May 2, 2018

A veteran reporter wonders if facts can sway hardened beliefs on either side — or if anyone will even listen

The Kansas City Star journalist was at an event in rural Missouri when she was challenged.

“This guy asked me if I wouldn't mind telling him why every person who works for our paper is over-the-top liberal,” Melinda Henneberger wrote on her Facebook page. “It's not like that, I told him. And before I know it, he's screaming, and I do mean that literally, that he can't believe I'm sitting there smiling and lying to him, and he had himself so worked up and red-faced he had to walk away.”


Henneberger, a veteran reporter and writer accustomed to backtalk and criticism, asked on Facebook if she was wrong to think of this level of vitriol as something new. The topic feels of-the-moment given the level of pushback to comedian Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Billy Hallowell, author of “Fault Line: How a Seismic Shift in Culture Is Threatening Free Speech and Shaping the Next Generation,” responded that national reporters are generally more liberal than conservative and disconnected, demographically, from the faith world. “That said,” he added, “this sort of behavior is insane and is exactly what is wrong with our country and culture. People on all sides of the aisle have unhinged.’’

Some of Henneberger’s readers blamed President Trump and Fox News for the vitriol. Others, like Hallowell, said a form of tribalism has flourished on both sides.

Mediawire readers, a question: Do you find it harder to present an issue to all without the premise being rejected by one side? Put another way, do you find it harder to break out of an echo chamber, to get real discussion? Please email me at with your thoughts. I’d like to include a few of your views in upcoming newsletters.

Quick hits

UK TO ZUCK: Britain’s Parliament gave the Facebook chief an ultimatum. Testify on May 24 in London or be forced to testify next time you’re on British soil. The order came in an open letter from lawmakers, Gizmodo’s Matt Novak writes. Here are 39 questions the UK wants answers on, tweets the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr.

IN PALO ALTO: Zuckerberg convened a small group of media executives to talk about search for "common ground," the most trustworthy news outlets and the idea that more opinions will help people figure out themselves where to stand. Joseph Kahn said Zuckerberg echoed some Trumpian views about belief over fact. To say that journalism can be categorized the way Zuckerberg suggests is “part and parcel of the polarization of society,” Kahn said. The Atlantic's Adrienne LaFrance, also there, entitled her account "Mark Zuckerberg doesn't understand journalism." Zuckerberg also noted that Facebook traffic to news sites is down 20 percent.

TWITTER’S MOVE: Everyone is getting into quality video. Among Twitter’s 30 video content deals announced this week, an extended run of the BuzzFeed News’s reimagined morning show "AM to DM" and a weekly live Vox show, "Divided States of Women," hosted by Liz Plank. HuffPost plans “Crash the Party,” an original series looking at 50 women running for office.

VINDICATION: This local paper got local owners who believed in the mission while out-of-town chains drained the news staffs of some counterparts. A Pulitzer victory last month for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat for its extraordinary breaking news and community coverage of Northern California wildfires showed the wisdom of that approach. "They didn't cut us,” managing editor Ted Appel told Poynter’s Kristen Hare. “They invested in news."

DESTRUCTION: Why would a scandalously cost-cutting hedge fund sell the newspapers it is wrecking, short of a march with pitchforks to the chairman's Montauk summer manse? Because it's bleeding Northern California, Denver and other markets so successfully, argues Ken Doctor for Nieman Labs.

LOCALIZE THIS: A new database contains court records on 83 million evictions from 2000-2016 — and you can filter it to the town level. (Hat tip: Gary Price)

DROPPING OUT OF THE WHCA: The Congress-focused publication The Hill, from future White House Correspondent Dinners. CNN’s Oliver Darcy reports.

HIRED: Francesco Marconi as new Wall Street Journal R&D chief and head of its media science lab. Marconi, a Tow Fellow at Columbia Journalism School and an affiliate researcher at the Laboratory of Social Machines at MIT Media Lab. comes from AP, where he was strategy manager and co-lead on artificial intelligence.

