The Sift: NYT diversity report | Floating astronaut misinfo | Fake Tom Cruise

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Teach news literacy this week
NYT diversity report | Floating astronaut misinfo | Fake Tom Cruise


Changing of the Times

Amid a focus on racial equity in American newsrooms and society at large, The New York Times on Feb. 24 published a report critical of its workplace culture and issued “A Call to Action” for reforms to make the company more diverse, equitable and inclusive. The report’s “central finding is that The Times is too often a difficult place to work for people of all backgrounds — particularly colleagues of color, and especially Black and Latino colleagues.”

Practices, systems, and the current environment at the Times — one of the largest and most influential news organizations in the country — do not allow for all staffers to thrive, the report noted. That reality “is particularly true for people of color, many of whom described unsettling and sometimes painful day-to-day workplace experiences.” Asian American women said they felt “invisible and unseen — to the point of being regularly called by the name of a different colleague of the same race, something other people of color described as well.” The report also highlighted a lack of leadership roles for Black and Latino employees.

The findings acknowledged company successes, such as its transformation into a digital newsroom and efforts that have led to more people of color and women on staff, including some in leadership positions. But women of color in particular continue to lack adequate representation in top roles. (At the Times, “leadership” means “director and above on the business side and deputy and above in the newsroom.”)

Proposed reforms are detailed in the report, including improving management practices and “a goal of increasing the representation of Black and Latino colleagues in leadership by 50 percent by 2025.” The report said making the newsroom more diverse, equitable and inclusive will result in news coverage “that provides a truer, richer and more textured portrayal of the world.”

Discuss: In what ways do newsrooms that are diverse, equitable and inclusive at all levels improve news coverage? How is the Times’ decision to make this report public related to the quality journalism standard of transparency? Should other newsrooms undertake similar efforts?
Idea: Ask students to analyze the degree of diversity at a local news organization and try to determine whether the demographics of the newsroom — including its leadership — match the demographics of the communities that the news organization serves. Have students share their findings with the newsroom and reach out to someone on staff to discuss whether the news organization has any diversity, equity and inclusion policies in place.
Resource: “Understanding Bias” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).

Viral rumor rundown

NEW: We’ve changed the featured rumor resource, which previously focused on just one viral rumor, to a review of all the rumors in the rundown. You can find this week’s classroom-ready slides here.

NO: This is not Tom Cruise. YES: It is a synthetically manipulated “deepfake” video in which an algorithm, trained on real footage of Tom Cruise, has swapped in a computer-generated re-creation of Cruise’s face over the actual face of a body actor.

Note: A new TikTok account — @deeptomcruise — posted several deepfake videos recently of the algorithmically-generated “Cruise” doing a variety of activities such as hitting a golf ball, tripping before telling a joke (above) and using sleight of hand to make a coin disappear.

Discuss: What kinds of misinformation and confusion could deepfake videos cause? What mental adjustments do people need to make to prepare for an information landscape in which deepfakes are increasingly common? Why might people in power falsely allege that a damaging video is a deepfake?

Resource: Sensity’s deepfake detection tool checks photos and videos for evidence of manipulation by face-swapping technologies.



NO: This is not an authentic NASA photograph of late astronaut Bruce McCandless II floating untethered in space. YES: The bottom half of the photo has been digitally altered to show snow-covered mountain ranges. YES: The original photo (below) shows McCandless performing the first untethered spacewalk in history in February 1984.

The authentic NASA photo of McCandless floating freely in space in February 1984. He was the first person in history to ever perform an untethered spacewalk.


NO: This video does not show a pregnant widow receiving a message from her dead husband. YES: It is a staged skit that, according to Lead Stories, lasts just over three minutes in order to meet Facebook’s video monetization requirements.

Note: These types of “reveal” videos are sometimes created to keep people watching for longer than they otherwise might.

Also note: This video was originally published to a Facebook page along with a disclaimer that it was not real, but was then copied and reposted by other pages without the disclaimer. This also frequently happens with pieces of satire.


NO: President Joe Biden never tweeted this racist message. YES: It is a fake tweet that, as PolitiFact pointed out, exceeds Twitter’s limit of 280 characters.

Note: This imposter tweet circulated after Biden said at a CNN town hall event on Feb. 16 that “not everybody … in the Hispanic and the African American community, particularly in rural areas that are distant and/or inner-city districts … know how to get online” to schedule an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The remark was seized on by some of the president’s critics who claimed it was racist. It also prompted a different viral fake Biden tweet.

Also note: All of the deleted tweets from Biden — including four Twitter accounts — are archived by ProPublica’s Politwoops website.

Related: “Did Coca-Cola’s Diversity Training Tell Workers ‘Try To Be Less White’?” (Dan MacGuill, Snopes).


NO: The photo in this tweet from Luke Rudkowski, a conspiracy theorist, is not authentic. YES: The photo was manipulated to add the Black Lives Matter logo and transgender pride flag. YES: Misleading political memes supposedly showing progressive slogans on weapons have been shared on the internet before. YES: The doctored photo was also published (warning: foul language) to a notoriously racist and sexist message board on 4chan after the United States carried out airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria on Feb. 25.

Tip: Follow @hoaxeye on Twitter for expert debunks of manipulated images.

The Twitter account @hoaxeye debunked this manipulated photo.

