Good morning and happy Thanksgiving week.
It has become a tradition in this newsletter this time of year for me to ask my colleagues what they are thankful for in the world of media and journalism. So today, we present the annual “What We’re Thankful For” edition of The Poynter Report.
This will be our last newsletter of the week. We will return Nov. 27.
The growth of worker-owned media
Annie Aguiar, audience engagement producer
This year, I’m thankful for the growth of worker-owned media. As layoffs hit the wider media industry and left many journalists with uneasy career paths, some journalists looked around at their former colleagues and decided to set up their own shops.
Continuing in the success of Defector forming in 2020 from the ashes of G/O Media’s once beloved and now-gutted Deadspin sports blog, 2023 has seen more worker-owned outlets come onto the scene. These websites are tightly run on subscription models to avoid the advertising and SEO angst affecting much of digital media, and could provide a business model to follow for years to come.
Tech outlet 404 Media and video game site Aftermath, both founded in the second half of 2023, are particular bright spots for me. 404 Media has already established itself as an essential read for people interested in technology (I particularly recommend this article on how the online advertising economy’s sense of “brand safety” cratered feminist blog Jezebel and other websites).
Aftermath, formed this month with writers who previously covered games for outlets like Kotaku, Vice and The Washington Post’s video games section Launcher (which I eulogized earlier this year), is a much-needed bright spot in the blighted hellscape of video game writing. It’s important and necessary coverage of an industry that made $347 billion in worldwide revenue last year.
I’ve been reading some of these writers’ work for years (Gita Jackson, in particular, is an essential writer when it comes to video games), and I’ve been disheartened by a media economy that wants to destroy things people care about because a line on a chart didn’t go up fast enough. Employee-owned media is an experiment in sustainability for content that doesn’t have algorithmic mass appeal. I’m thankful that so far, it seems to be working.
PolitiFact’s team and impact
Caryn Baird, researcher
I’m thankful I work on a team that helps bring light to the dark corners of the internet. PolitiFact helps clarify misinformation and has built a database of facts that anyone interested can access. It makes me proud to hear it mentioned out in the wild and know we are being read.
The beauty of fact-checking
Maria Briceño, PolitiFact staff writer
I have to say, I am very grateful to have started working at PolitiFact and learning the beauty of fact-checking. While days are usually full of fake posts of images and videos, I am grateful to have amazing editors and resources that help me debunk claims. Most importantly, I’m grateful to see more Spanish outlets out there and feel proud that PolitiFact is one of them.
Marta Campabadal, PolitiFact staff writer
As a native Spanish and Catalan speaker who does journalism in Spanish and English in the United States, I am thankful for organizations that understand the need for more journalism in Spanish in the U.S., and also for those who speak English. It’s just different to be able to read in your native language, and I appreciate that PolitiFact is doing that, but also that other outlets are, such as the podcast “Radio Ambulante” from NPR.
Amaris Castillo, research/writing assistant for NPR public editor’s office and contributor to Poynter
This year I am grateful for corrections in journalism. We’ve all made mistakes. What matters is admitting that an error took place, and doing something about it. I appreciate the journalists who take extra care in correcting the record. It helps build trust with their audiences. It also shows me they give a damn about telling the most accurate story.
Getting ready for the 2024 election
Matthew Crowley, PoltiFact copy chief
As the 2024 election approaches, with broad implications for our democracy, I’m excited to see what politicians say, how stories develop and how coverage evolves. I’m grateful for fellow journalists who will pursue the stories on all of the platforms, social and legacy, maybe in ways yet unimagined.
Thanks for tools to do our jobs better, including Otter.ai to transcribe speeches, Photoshop to make pictures look their best, Infogram to create tables, iPads, laptops and Wi-Fi to allow work anywhere. Hooray for resources including Nexis and Google to help us get the latest news and track the latest trends. Shoutout to the Django developers who invented the system that trafficks and stores our stories and the web designers who create and update our sites. Thanks to TinEye for reverse-image searches, public databases to scour public records and Slack channels to share ideas on specific topics, such as climate change, or share snapshot pictures to let far-away colleagues feel connected.
