GSAN: Press freedoms 2020 | Vaccine rumors spike | Understanding news sources

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Press freedoms 2020 | Vaccine rumors spike | Understanding news sources

NOTE: The GSAN is taking a winter break. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

The state of press freedoms

In a year dominated by history-making news — a global pandemic, the renewed movement for racial justice, a divisive U.S. presidential election — it can be easy to overlook the risks journalists face in doing their jobs. A report (PDF) by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) serves as a reminder of these dangers, highlighting that 42 journalists have been killed in 2020 so far in crossfire, bombings and other violence in 15 countries. (IFJ reported that 49 journalists were killed in 2019.)

In addition, at least 235 journalists are currently imprisoned in connection with their work, the Dec. 10 report noted. Since 1990, when IFJ, the world’s largest organization of journalists, began publishing its yearly tally, 2,658 journalists have been killed. “The untold story,” according to IFJ, is that the majority of journalists murdered over the last three decades were local beat reporters, not war correspondents. They were often targeted, kidnapped and killed, sometimes near their offices or homes. And around the world, killers of journalists mostly go free; in 90% of journalist murder cases, “there has been little or no prosecution,” the report said.

Note: For the fourth time in five years, Mexico has been the deadliest country for journalists with 13 killings in 2020, the report said. Turkey has the highest number of imprisoned journalists, with 67 behind bars.

Viral rumor rundown

NO: Two people who took the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a trial did not die as a result of the injections. YES: The two trial participants died from other causes (one from a heart attack about two months after the second dose, and another from “baseline obesity and pre-existing arteriosclerosis,” or hardening of the arteries).

Note: According to the PolitiFact fact-check linked above, a total of six of the 43,448 people who participated in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial died, including the two mentioned above and four participants who were given a placebo. None of the deaths has been attributed to the vaccine.


NO: There is no microchip in the COVID-19 vaccine. YES: The video in this Facebook post includes out-of-context clips of an interview — originally broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network talk show The 700 Club on May 22 — with Jay Walker of ApiJect Systems Corp., a medical technology company. YES: In the interview, Walker described an emergency tracking feature on the exterior of a syringe the company developed with government backing to expedite delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine. NO: The optional Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip on the syringes would not track patients’ personal location. YES: It is designed to track vaccine expiration and the location of delivery, and to combat counterfeiting of the vaccine. YES: The headline on the original story on The 700 Club website is also misleading. YES: This same video clip has been used to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine before.

Note: Baseless claims about injectable microchips are common in anti-vaccination propaganda and “New World Order” conspiracy theories.

Related: “As Vaccine Approvals Loom, U.S. Funds A Backup Plan For Delivery” (Dina Temple-Raston, NPR).


NO: There is no evidence connecting leukemia in children with the trace amounts of formaldehyde in vaccines. YES: Formaldehyde is an organic compound that occurs naturally in the human body. NO: Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine contains a preservative. YES: False claims about formaldehyde in vaccines have circulated for years and resurfaced as COVID-19 vaccines were in development.


★ NewsLit Picks


“Measuring News Consumption in a Digital Era” (Pew Research Center).

A new study from Pew Research Center found that “only 9% of U.S. adults are very confident that they can tell if a news organization does its own reporting” and also found significant confusion over whether major technology companies like Google, Apple and Facebook produce original reporting. The report, which examines how to research news consumption habits in the digital age, questioned respondents about six sources of news as outlined by Pew: ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, Google News, Apple News and Facebook. Researchers found that “nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) could not correctly identify whether any of the six sources do original reporting.”

Note: Some examples of "original reporting" include conducting interviews and covering news events or researching documents firsthand. While journalists sometimes "pick up" information originally reported by other newsrooms, they work to confirm this information themselves. Organizations that only produce commentary and opinion content about news coverage, as well as news aggregators, generally do not do their own reporting and instead pull from the original reporting of other news organizations.


Quick Picks

“Online influencers have become powerful vectors in promoting false information and conspiracy theories” (Ali Abbas Ahmadi and Esther Chan, First Draft).

“'Facebook Gets Paid'” (Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac, BuzzFeed News).

“Predictions for Journalism 2021” (Nieman Lab)


Thanks for reading!

Your weekly issue of Get Smart About News 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).

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