Ask a Journalist
Q: As a journalist, is it a common belief that one has a strict moral code to follow in order to portray the most authentic of news? (Kevin, college undergraduate, Illinois)

A: Many people may not realize that credible journalists work to follow professional standards and ethics. These standards help guide journalists’ news gathering and coverage as they aim to pursue the truth responsibly and with integrity. Standards-based newsrooms take these values very seriously — which, when you stop and think about it, makes sense. Journalists and news organizations are keenly aware that their reputations and credibility are at stake.

Standards can also help journalists navigate complex and nuanced ethical questions, including those that arise while covering sensitive stories. For example, it is common practice for newsrooms to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest, follow rules regarding the use of anonymous sources and choose not to name minors or victims of certain crimes.

While some standards are commonly shared by journalists across the industry — such as the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics — there are also policies unique to different newsrooms. Still, the general purpose behind these standards is the same: to produce the most accurate, fair and useful information possible.

Thanks, Kevin, for your compelling question! Did we miss anything? Feel free to tweet us at @NewsLitProject or email us at [email protected] so we can continue the conversation.

What should we tackle next? Submit questions using this link, and you may see them answered in upcoming issues of The Sift!

Discuss: What does it say when a source of information lacks clear ethics policies or standards?

Idea: Ask students to research the ethics guidelines and standards followed by one or more news organizations in their community. How do they compare? Do any standards seem more important than others?

Another idea: Invite a local journalist to discuss journalism standards and ethics with your students.

Resources: “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom) and NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom program (Checkology’s directory of journalist volunteers).


★ Sift Picks


“How Americans Navigated the News in 2020: A Tumultuous Year in Review” (Pew Research Center).

Americans ahead of the 2020 election widely agreed that misinformation “is a major problem,” but they “do not see eye to eye about what actually constitutes misinformation,” according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. The report also found that Americans who primarily turned to social media for political news were less knowledgeable about current events and more likely to have heard unproven theories about COVID-19. These findings were among the key takeaways from Pew’s American News Pathways project, which based its research on 10 different surveys to examine how Americans navigated the news from November 2019 through December 2020.

Most U.S. adults said they saw at least some news on the 2020 election that “seemed completely made up,” and many also said they were exposed to “made-up news” related to COVID-19 last year, the report said. But views of misinformation in such a polarized political climate varied widely: “In many cases, one person’s truth is another’s fiction.”

Discuss: Are Pew’s findings surprising? Why or why not? What examples of misinformation or “made-up news” about the pandemic and election did you encounter last year? How did you know the information was false or misleading? What are some consequences of people disagreeing on what counts as misinformation?

Idea: Ask students to brainstorm examples of “made-up news” that they have seen related to COVID-19. Compare their examples with those given by respondents in the study. Then challenge students to fact-check one or more of these claims and share their findings.

Resource: “Misinformation” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom).


Quick Picks

“Australia passes law requiring Facebook and Google to pay for news content” (Jon Porter, The Verge).

  • Note: The Feb. 22 issue of The Sift included a summary of Australia’s proposed legislation to make technology companies (notably Facebook and Google) pay media companies for the right to use (and sell ads against) links to news stories. In response, Facebook instituted a platform-wide ban on news sharing. Hours after the newsletter was sent, Facebook announced that it had reached an agreement with the Australian government and that the ban would be lifted. An amended version of the legislation was passed by the Australian Parliament on Feb. 25.
  • Related: “Facebook's news ban 'experiment' is almost over. Here's what we've learnt” (James Purtill, ABC News).

“Washington Post denounces abuse of reporter” (Joseph Choi, The Hill).

“Celebrating Black History: Renaissance of the Black press” (Alison Bethel McKenzie, Report for America).

  • Discuss: According to the article, what are some reasons behind the growing recent interest in Black news organizations? Why is the Black press considered “a staple of Black and immigrant communities”?
  • Idea: Ask students to research one or more of the news organizations mentioned by the author or included on the Center for Community Media’s interactive map embedded in the piece. What kind of stories do they cover? How does this coverage compare to more mainstream news sources? Are there any Black news organizations that serve students’ local community? How often do they see or read news from these sources?
  • Related: “Mapping Black Media” (The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York).

“Finding misinformation with ‘rumor cues’” (Tommy Shane, First Draft Footnotes).

  • Discuss: What are some “rumor cues” — or keywords related to specific rumors or conspiracy theories — that you have seen online? Why would rumors proliferate in situations, like breaking news events, where public curiosity and demand for information are high, but the supply of information is low? Can you think of an example? How do people in conspiracy theory communities weaponize searches for credible information?
  • Idea: Recreate the querying exercise Shane describes in this piece by having students search the web and social media platforms for “coronavirus truth” and for “coronavirus facts.” What differences do they notice in their results? What patterns emerge when they analyze the results for each? What questions does this raise?
  • Related: “How memes became a major vehicle for misinformation” (Sara Fischer and Alison Snyder, Axios).

What else did we find this week? Here's our list.


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of The Sift is created by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams), Suzannah Gonzales and Hannah Covington (@HannahCov) of the News Literacy Project. It is edited by NLP’s Mary Kane (@marykkane).

You’ll find teachable moments from our previous issues in the archives. Send your suggestions and success stories to [email protected].

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Check out NLP's Checkology virtual classroom, where students learn how to navigate today’s information landscape by developing news literacy skills.