Appreciation to the International Fact-Checking Network and fellow fact-checkers worldwide who spot falsehoods alongside us. Hail to student journalists who pursue this work, even as the industry consolidates and job prospects seem uncertain. Gratitude to journalists who risk fiscal or bodily harm, or worse, as they cover wars and political conflicts. And mad props to my top-flight PolitiFact and Poynter teammates, set to cover everything that comes.
Books and the power of reading
Angie Drobnic Holan, director of the International Fact-Checking Network
I am grateful for books and the power of reading. There are so many big ideas in the world, so many concepts worth exploring at length and in depth, and the book remains my favorite technology for doing so. (And it is a profound technology! A book is so much easier to read than a roll of papyrus or parchment.)
I find I never have enough time to read and I’m perpetually behind on the latest releases. But books I read and enjoyed this year included “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future,” a political deep dive by Franklin Foer; “How to Stand up to a Dictator,” a searing personal memoir from journalist Maria Ressa; and “A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” an international history by Mary Ann Glendon. I can only imagine the concentration and labor it took to write these books, and I try to pay back the authors with sustained attention and sensitive understanding.
In a world of fast-moving social media posts and scrolling news feeds, it’s ever so soothing to sink back into the comfort of a good book. I remain grateful for books and those who write them.
In-depth, long-form journalism
Alanna Dvorak, international training manager for the International Fact-Checking Network
In 2023, when everyone talked incessantly about Twitter/X and tried to distill news into a social media blurb or sound bite, I’m grateful for the journalists continuing to produce hard-hitting and impactful long-form and in-depth journalism. From ProPublica’s investigative work into the luxury gifts and trips received by Supreme Court justices to the countless stories on the OceanGate disaster that captivated the world to last week’s harrowing story on gun violence from The Washington Post, we’ve been treated by reporters willing to take the time and do the work to get the details.
Sharp and timely (and free!) media insights
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst
I’m grateful for stalwart Poynter contributors. Notably, Columbia University’s Anya Schiffrin, who has made an international beat of getting Google and Meta to pay for news from publishers; Steven Waldman, prolific and ingenious advocate for government subsidies for journalism (and co-founder of Report for America); Tim Franklin, former Poynter president, whose Medill Local News Initiative produces a steady stream of coverage of important trends — last week Penny Abernathy’s latest research on news deserts.
Also, check out Dick Tofel’s Second Draft newsletter. Tofel, former president of ProPublica, has much to say about journalism issues in general and the challenges of financing nonprofit startup sites in particular.
And all these insights on the business of media are free!
Journalists who risk it all
Mel Grau, senior product specialist
It’s been a particularly dangerous year to be a journalist. I’m grateful for those risking their lives to show the world what’s happening in war-torn regions of the world, most recently in Israel and Gaza. The image of Clarissa Ward in a trench swearing under her breath as rockets explode nearby sticks with me, and it’s upsetting that moments like that are being warped by cheapfakes. Despite this, journalists press on. Thank you.
A new path
Jon Greenberg, PolitiFact senior correspondent
I’m thankful that I had the chance to go down a fascinating new path this year. In October 2022, I got the call from my bosses to launch something called Beat Academy and right after the midterms, this fact-checker morphed into a guy running a training program aimed at local and regional journalists, helping them find meaty local takes on big national issues. We covered private equity, climate change, immigration, crime, affirmative action, and the list goes on.
I’m grateful for all the people who enrolled (we blew past our aspirational goal of 250 and connected with over 380 people!) and the nitty gritty conversations we all had about actually getting this reporting work done. I’m grateful to the researchers and reporters who joined our panels and shared top-notch insights. I loved how much I learned, both in terms of craft and subject matter. I’ve totally dug seeing the stories that have emerged.
Huge thanks to the foundations who supported this work. And a major shoutout to my bosses and colleagues at Poynter for giving me a long leash and for pulling together to help build this plane while we were flying it.
The promise of early career journalists
Kristen Hare, faculty
I’m thankful for early career journalists who are willing to question the things in our industry that don’t work. One example is former Poynter-Koch fellow Justin Baxley, who built a project to help his newsroom cover violent crimes in a more humane and trauma-informed way. If we want journalism to have a future, we have to allow the people who will be there to help shape it.
NPR’s climate reporting
Josie Hollingsworth, audience specialist at Poynter, audience director at PolitiFact
I really appreciated how NPR has stayed committed to covering the changing climate, both through in-depth coverage and on their most popular shows and podcasts. “Up First” actually talked about climate change every week this year. And, in some weeks, stories about the environment led the daily newscast a majority of days. Last month’s climate week focused on solutions, and included more on the series “Protecting Cultural Heritage in a Warming World.”
