complaints.

Oh, and he also claims to have invented a perpetual motion machine.

A photographic close encounter

Here’s what happened when slowed our car and grabbed our camera to shoot one instance of concrete metastasis.

As I grabbed my first shot, an overall-clad worker alerted the gentlemen in center frame, who then stomped over his non-permitted curb cut, the non-permitted concrete expanses visible in the background.

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 48 mm, 1/1000 sec, f5.6

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 48 mm, 1/1000 sec, f5.6

It was, of course, Reza Valiyee, who thrust his hand through the open car window and made a grab for my not-inexpensive camera and lens, banging the Nikon body into our eyeglasses.

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 18 mm, 1/4000 sec, f5.6

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 18 mm, 1/4000 sec, f5.6

Needless to say, we kept shooting, getting this:.

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 38 mm, 1/640 sec, f5.6

13 August 2009, Nikon D300, ISO 320, 38 mm, 1/640 sec, f5.6

Here’s how we described the 13 August 2009 encounter in a 20 August Berkeley Daily Planet story, which only used the last of the photos.

A reporter who drove past one of his properties Friday afternoon found himself in a momentarily tense confrontation with the scofflaw landlord.

Within seconds after the reporter began shooting photographs from inside his car of a Valiyee rental at the southwest corner of Ellsworth and Derby streets, a worker doing plumbing repairs spotted the camera and went to fetch Valiyee.

The pair approached the car, and both men repeatedly reached inside the car to cover the camera lens, the worker demanding, “Where’s your permit to take pictures?”

“It’s called the First Amendment,” the reporter replied.

Finally Valiyee told his employee to ease off, and he asked the reporter why he was taking pictures.

After he was told that neighbors had complained about illegal construction, Valiyee said, “All I am doing is providing housing for students who really need it.”