The scary reality of manipulated videos, plus Pew’s TV numbers and a new press secretary

Your Wednesday news roundup

June 26, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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June 26, 2019

Good morning. Big day today. The Democrats hold the first of their presidential primary debates and we have a new White House press secretary. I’ll get to that, but I want to start with an impressive and important project by The Washington Post.

Do my eyes deceive me?

The Washington Post spent six months on an interactive fact-checker’s guide to manipulated video.

It might be the biggest threat to the truth we currently face, and it could have a huge impact on the 2020 election and beyond. Just ask The Washington Post’s Nadine Ajaka.

“I don’t want to be alarmist, but the threat posed by fake video is indeed very real,” she told me in an email. “Most people think about deepfakes as the most sinister form of manipulation, but there are many other, more common ways that video can be manipulated and the effects can be very far-reaching.”

As a senior producer for video platforms for the Post, Ajaka was part of a six-month project to fight one of the biggest threats to the truth. The interactive piece — Seeing Isn’t Believing — is a fact-checker’s guide to manipulated video. The incredible work from a team of seven Post journalists — including Glenn Kessler and Post video verification editor Elyse Samuels — has video examples of how what you’re seeing might not be true. From the Nancy Pelosi “drunk” video to the Jim Acosta “push” of a White House intern to a video of a fake Mark Zuckerberg, the Post shows all the ways in which videos can be altered to distort the truth.

“When we started researching, we found that there were many instances just since the 2016 election where video has been manipulated and used in attempts to sway public opinion,” Ajaka said. “Now, the 2020 campaign is happening online, and increasingly through video. It’s crucial to hold creators and sharers of misleading video accountable. Let’s be honest, these videos are not meant to reach journalists, they are meant to mislead the public.”

Ajaka said there was no one video that sparked the project, but a culmination of disturbing examples. And it isn’t just the videos, but the reaction to them.

“The doctored video of Nancy Pelosi was troubling,” Ajaka said. “Anyone with access to basic video editing software could do that. And the fact that it didn’t get taken down until it had garnered millions of views was even more disturbing.”

In the end, Ajaka said she hopes readers will be smarter and question what they’re seeing. She said she also knows that a project that took half a year might just be getting started.

“First and foremost, this guide is for our readers,” Ajaka said. “We built the classification system so that it could be added to over time and evolve as new technologies get incorporated, and we expect it to grow.”

Speaking of eyes …

A new Pew study reveals that cable viewership is up, network news audiences stayed flat and local suffered losses.

(APStock)

The Pew Research Center came out Tuesday with its annual look at cable TV, local TV and network news. The highlights:

  • Viewership increased in 2018 for the big three cable news channels: CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. The increase was about 8% in primetime with an average of 1.25 million viewers. Daytime viewing was up about 5% to an average viewership of 822,000.

  • Viewership for the three major network evening news broadcasts (ABC, CBS, NBC) was relatively flat, with an average of 5.3 million viewers in 2018 compared to 5.2 million in 2017. The morning shows saw a 4% decline with an average of 3.2 million viewers.

  • The Sunday morning TV news shows on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC saw an 8% drop to about 2.3 million average viewers.

  • Viewership of local news in the morning, evening and late night saw an overall 10% drop in 2018 with midday and prime time seeing a whopping 19% decline in viewership.

Another interesting tidbit from the Pew study is how many  are working in TV news and how much they are making.

Collecting data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics, Pew said that in 2018, cable TV news had about 2,700 employees, which included reporters, editors, photographers, camera operators and film/video editors. The median wage for editors was about $62,000 per year, followed by reporters ($53,000), camera operators and film/video editors ($49,000) and photographers ($47,000).

About 29,000 employees worked as reporters, editors, photographers or film and video editors in local broadcast TV newsrooms in 2018. Median wages for editors were about $57,000, followed by reporters ($55,000), film and video editors and camera operators ($55,000) and photographers ($46,000).

A tough act to follow? Challenge accepted!

Those hoping a new White House press secretary would be less adversarial to the press might be disappointed.

New White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

When Sarah Sanders announced she was stepping down as White House press secretary earlier this month, there was rejoicing among some in the media who had grown tired of Sanders’ combative relationship with the press. But her replacement might be just as adversarial.