This kind of constant and diversified climate narrative is the exact style of environmental coverage that empowers readers with knowledge and solutions, and reverses doom and gloom mentality. It identifies long-term trends, and leads to opportunities to string together a story about climate.
A little good news about humanity and the planet
Ren LaForme, managing editor
Did you know that 75 million lives have been saved since 2000 thanks to global cooperation in the fight against tuberculosis? That shoplifting across the United States has decreased from 45 per 100,000 residents before the pandemic to an average of around 36 per 100,000 this year? That deforestation in the Colombian Amazon is down 70% since 2022?
Probably not. I didn’t either, until I read last week’s edition of Future Crunch, a newsletter about good news for people and the planet.
Hold on. It’s not what you think. It’s not feel-good fluff about people overcoming obstacles or a couple finding their affordable dream home in Syosset. Instead, all links shared in the newsletter center on a big premise: Amid grim news of wars, plagues and climate change, the planet — and humanity — are doing a lot better than you might believe.
Not every item will knock your cynical socks off. If you read a lot of news (and, since you’re reading this newsletter, I’m guessing that’s true), you’re still probably going to sigh loudly when you check your push notifications every morning. But Future Crunch might make you pause and wonder, even for just a moment, if things might actually turn out alright. Frankly, in 2023, I am thankful for even a soupçon of optimism.
Alex Mahadevan, director of MediaWise
I’m thankful for ChatGPT. Seriously.
The rise of generative artificial intelligence — in the hands of anyone through Bing, Bard and ChatGPT — has lit a fire under journalism’s ass. It’s triggered an “adapt or die” urgency. And forced tough conversations about ethics, transparency, labor and bias.
Sure, generative AI spews misinformation through hallucinations and may bring on a wave of “pink slime.” It generates some questionable images. It even allegedly libels people. But, the buzzy program normal people can now use to harness generative AI has put the topic front and center for journalists — and the White House.
Because now is the time to gear up for AI’s effects on the news. This year feels like another big hinge point for journalism.
Is it a just pivot-to-video-style mirage, or are we truly entering the post-social media era? Will AI unleash a scourge of highly personalized misinformation and reduce trust in media, or make newsrooms more creative, equip them to cover more communities and effectively fight falsehoods? Is it all overblown?
My boring answer: Who knows?
But, thankfully, The Associated Press, and its experts like Aimee Rinehart and Ernest Kung, has stepped up to answer the call with its support of local AI projects and seemingly constant training workshops. Joe Amditis’ AI guides have been indispensable. Newsrooms appear to be elevating the voices of oft-ignored data journalists/engineers/programmers to address the issue. And the Partnership on AI brings together smart minds to help journalists and editors experiment with this shiny new thing.
We’ve seen some hilarious failures from publishers who did not consider their audience before trotting out AI-generated articles. They serve as a warning: Humans must be involved in anything you do with AI, and the audience must come first.
ChatGPT has forced newsrooms to confront the threat and opportunity of artificial intelligence. I’m hopeful the industry will adapt quicker than in the previous technological crises.
Investments in investigative audio reporting
Sitara Nieves, vice president, teaching and organizational strategy
It’s been a year or two of pretty deep cuts in the audio business. Spotify laid off 200 people in its podcasting unit in a “strategic realignment” earlier this year that would lead to “fewer originals, more creators.” Vox, Pushkin, Amazon, NPR and others cut podcast jobs, too.
Those layoffs — and the new economic realities that fueled them — have been tough for the entire industry, and, of course, for the people who lost their jobs. And it appeared that they could hit investigative podcasts particularly hard, for obvious reasons: Investigative podcasts are expensive. They reflect mission, audience service and journalistic impact, but aren’t a cheap and quick way to bring in ad dollars.
So here’s what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that in a time of increasing industry upheaval, organizations have continued to invest in investigative audio reporting — the kind that can change lives, minds, and policies, and reach people in that emotionally resonant way that only beautiful audio storytelling can.
