The Sift: Sexism in journalism | Stimulus bill misinfo | Iowa reporter cleared

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Teach news literacy this week
Sexism in journalism | Stimulus bill misinfo | Iowa reporter cleared


Sexism in journalism

Women working as journalists increasingly face gender-based violence outside of their newsrooms, including a barrage of threats and hate online. But they also endure it inside their workplaces, from discrimination to sexual assaults and harassment, according to a new Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report detailing the toll sexism has taken on journalism.

“The two-fold danger to which many women journalists are subjected is far too common, not only in traditional reporting fields as well as new digital areas and the Internet, but also where they should be protected: in their own newsrooms,” the report said.

Published on March 8 — International Women’s Day — the report includes RSF’s analysis of 112 responses to questionnaires sent to its global correspondents and journalists who cover gender, and collected between July and October 2020.

The trauma female journalists experience due to violence both in and out of the newsroom silences victims and leads some to close their social media accounts or even resign, the report found. Issues affecting women “become invisible” in news coverage when there aren’t enough women in top leadership positions, the report said: “The lack of multiple viewpoints within media organisations has major editorial consequences, including in the representation of women in the content offered to the public.”

Note: A separate March 8 report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism revealed that 22% of top editors at 240 major news organizations are women.
Discuss: How would having more women working as journalists, including in top positions, improve news coverage? Based on the report, what steps could news organizations, authorities, advertisers and others take to curb gender-based harassment and to support women who have been targeted?
Idea: Ask students to research journalist Maria Ressa (see the above related International Center for Journalists report, which comes with a graphic content warning), or review one of the case studies outlined in RSF’s report. Then have students present their findings to their classmates, including the dangers female journalists face while doing their jobs.
Another idea: Use the journalist volunteer directory on NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom to connect with a female journalist to discuss this issue, their experiences inside and outside of their workplace and the gender diversity of their news organization. (Registration required.)
Resource: “Understanding Bias” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).

Viral rumor rundown

★ Viral rumor review: You can find the classroom-ready slides for this week's rundown here.

NO: The American Rescue Plan Act that was signed into law on March 11 does not award $25 million, or any other amount, as a bonus to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. NO: Previous versions of the bill did not include such a bonus either. YES: This is a false Facebook post that provides no evidence for its claim.

Also: NO: 92% of the $1.9 trillion of funding in the legislation is not going to “foreign entities.” YES: The conservative Heritage Foundation, which opposed the bill, described it as “almost entirely domestic spending.”


NO: The fourth “phase” of the Keystone pipeline project — called Keystone XL — was not “just about completed” nor was it “paid for” when President Joe Biden canceled it in January. YES: The first three phases of the Keystone Pipeline System — connecting Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur, Texas — were completed by 2014. YES: The controversial Keystone XL pipeline project was blocked by former President Barack Obama, then later approved by former President Donald Trump, and blocked again by President Joe Biden in January. YES: About 94 miles of the 1,210 miles of the planned XL pipeline — or about 8% — had been built and a fraction of the estimated $8 billion cost had been pledged when Biden revoked the project’s permit.

Note: This is but one example of a number of false and misleading viral rumors (see here, here, here and here for examples) concerning Biden, the Keystone pipeline and the rising price of oil and gas.


NO: The medical worker in this video did not fake giving actor Anthony Hopkins a COVID-19 vaccination and instead squirt the vaccine onto the ground. YES: The worker was expelling excess vaccine occupying the “dead space” in the syringe, which is a standard part of administering injections of any medication. YES: A spokesperson for CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center confirmed Hopkins received a full dose at a Los Angeles drive-thru vaccination point. NO: This Instagram account is not an official account of the Republican party, despite its name.

Discuss: What do you think motivates some people to see this as “evidence” that Hopkins faked his vaccination?


NO: Oprah Winfrey was not wearing an ankle monitor under her boots during her March 7 interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, the Duchess and Duke of Sussex. YES: This is a narrative fragment of the QAnon mass conspiratorial delusion, which contends that many public figures, including Winfrey, are part of a Satanic cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles, many of whom are secretly under house arrest.

Note: This isn’t the first time that baseless, conspiratorial “ankle monitor” rumors have circulated about Winfrey. They have also circulated about a number of other public figures (see here, here, here and here).



