The Sift: Teaching newsroom diversity | Fake ‘racist’ Trump shirts | Is TikTok censored?

  News Literacy Project

Diversity continues to be a challenge for American newsrooms, according to the 2019 ASNE Newsroom Diversity Survey


The American Society of News Editors received responses to its 41st annual survey from 429 news organizations — both print/digital newsrooms and online-only outlets. The results (PDF download), released last Tuesday, found that people of color comprised 21.9% of salaried employees in 2018, compared with 21.8% the year before. Online-only news outlets responding to the survey increased the racial diversity of their salaried employees by more than 6 percentage points, from 24.6% in 2017 to 30.8% in 2018. 


Almost a fifth (19.1%) of newsroom managers at responding news organizations in 2018 were people of color, slightly higher than the previous year’s 17.6%. More than 40% of managers were women (compared with about 42% in 2017); 2% of managers identified as gender nonbinary.   


The response rate increased in 2018: Almost a quarter (23%) of the 1,883 news outlets that received the survey returned it, up from 17% — a record low — the year before. 

NO: These women did not wear pro-Trump shirts that said “I’m a racist bitch 2020.” YES: These women did wear pro-Trump shirts that said “I’m a Trump girl 2020.”

NO: President Donald Trump did not donate $1 million to help victims of Hurricane Dorian. YES: Trump donated $1 million to charities involved in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in 2017.

NO: President Trump was not rushed off stage by Secret Service agents at an event earlier this month after someone in the audience said “Chrissy Teigen’s here” following a tense exchange on Twitter in which Trump referred to Teigen as “filthy-mouthed” and she responded with an obscenity. YES: Trump was rushed off stage by Secret Service agents at a November 2016 campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, after someone yelled “Gun!” This clip was taken out of context and had audio added.
NO: There is no record of President Ronald Reagan saying this. YES: A speech in written in 1850 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels contains what appears to be the basis for this quote: “Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.” 
NO: This is not a photo of President Ronald Reagan meeting with the Taliban in the Oval Office in 1985. YES: This is a photo of Reagan meeting with Afghan freedom fighters (mujahideen) in February 1983 about atrocities committed by Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
The Mozilla Foundation is asking people to share their “YouTube regret” stories: instances in which the platform’s recommendation algorithm has led users to strange, conspiratorial, offensive or exploitative videos, and perhaps has continued to recommend them on subsequent visits. The foundation — the sole shareholder of the company that developed the Firefox browser and other open source tools — plans to present the stories to YouTube in a meeting later this month. 
Note: This April 2018 report by Ben Popken of NBC News is an excellent introduction to the issue of problematic recommendations made by YouTube’s “Up next” algorithm.

TikTok, the popular video-based social media platform owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, has almost no content about the ongoing anti-government protests in Hong Kong, The Washington Post reported yesterday. The stark disparity in content about the protests available on other social media platforms and on TikTok has renewed concerns that the app — whose user base has rocketed to 1.3 billion people worldwide — may be a vector for Chinese government propaganda. ByteDance does not share any information about the videos it removes for violating its terms of service and has consistently acquiesced to demands by Chinese government censors, the Post said.


Many of the most viral fake images are “terrible manipulations, technically speaking,” says Christye Sisson, an associate professor of photographic sciences at the Rochester (New York) Institute of Technology. Sisson and her team have produced sophisticated manipulations of videos and images as part of a U.S. government program to create a “media forensics” platform — an automated way to detect fakes. But she also has noticed how effective even crude or “cheap” fakes can be — a reminder that if a piece of misinformation “supports what someone already believes, they often accept it unquestioningly.” The exception, she notes, might be young people who don’t remember a time in which digital manipulations weren’t common. The attitudes of teens toward digital content, she says, may “herald a cultural shift away from relying on images or video as ‘proof.’”  

Related: “Deepfake videos explained: What they are and how to identify them” (Paul Barnwell, Salon)

District of Columbia prosecutors last week dismissed charges of inciting violence and disorderly conduct that had been filed against Gregory Lee Johnson, who was arrested on July 4 after burning two American flags during a protest near the White House. In 1984, as the Republican National Convention was being held in Dallas, Johnson burned an American flag outside City Hall during a protest against the policies of the Reagan administration and several Texas-based corporations. His conviction for “desecration of a venerated object” in violation of Texas law led to a landmark Supreme Court decision five years later: that the First Amendment protects flag-burning as a form of “symbolic speech.”

Idea: Ask students to review the details of Texas v. Johnson. Before you reveal the court’s decision, ask students to take a position on whether Johnson’s burning of the American flag is protected expression under the First Amendment.
Resource: “The First Amendment,” a lesson in the News Literacy Project’s Checkology® virtual classroom (preview only).

Both Democrats and Republicans alleged bias on the part of fact-checkers last week. Representatives of two senators seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, said that fact checks by mainstream news outlets (The Washington Post and CNN, respectively) nitpicked minor details of statements made by the candidates and created a false equivalence with more demonstrably false statements made by President Trump. Four Republican senators accused Facebook of partisan bias and censorship after Health Feedback — a Facebook fact-checking partner that includes doctors with ties to abortion rights organizations — flagged an anti-abortion video as false. Facebook removed that fact check.  

Your weekly issue of The Sift is put together by Peter Adams (@PeterD_Adams) and Suzannah Gonzales of the News Literacy Project.
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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