PROMOTED: Aleksander Chan, to editor in chief of Splinter, formerly Fusion. Chan was managing editor and acting editor of the site after working at Fusion digital, Gawker and the Austinist. "He has consistently impressed me with his thoughtful, steady leadership and appreciation of the ridiculous," said Susie Banikarim, editorial director of Gizmodo Media. "Exposing hypocrisy is more urgent now than ever, and Splinter has risen to the occasion."

CENSORSHIP:  A survey of student journalists from 49 U.S. Christian colleges and universities found that 70 percent said their adviser has the power to censor content before it is printed. Here are more details from the survey from the Student Press Coalition. The study follows a united effort last week by student news outlets at 135 colleges and universities to press for independent reporting of their schools.

NAME CHANGE: The Newseum Institute has been renamed the Freedom Forum Institute, effective Tuesday, but its mission will remain the same: to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment. The institute emcompasses the education and outreach of the Washington-based Newseum and the Freedom Forum, such as the Chips Quinn Scholars program, the institute’s largest and most enduring diversity initiative, and university affiliates at Vanderbilt, the University of Mississippi and the University of South Dakota. The institute now oversees the First Amendment Center, the Religious Freedom Center, and NewseumED, an online learning platform for students and teachers.

MURDOCH, THE PLAY: It was a hit in London. But will a play on the rise of a brash young Rupert Murdoch — and the populist, conservative Trump-friendly world he promoted — work on Broadway? “Ink,” centered on Murdoch’s turnaround of a London tabloid, is headed there next season. By Michael Paulson.

What we’re reading

FOLLOW THE MONEY: First, a lobbyist plans EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s $100,000 luxury government trip to Morocco in December, accompanies him, handles things. Then, in April, Morocco gives the lobbyist a $40,000-a-month contract, retroactive to Jan. 1. Oh yes, the lobbyist just registered as a foreign agent, the Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report. In other Pruitt news, his toxic cleanup chief and the talkative security head both stepped down after controversy.

TICK TICK TICK: Ticks are thriving in U.S. regions previously too cold for them, and hot spells are causing outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases. Those are two reasons given in a researcher reporting Tuesday that the number of Americans getting diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick and flea bites has more than tripled in recent years.

WHERE THEY CANNOT GET ENOUGH IMMIGRANTS: “If someone walks in the store, we hire them,” says Len Tucker, who owns Tim Hortons franchises in eastern Canada. “We don’t let them leave. We don’t even let them go out the door.” Canada’s four Atlantic provinces are facing a labor shortage and businesses say they cannot survive unless they are allowed to step up international recruitment, writes Kelly Toughill for The Conversation.

HE DID THE BUNNY: Hugh Hefner turned to his first employee and asked him for something that would symbolize “stag party.” Designer Art Paul thought about something that could be used to punctuate the end of a story or be a cover. Paul didn’t know his half-hour’s work would end up adorning clubs, phone cases, bedsheets, condoms and pajamas — or inspire the name of a newly discovered species of rabbit. “If I had known how famous that trademark was to become,’’ he said in 1994, “I would have taken more time with it — and it probably wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did.” Paul died on Saturday in Chicago. He was 93.

FORWARD: Future in doubt, “Dreamers” are going to college anyway, TIME’s Maya Rhoden reports.

ATTENTION SPANS: Normally we extol short, clear writing. But brevity, Roy Peter Clark says, rarely can take us on a journey, or unroll a carefully nuanced argument. Clark praises the joys of a story that can accept complexity and abounds in important ideas and language. "The deepest power of story is felt only by spending time,” Clark writes for Poynter. “Have we abandoned the long story — to our peril?”

A BORDER SURPRISE: Three people carrying a black duffel bag dropped it and moved back across the Mexico border when they spotted U.S. border agents. What did the agents discover inside the bag? This.

A photo provided Monday shows a male tiger on an exam table at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. The tiger was found in a duffel bag that was seized at the border near Brownsville. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)

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