NO: Shredded and destroyed ballots containing votes from the 2020 presidential election were not found in a dumpster in Maricopa County, Arizona, prior to the start of a state Senate audit of election results. YES: The Maricopa County Elections Department confirmed to Lead Stories that by law voted ballots are kept for a 24-month retention period. YES: County election officials said “the 2.1 million voted ballots from the November General Election are safe and accounted for in a vault, under 24/7 surveillance.” YES: The ballots in the photo could be discarded sample ballots or unused mail-in ballots, according to the county. NO: Former President Donald Trump did not win the state of Arizona in 2020, as this Facebook post also claims.

Note: Numerous falsehoods about destroyed ballots circulated online throughout the 2020 election. Many of them were based on citizen “investigators” mistaking legally destroyed ballots for evidence of fraud.

Also note: This Facebook post links to a baseless story published on March 6 by the right-wing conspiracy website The Gateway Pundit. A recent analysis of election misinformation conducted by the Election Integrity Partnership found that the site was “a top repeat spreader” (see page 192) of election-related misinformation.


Ask a Journalist
Q: Anything can be faked online. How can I know you are a qualified journalist? How can I check on you? (Henry, 9th grade, Minnesota)

A: You’re right, Henry! As a reader, you should be wary and closely consider sources of information.

If a journalist works for a credible news organization, you often can verify this by looking up past stories, locating and reviewing a professional bio and finding contact information meant for feedback about their coverage. A simple internet search can also go a long way. When you search a journalist’s name, do you find that they have written other reports, or worked for other news organizations? LinkedIn, a professional networking website, is another place you can often find previous work experience. Also, check their social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.

Finally, a major distinction between the work of qualified journalists and other sources of information hinges on standards. A journalist who works at a standards-based news organization follows a different and more detailed newsgathering and vetting process, for example, than someone who posts in an online blog. Standards, which most news organizations make publicly available, aim to ensure that coverage is as accurate and fair as possible and to hold journalists accountable for mistakes. They also provide guidance on ethics. Working in a standards-based newsroom confirms journalists’ credentials because they must consistently meet these rigorous guidelines. Not doing so could threaten their jobs. Quality journalism also demonstrates credibility by verifying and attributing information to reputable sources, and being transparent, among other things. If you don’t see these standards at work, it could be a sign to be cautious about a person’s claim of being a journalist.

Thanks, Henry, for your great 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: Why is it important to think critically about sources of information online? What makes some sources more credible than others?

Idea: Ask students to follow the steps described above to research the journalist(s) behind a recent news article. What can the class learn about their previous professional experience, social media presence and the standards at play in their past work?

Resource: “Practicing Quality Journalism” (NLP’s Checkology virtual classroom).


★ Sift Picks


“‘The jury made the right decision’: Reporter Andrea Sahouri acquitted in trial stemming from arrest as she covered protest” (William Morris, Des Moines Register).

In a win for press freedom, a jury in Iowa acquitted Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri, who was pepper-sprayed and arrested in May as she covered a Black Lives Matter protest. After a three-day trial, during which she testified that she identified herself to police as a journalist and said, “‘I put up my hands and said ‘I’m press, I’m press,’” Sahouri was found not guilty on March 10 of two misdemeanor charges (failure to disperse and interference with official acts). Sahouri described the jury’s decision as upholding “‘democracy, a just democracy, the freedom of the press, First Amendment rights, the list goes on.’”

Discuss: Why was the jury’s decision a victory for press freedom? Why is press freedom such a crucial part of democracy? How does the degree of press freedom in the United States compare to other countries around the world?

Idea: Have students review Sahouri’s case along with the case of another American journalist who was arrested while working in 2020 or 2021 and share their research with the class.




Quick Picks

“Black and Hispanic Communities Grapple With Vaccine Misinformation” (Sheera Frenkel, The New York Times).


Analysis: “One reason Meghan suffered racist UK coverage: The media is not diverse” (Hanna Ziady, CNN Business).


“How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation” (Karen Hao, MIT Technology Review).

  • Related: “Instagram Suggested Posts To Users. It Served Up COVID-19 Falsehoods, Study Finds” (Shannon Bond, NPR).
  • Note: “Ad-tech” companies, like Facebook, generate revenue by making it free to share and consume content while collecting data about users, including their demographic information, location and interests. They then sell advertisers access to specific segments of people based on these factors. This is why social media companies use algorithms to learn what content people like and then promote it to them: When people spend more time looking at content, they generate more data and see more ads, creating more revenue.
  • Discuss: Are social media companies like Facebook responsible for misinformation that circulates on their platforms? How do most social media companies make money if they don’t charge people for accounts? Do social media companies make money on misinformation? How can algorithms be used to increase the amount of time people spend on a social media platform? What problems can these algorithms cause?

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.