The early returns on new press secretary and director of communications Stephanie Grisham is that she is a staunch defender of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump and has criticized the media for its coverage of Mrs. Trump. (Grisham was and will continue to be the First Lady’s communications director.)

CNN’s Kate Bennett reported that Sanders didn’t want Grisham to replace her. She was pushing for deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley as recently as Monday night. But a White House source told Bennett that Trump wanted someone he considered to be a part of his “inner circle.” Grisham has been a part of Trump’s team since 2015 when she joined his campaign. According to CNN, only aide Dan Scavino has been in Trump’s White House longer than Grisham.

The big question for now is if Grisham will reinstitute regular official White House briefings. The last one was March 11. Sanders’ last day is Friday, but Grisham is scheduled to travel with Trump to Japan this week for the G-20 summit.

Point of purchase

Texas Monthly’s new billionaire owner says she’s committed to supporting the magazine’s mission and legacy.


Texas Monthly has been sold to Houston billionaire Randa Duncan Williams. (Photos courtesy Texas Monthly)

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter.org managing editor Barbara Allen:

For those in the Lone Star state, Texas Monthly has long been an arbiter of tastes and trends, from politics to food. Specializing in longform narratives and lush design, the magazine is beloved by its readers and counts 13 National Magazine Awards (the magazine world’s version of the Pulitzers) to its credit.

On Tuesday, the magazine announced that billionaire oil and gas heiress Randa Duncan Williams bought the magazine, emphasizing her long-term commitment to the publication that she said she’s read and admired since she was a teenager.

“My family is delighted to provide the resources to support this iconic Texas institution which is nationally recognized for its editorial flair,” she said in a release.

Texas Monthly’s site claims a paid circulation of 300,000 and readership of 2.1 million people each month — “one out of 10 Texas adults.”

We spoke to editor Dan Goodgame about the handoff.

Keeping it the Sunshine State

Six Florida newsrooms are collaborating on climate change reporting.

A monitor at the National Hurricane Center in Miami in 2010. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Six Florida newsrooms are combining forces to cover and share stories about climate change: The Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Tampa Bay Times, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel and WLRN Public Media.

In a statement, Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel editor Julie Anderson said, “This is an opportunity to maximize our ability to cover the biggest story of our lives — the threat of climate change.”

The six outlets are already sharing ideas, such as:

  • The dangers and solutions of increasingly destructive hurricanes accelerated by warming seas.

  • The climate effects on Florida’s $104 billion agriculture economy, and the ripple effect on the country.

  • The future of coastal towns and cities — which ones survive, which ones go under, and which inland cities gain from the migration.

More organizations could eventually join the network. Tampa Bay Times executive editor Mark Katches said, “We are exploring ways to build this partnership to include universities and nonprofit newsrooms in addition to the partners now in the fold.”

Katches wrote a column about the collaboration in the Tampa Bay Times.

Disclosure: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Passings: Steve Dunleavy

The New York Post writer and columnist was an old-school journalism legend.

Legendary New York Post writer and columnist Steve Dunleavy has died of unknown causes. He was 81. Post owner Rupert Murdoch said, “Steve Dunleavy was one of the greatest reporters of all time.”

The Post described him as “the hard-hitting, hard-drinking journalist who helped define The New York Post.” He also was a correspondent on the syndicated tabloid-TV news show “A Current Affair.”

The Post’s obituary remembered some of Dunleavy’s most famous stories, including exclusive interviews with the Boston Strangler, the mother of Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan and Elvis Presley’s bodyguards who told Dunleavy about Elvis’ addition to drugs.

The Post also recalled the time Dunleavy’s foot was broken when it was run over by a snow plow and rival New York journalist Pete Hamill quipped, “I hope it wasn’t his writing foot.”

What’s not debatable

Here’s what to expect from Poynter’s upcoming debate coverage.

Poynter’s PolitiFact will be live fact-checking the Democratic presidential primary debates tonight and Thursday. PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders will be in Miami. Also, I’ll be providing highlights, lowlights and lookbacks at the moderators and media from the debates here in the newsletter on Thursday and Friday.

Hot type

A list of great journalism and intriguing media.

Anthony Bourdain in 2016. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

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

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