Here are a few good examples and bright lights. On the same day that Spotify announced its layoffs earlier this year, New Hampshire Public Radio launched “The 13th Step,” an incredibly reported and brilliantly written investigative podcast about abuse within the addiction treatment industry, representing a continued commitment and investment in investigative journalism from that station. (The team that produced this show also faced attacks on their homes after the podcast was published.)
Condé Nast acquired the wonderful investigative podcast “In The Dark” earlier this year after it was canceled in 2022 by American Public Media (disclosure: I once worked for that company, but did not work for the division that ran “In The Dark”). It is one of the most significant investigative podcasts in the medium’s history, and the team’s relentless reporting for its second season led to a man tried six times for the same crime being freed from death row. I saw its cancellation in 2022 as an ominous sign for audio investigations, and I’m grateful that this news means the team can turn its considerable talent to producing new seasons, with the support of the team at The New Yorker.
And Nashville Public Radio and ProPublica’s investigative collaboration about a Tennessee juvenile detention center illegally jailing children led to a new podcast produced in partnership with The New York Times and Serial Productions that was launched last month. It follows Nashville Public Radio’s long and impressive track record of investing in investigative audio journalism.
These are only a few examples — and I’m thankful this year that there are many more than I have space to write about here.
The persistence of fact-checkers
Enock Nyariki, community manager, International Fact-Checking Network
I am grateful to the fact-checkers at nonprofit news outlets around the world, whose laser focus on debunking misinformation upholds the integrity of discourse on critical public interest issues.
This year, chilling attacks on those journalists have intensified, ranging from lawsuits and threats of violence to intimidating letters from politicians upset over having their baseless claims challenged. Yet, their determination to expose false statements in public debates remains unwavering.
I am fortunate to support the work of hundreds of fact-checkers, who operate in more than 100 countries and across 159 organizations that operate in a nonpartisan and transparent manner.
ProPublica’s powerhouse reporting
Jennifer Orsi, senior director, publishing and local news initiatives
This year, I’m thankful for the powerhouse reporting of ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative news site that works with numerous partners to spit out major investigations like coins from a slot machine. In perhaps the site’s biggest investigation of the year, Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski revealed in April that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been treated to extensive luxury travel he did not disclose by Republican billionaire Harlan Crow — then published follow-ups about more financial benefits to Thomas, as well as to Justice Samuel Alito from another benefactor. This reporting clearly helped lead to this month’s announcement that the court would adopt its first ethics policy. That and related reporting raised serious questions about who had the potential to secretly influence the court.
But that blockbuster wasn’t all. ProPublica regularly pairs with local news organizations and other partners, like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Northwestern University to show that Philips Respironics knew about and failed to disclose problems with breathing machines for sleep apnea that could send toxic particles into the lungs of millions. ProPublica and The Capitol Forum revealed the inner workings of insurance giants’ protocols to deny claims — in some cases without even looking at them. And another report that, while perhaps smaller in scale, was chilling to me, depicted how children had to court danger by climbing under or between trains that blocked railroad crossings for days on end, just so they could get to school.
ProPublica isn’t the only great news organization doing this work, but they deserve thanks just the same.
Journalists who embrace a little fun
Katie Sanders, PolitiFact editor-in-chief
The news has been so heavy this fall, so I am grateful to the PolitiFact team for embracing a little fun. We had faithful participation in a campaign to call two people on the team and ask how they’re doing. Our virtual and optional Halloween contest had almost all of our journalists in costume with matching Zoom backgrounds — we saw a French bedbug, sparkly alien, Sandra Dee from “Grease,” Olivia Rodrigo, Tanya from “White Lotus” and, of course, Barbie. We revived a pandemic tradition of rotating in a mystery DJ to play songs before our staff meeting. These efforts bring remote colleagues together and cost nothing, and the feedback I’ve heard is that staffers want more. I’m preemptively thankful for the ideas I’ll hear from other newsroom leaders that balance very serious work with moments of silly release.
Finally, a thanks from Tom Jones, author of The Poynter Report
I’m thankful to my Poynter colleagues for contributing to today’s special edition of The Poynter Report. And I’m thankful for you, the readers of the newsletter. Yeah, yeah, I know. It sounds a little cheesy to say that, but it’s true. The newsletter is written for you, and you reading it and offering your thoughtful feedback (even if you do drop in a few expletives from time to time) is so appreciated. So thank you.
More resources for journalists
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