Here are my Poynter Power Rankings: a look at those people, places and things that had a big impact on the media. They were the movers, shakers and influencers of the week.
Who had “Meta” in the Facebook name pool? Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the name change from Facebook to Meta on Thursday. The name is supposed to represent the social media network’s move into the metaverse — which the BBC describes as the “online world where people can game, work and communicate in a virtual environment, often using VR headsets.” In making the announcement, Zuckerberg said, “Today we are seen as a social media company, but in our DNA we are a company that builds technology to connect people, and the metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started.” While the name change and rebranding certainly have been in the works for a while, it also comes at a time when Facebook is under heavy scrutiny after a whistleblower released tens of thousands of internal documents that show the damage knowingly done by Facebook. As The New York Times’ Mike Isaac writes, “Corporate rebrands are rare but have precedent. They have generally been used to signal a company’s structural reorganization or to distance a company from a toxic reputation.” Will it work? Well, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan tweeted, “Facebook’s new company name is Meta. It still has all the same problems it had this morning.” Which leads me to …
The Facebook consortium
More than two dozen journalism outlets are reporting stories on Facebook based on internal documents provided by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Trying to collect all the information in the documents is like trying to scoop up the ocean with a spoon. And yet we’ve seen so much outstanding work, first starting a few weeks ago with The Wall Street Journal and then followed up by news outlets such as The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and so many others. My original plan this week in the Power Rankings was to pick out the elite of the elite, but, instead, it feels more appropriate to recognize all the journalists working on this story. All the stories have been carefully reported, nuanced and responsible — exactly the opposite of what Facebook did over the past several years. This story is nowhere close to being over, but so far, the journalism on it has been superb.
The long-awaited memoir from veteran journalist Katie Couric, called “Going There,” finally came out this week. For weeks, excerpts leaked out and generated several controversial headlines. But, if you actually read the book in full context, it’s not that controversial. During an appearance on ABC’s “The View,” Couric said a lot of the criticism has come from those who actually haven’t read the book. “To me, it’s been distorted, cherry-picked, and rewritten in a way that, to me, bears very little resemblance to what I wrote,” Couric said. Then again, Couric doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics, and didn’t pull any punches. During her media tour to promote the book, Couric spoke with The New York Times’ Kara Swisher for the “Sway” podcast and said, “What’s the point of writing a book that’s just, like, your greatest hits or a victory lap or a sanitized version of your life?”
The HuffPost writer has the story of the day: “He Dressed As Press To Storm The Capitol. Now We Know He Runs A White Nationalist Website.” Mathias profiles Matthew Purse, who showed up at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wearing a tactical vest and helmet — both of which said “PRESS.” But as Mathias wrote, “But later that day, as he took hold of a microphone on the steps of the Capitol building, it was clear that Purse was actually a participant at the anti-democratic ‘Save America’ rally — which had just exploded into a deadly attempted insurrection.” It’s a disturbing, but must-read story.
Kristof was mentioned in the Power Rankings just a couple of weeks ago when the longtime New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist announced he was leaving journalism to run for governor of Oregon. (It’s official: He announced his candidacy on Thursday, per the AP’s Andrew Selsky.) Kristof gets a final shoutout today because he has written a goodbye column: “A Farewell to Readers, With Hope.” Kristof writes about the lessons he has learned in his 37 years as a journalist. He concludes with, “I love journalism, but I also love my home state. … I’m bucking the journalistic impulse to stay on the sidelines because my heart aches at what classmates have endured and it feels like the right moment to move from covering problems to trying to fix them. I hope to convince some of you that public service in government can be a path to show responsibility for communities we love, for a country that can do better. Even if that means leaving a job I love.”
Starting Monday, ABC News will begin a monthlong climate change coverage series spanning seven continents and coinciding with the start of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland. The network says it is committing “unprecedented resources, deploying anchors and correspondents worldwide from Louisiana and the Amazon to India and Antarctica, to cover the circumstances that have put millions of people at risk, as they struggle with rising sea levels, famine, weather threats and more, in search of answers to prevent the damaging consequences of inaction.” That includes “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir going to Madagascar with the World Food Program. Muir told The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Weprin, “What we witnessed is truly catastrophic. You can see the desperation in the faces of the children. Madagascar is facing the first famine driven entirely by climate change. There is no war, no terror, no political conflict driving this. More than a million people are already facing acute hunger. The world needs to see this.”
The senior correspondent for TSN’s “SportsCentre” (basically Canada’s version of ESPN’s “SportsCenter”) conducted a respectful and heartbreaking interview with a hockey player named Kyle Beach, who bravely came forward to reveal he was the “John Doe” in an investigation that found he was sexually abused by a video coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. The report from the independent investigation is a difficult read — and an infuriating one when you consider how many Blackhawks executives appeared to have known what happened and did not immediately act upon it. In the interview, Beach told Westhead, “It’s been … it’s a big step for me, my process of recovery, as I process the events that happened and as I truly deal with the underlying issues that I have from them. For me, I wanted to come forward and put my name on this. To be honest, it’s already out there. The details were pretty accurate in the report, and it’s been figured out. More than that, I’ve been a survivor, I am a survivor. And I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one, male or female. And I buried this for 10 years, 11 years. And it’s destroyed me from the inside out. And I want everybody to know in the sports world and in the world that you’re not alone. That if these things happen to you, you need to speak up.” Westhead has done extensive reporting on this story.
The Washington Post
The Post has started its first national branding campaign, which includes 30-second national commercials that highlight the news organization’s “Impact” journalism. The first ad features reporter Craig Whitlock and his coverage of The Afghanistan Papers. In a statement, Kristine Coratti Kelly, chief communications officer at the Post, said, “Our journalists’ mission is to uncover the truth, and that reporting has an impact on the world. We wanted to use ‘impact’ as a jumping off point for this campaign and first showcase The Post people know, then surprise them with powerful reporting they may not have expected.”
The New York Times
The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three and killed two during a night of protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, starts Monday. Ahead of the trial, The New York Times has put together a sobering, but well-reported video report: “A Fatal Night in Kenosha: How the Rittenhouse Shootings Unfolded.” The 25-minute piece, which includes eyewitness video from that night and interviews with many who were at the protest, is a compelling look at how the events all went down. It’s sensational and important work. Watch it.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board
Just because you’re on the Power Rankings doesn’t mean you’re being praised. Here’s an example. A day after the Wall Street Journal inexplicably and inexcusably ran a letter to the editor from former President Donald Trump that had more baseless claims of a “rigged” election, the Journal’s editorial board defended its decision in an editorial: “The Facts on Trump’s Fraud Letter.” First, they seemed annoyed that so many called out them for running Trump’s letter in the first place, calling such people the “progressive parsons of the press” and saying they were “aflutter” over it. The board wrote, “We trust our readers to make up their own minds about his statement. And we think it’s news when an ex-President who may run in 2024 wrote what he did, even if (or perhaps especially if) his claims are bananas.” The problem is not all readers can be trusted to know Trump’s claims are baseless because many actually and wholeheartedly believe it — and giving Trump a megaphone in a respected news outlet emboldens those beliefs. The board’s editorial ultimately shoots down many of Trump’s claims, but if you’re going to insist on running the letter, it would have been more effective to run that editorial along with it instead of waiting a day. Meantime, the board continued to wag a finger at its critics, writing, “As for the media clerics, their attempts to censor Mr. Trump have done nothing to diminish his popularity. Our advice would be to examine their own standards after they fell so easily for false Russian collusion claims. They’d have more credibility in refuting Mr. Trump’s.”
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