Morning Mediawire: Can’t Washington protect Americans from propaganda on social media?

The past two years have taught us that the United States needs a better handle on what social networks are doing to manipulate and prioritize information. If there’s one thing that Washington could do, it would be to provide better safeguards to ensure that these powerful tools are not used to mislead the public again.

That’s part of the message from Martha Minow, longtime Harvard Law school dean and expert on the shifting media and technological landscape. Minow also casts a skeptical eye on the concentration of local media ownership by companies such as Sinclair Broadcasting.

We need action now, or independent news as we know it won’t be around, she warned in a speech last week at Brown University,

Minow cites the Constitution as impetus for Washington “to improve reliable access to material enabling competing views and authentication of messages and sources. The government can protect users against bombardment by computer-generated messages that drown out news and drive citizens away from the exchange needed for democratic self-governance.”

Minow“Nothing in the Constitution forecloses government action to regulate concentrated economic power, to require disclosure of who is financing communications, and to support news initiatives where there are market failures. The First Amendment forbids Congress from ‘abridging’ the freedom of speech and freedom of press; it does not forbid strengthening it and amplifying news.

“Affirmative government action may be precisely what the First Amendment actually requires now.”

Minow says government must help in reaching news deserts, enabling fact-checkers and news literacy. Also essential, in her mind: “Regulatory guardrails against the hijacking of digital tools by harassers, bots, and enemies of the nation.” Those guardrails, she says, include treating tech companies like public utilities, considering antitrust action, providing “safe harbors” for publishers to negotiate with platforms, and requiring platforms to share their APIs so third parties can develop ways to protect consumers.

You can view her entire talk here. We’d love to know your take. It’s worth keeping in mind as you catch up on the media stories that affect your day.

Behind the news: ‘Overlooked’ no more

Look for, perhaps starting this week, more obituaries of notable women who had been ignored by the New York Times in the past. The package with the first 15 “Overlooked” obits, posted Thursday, was the most popular item that day and it got strong support on social media from the likes of the Girl Scouts, Monica Lewinsky and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, says Jodi Rudoren, a Times associate managing editor.

Readers have deluged the Times with nearly 2,000 suggestions for other “Overlooked” obituaries. The plan is to do a weekly obituary and perhaps more clusters of the long-delayed obits from the past, says Jessica Bennett, the NYT’s gender editor.

Bennett says the Times is committed to continuing the historical obituaries as well as pushing for a higher gender representation on current-day obits. Over the past two years, only about 20 percent of the obituaries have been of women.

The Times also will move beyond gender and do historical obits of people of color who may have been neglected, discriminated against or not even known from the paper’s founding in 1851 to today. Through a newsroom-wide effort, the Times already has written 50 historical obits, Bennett says.

Thursday’s postings included freshly researched and reported obits on figures such as Ida B. Wells, Charlotte Bronte, Qiu Jin and Sylvia Plath. As of Sunday, the Overlooked project was the second most-emailed NYT story.

Quick hits

SARASOTA GETS RESULTS: Spurred by investigative reports, Florida lawmakers approved a bill seeking to reduce rampant racial disparities in sentencing. Two (Sarasota) Herald-Tribune investigations — “Bias on the bench” and “One War. Two Races” — found that when a black and white defendant commit the same crime under similar circumstances, Florida courts sentence the black offender to far longer in lockup on average.

MEET THE 'SLEEPY S.O.B.:' Politico's Susan B. Glasser has impeccable timing. She interviewed NBC's Chuck Todd on Friday, and then a little more than 24 hours later President Donald Trump trashed him at a Pennsylvania campaign rally. The two have a history, Todd noted in his Friday interview, with Trump calling him frequently in 2011 to pitch his idea of running for president against Barack Obama.

NEW YORKER EXPANSION: The goal is for the New Yorker to get from 1 million to 2 million subscribers. Editor David Remnick has joked that he’d buy cigarettes for teenagers to get there. Here’s Digiday’s breakdown of the New Yorker’s growth plans, which have already yielded gains.

THE GREAT DEFILEMENT: How did the once-confident evangelical movement find itself so threatened that it has been hooked by President Trump? Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, a proud evangelical growing up, argues in an Atlantic cover story that the conditions existed before Trump; the wholehearted embrace of his basest notions or amoral character did not. “The corruption of a political party is regrettable,” Gerson writes. “The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.”

LOCALIZE THIS: In the Atlantic’s evangelical story, Gerson references seven prominent evangelical voices who have kept their distance from the Trump administration. Some of those seven — Tim Keller, Beth Moore, Russell Moore, Gary Haugen, Bishop Claude Alexander, NIH chief Francis Collins and Peter Wehner — have accused evangelical colleagues of compromising their principles for access to power. How diverse on issues are evangelical ministers in your community or region?

