September 14, 2021

Poynter Report author Tom Jones is on vacation and will return Wednesday. Today’s Poynter Report was compiled by Kristen Hare, Rick Edmonds and Ren LaForme.

Social media often catches blame for increasing political polarization in the United States. Does it deserve that reputation? A new study from New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights finds that it does.

“We conclude that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not the original or main cause of rising U.S. political polarization, a phenomenon that long predates the social media industry. But use of those platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive consequences,” the report says.

Without internal or government reforms, the researchers say, partisan hatred will continue to have “dire consequences,” including further trust lost in institutions, the continued proliferation of misinformation and more real-world violence like the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The researchers recommend several ways to reform social media, including investing in alternative social media platforms, empowering the Federal Trade Commission to enforce standards and tweaking algorithms to stop rewarding inflammatory content.

A new chapter for print outsourcing

This week marks two new examples of the trend to outsourced newspaper printing — one big, one odd.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will move printing early next year to The Gainesville Times, 55 miles to the northeast. That will result in the loss of 97 full-time and 119 part-time jobs, the AJC reported. The AJC, flagship of Cox Enterprises, plans to increasingly focus on digital presentation, publisher Donna Hall said.

Gannett’s El Paso Times is going south of the border early next month, printing at Paso del Norte Publishing in Juarez, Mexico, half an hour away. Transnational printing arrangements are unusual if not unprecedented.

Some U.S. deals have put papers 200 miles away and pushed print deadlines into the late or mid-afternoon. Given the short distances involved, that impact is not expected in these two.

More closures

Between last week and this week, several newsrooms and publications have closed. This is, sadly, part of an ongoing trend during the pandemic. The latest additions include six weekly Gannett newsrooms in upstate New York, and the alt-weekly SF Weekly in San Francisco, which is going on an indefinite hiatus. Marie Claire magazine also announced that it will end its print edition in the U.S. It is owned by Future Media.

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Mr. Smith goes to gossipland

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith’s latest piece delves into the work, and methods, of Michael Wolff. Smith looks into how the “Fire and Fury” author gets as close as he does to what’s happening behind the scenes in the lives of men in power. Smith writes:

It’s a curious fact of journalism that it has many rules, but the most successful journalists seem to be the ones who are always breaking them. Mr. Wolff — who dislikes the j-word, and considers himself a writer — prefers blurred lines and compromised relationships to cut-and-dry journalism-school clarity.

Creeping press restrictions

People queue up for the last issue of Apple Daily at a newspaper booth at a downtown street in Hong Kong, Thursday, June 24, 2021. ( AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

What happens to the press when democracy crumbles? Nothing good.

Next Digital, a Hong Kong media company, shut down last week “in response to new Chinese Communist Party restrictions that made it impossible to continue operating,” Axios’ Sara Fischer reports. The company’s biggest property, Apple Daily, shut down earlier this year after its bank accounts were frozen and its top leadership was arrested.

Hong Kong isn’t alone, Fischer reports. President Alexandre Lukashenko in Belarus and the Taliban in Afghanistan have launched attacks against the press, and countries like Hungary and the Philippines have introduced “fake news” laws that ostensibly target misinformation but actually crack down on the free press.

What’s next? “The world will be looking to the Biden administration to play a leading role in setting a tone around what the U.S. will deem acceptable,” Fischer reports. That might be easier said than done. Earlier this year, the administration decided not to sanction Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

TMZ sold to Fox Entertainment

Celebrity gossip publication TMZ is joining Fox Entertainment. It had been owned by WarnerMedia (and its predecessors) since its launch in November 2005.

“WarnerMedia’s parent company AT&T has been shedding assets to help pay down its debt and pave the way for investments in 5G,” CNN’s Kerry Flynn reports. CNN is also owned by WarnerMedia. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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