CANNABIS MOVE: The very down-the-middle, public health-oriented Cannabis Wire is relaunching on the blockchain, cryptocurrency-powered journalism site Civil. Cannabis Wire has explored the social and economic complexities that come with legalization and is a watchdog of emerging influences and special interests in this new industry. Civil hopes to host several news sites and announced its first launch with the news and politics site Popula, run by Maria Bustillos.

SUSPENDED: Twitter has stopped several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality. Some of these accounts, with hundreds of thousands of even millions of followers, would team up on closed Tweetdeck accounts to coordinate the retweeting of posts, BuzzFeed’s Julia Reinstein reports.

TONIGHT ON TV: The anchors of the two largest Spanish-language news networks in the United States are getting together for a talk on what it’s like to be Latino in America. It’s the first time in their decades of work as rivals that Jorge Ramos of Univision and José Díaz-Balart of Noticias Telemundo have been together as interview subjects, and it coincides with the publication of Ramos’ new book, “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.” Of the get-together, Ramos says: “We’ve owed it to each other for the last 30 years.”

What we're reading

Pastor
Screengrab from The New York Times.

A PASTOR ESCAPES PUNISHMENT: "I'm just aching inside." She was 17 when the pastor turned down a dark road and unzipped his pants. She had trusted him. The church said it would handle the sexual incident. It didn't. Only now, 20 years later, did the pastor tell his congregation. His victim watched his televised, limited confession — and heard, heartbroken — the supportive applause of the congregation for his … candor.

THEY WERE HEROES: They rode in parades after Super Bowl victories, embraced by their fans and a region starved for a football winner. Now half of the New England Patriots on the team’s first three NFL championships have reported brain disease — a sobering statistic to people who still follow football.

A PIG FARMER TUNES OUT: He's off social media. Puts white noise on his earbuds at the coffee shop. Decided after Trump won not to know anything about modern politics. Is a virtual move to Canada the answer? He tells NYT’s Sam Dolnick it's working for him. …

... COUNTERARGUMENT: Tyler Buchanan is the editor of that pig farmer’s local paper. “It does rattle me that someone CHOOSES to ignore the news. On purpose. Solely because the world around them is too harsh or the election results too unfavorable,” Buchanan tweets. “Glouster is a wonderful town, but its residents also face many struggles. The local school district has been ranked the poorest in Ohio. Students are given food to take home on weekends. Drug and opioid abuse is rampant. The NYTimes could have spent its trip to our area focusing on those concerns. Instead, the focus is wasted on a man with the privilege to cover his ears … He can ignore the world all he wants, but the world keeps turning.”

STAINING A NOBLE CAUSE: The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen has been fearless exposing hypocrisy in Russia. Now she sees something disquieting in leaders of America’s grassroots women’s movement: a refusal to reject the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan.

MorrisonASTRAL WEEKS: The Irish singer fled to Boston and created his masterpiece: "While living on Green Street near Central Square, Van Morrison claimed he had a dream that there were no more electric instruments." The songs he wrote — and performed for passersby in the Plough and the Stars bar — became an album so revered it is the basis for a new book.

 

Poynter at SXSW

At the South by Southwest conference, Poynter's Newmark chair in journalism ethics, Indira Lakshmanan, moderated a conversation with top executives from legacy media organizations on how they are innovating and experimenting with new technologies to build audience and revenue, while staying true to their core journalistic principles of factual and trusted storytelling.

At PBS Newshour, where the average viewer for the nightly newscast is 67, executive producer Sara Just is trying to reach wider and younger audiences with new products, including a series of 2-3-minute, social-first videos called "Brief But Spectacular," interviews with celebrities, artists and thought leaders. The newsroom will also be distributing news on Snapchat Discover with PBS Newshour's Student Reporting Labs at middle and high schools across the country.

Bob Cohn, president of The Atlantic, said the Atlantic has radically reimagined its revenue streams over the past 12 years, shifting from a dependence on print ads and print subscribers to a model where digital advertising of all forms is by far the largest piece of the pie, followed by print subscriptions, paid live events, consulting and other revenue streams — all while growing the web audience and trying to convert visitors who come through social into long-term readers and subscribers.

Reuters digital's executive editor, Dan Colarusso, demonstrated how one in-depth investigation by Reuters print reporters had been adapted and distributed on all Reuters platforms, including TV, digital, social, mobile and the first long-form documentary. The trick, he said, is to use new technologies to reach new audiences, but maintain your brand and product by always sticking to deeply reported, reliable content.

SXSW
The Atlantic’s Bob Cohn, Poynter’s Indira Lakshmanan, NewsHour’s Sara Just and Dan Colarusso of Reuters after their session Sunday on how legacy media has adapted to and experimented with new technologies. (Photo/Nick Massella)

New on Poynter.org

  • What could go wrong?: A site that gets funding from the State Department is publishing fake news in an effort to educate people about fake news.
  • We need to get better about covering studies about fake news.
  • The Asheville Citizen Times has a secret that is at the heart of a police beating that has gone nationwide.

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