Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Why “Sorry, I don’t know” is sometimes the best answer: The Washington Post’s technology chief on its first AI chatbot
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Dec. 18, 2020, 12:15 p.m.

The media reckoning that came and went

Plus: The New York Post works to destroy trust in journalism, and Public Media for All.

Editor’s note: The Front Page is a biweekly newsletter from The Objective, a publication that offers reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has misrepresented or excluded specific communities in coverage, as well as how newsrooms have treated staff from those communities. We happily share each issue with Nieman Lab readers.

It’s Friday, December 18th.

This time on The Front Page: The media reckoning that came and went, The New York Post works to destroy trust in journalism, and a shitty media man in Pittsburgh.

This issue is by Holly Piepenburg and Gabe Schneider with a Q&A by Janelle Salanga and editing by Curtis Yee.

They spoke up. Now what?

Juwan J. Holmes spent months trying to find where the “media reckoning” went. He had no such luck.

Instead, in talking to journalists and writers, many of them Black women, Holmes found many companies and power structures that are still very much the same. The only difference seems to be the willingness of these journalists to speak out against their former employers, potentially to the detriment of their own careers.

“I’m not worried about any type of repercussions because I haven’t done anything wrong,” Imani Bashir, formerly of Lifehacker, told Holmes. “They deserve to be outed for what they have done, not only to me, but a queer employee, and the many women that filed lawsuits against the CEO.”

Bashir, a Black, Muslim, queer woman, was residing in Mexico at the time with her husband and taking care of her three-year-old son when she was unceremoniously fired from the G/O media outlet with virtually no notice.

Holmes extensively looked at what happened to Bashir, and writers like her, in the months following this summer’s “media reckoning.”

You can read more here.

New York Post outs paramedic as a sex worker.

Lauren Kwei, a 23-year-old paramedic in New York City, started uploading content on OnlyFans to support her income during the pandemic. When the New York Post learned the EMT was a sex worker, they chose not to expose the failures of the economy but to out Kwei herself, disregarding her request to remain anonymous and putting her safety and job security on the line.

Backlash against the Post led to more than $80,000 raised in a GoFundMe for Kwei, who has since stopped working on OnlyFans to focus on her full-time job. “I don’t want to do it anymore,” she told Rolling Stone. “I want to get back to my job. I want to be a paramedic. I want to take care of people.”

In addition to the obvious trespasses by New York Post reporters Dean Balsamini and Susan Edelman, the situation serves as a reminder that much coverage of sex work is at best inadequate and at worst incorrect and detrimental.

Former students say university officials protected Michael Fuoco, too.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the International NewsGuild and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had dismissed several accusations of sexual misconduct against Michael Fuoco, a local crime reporter.

Now, a total of five sources say local universities also disregarded the serious power imbalance between students and Fuoco, who taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Point Park University. “If you didn’t know, you should have known, and if you didn’t know, it was pretty fucking obvious,” one former student told Pittsburgh City Paper.

City Paper  reports that several students, often “30 to 40 years younger than Fuoco,” were manipulated and harassed by the reporter, who “juggled several sexual relationships with young women at the same time.” And, while his actions at the universities were not an open secret as they were in the newsroom, former students assert that officials and professors at both universities received complaints.

Much like the Post-Gazette, which only gave Fuoco a slap on the wrist, the universities’ responses to the inappropriate behavior were insufficient. Despite one student alerting a journalism professor of Fuoco’s behavior in 2005, he was not let go until new complaints arose in 2011. And just last year the reporter was brought back to campus for a workshop with high school students, according to City Paper.

In the same vein, a department chair at the University of Pittsburgh told CP he met with Fuoco to explain “the university’s position on sexual harassment and intimate relations with students,” before reporting Fuoco to the Dean, but the University contends there is no record of a formal investigation or sanction. Fuoco has not served as a UP professor in over a decade.

In essence, though Fuoco is out of the Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh local, and both universities, precedent does not suggest things will stop working in his favor. As long as you’re a white male reporter from a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, your actions, though “deeply troubling,” can be excused in exchange for your alleged expertise.

Q&A: When will public media be public media for all?

The 1967 Public Broadcasting Act, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, made a promise: public media would serve people of color.

Fifty-three years later, that mission remains unfulfilled. In 2012, 87% of NPR’s audience identified as white. While that isn’t updated data, NPR’s newsroom was 70.9% white in 2019. That’s compared to the U.S. population, where white people are 60.1%.

To remedy this disparity, a coalition of folks within public media spaces — including J.C. Polk, formerly with KPBS in San Diego, and Ernesto Aguilar from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters —  have spent the past year sharing their experiences, brainstorming a list of intentional, anti-racist action steps, and figuring out ways to make public media truly reflect the audience it was intended to serve.

The Objective’s deputy editor, Janelle Salanga, talked to Polk and Aguilar about the coalition, Public Media for All. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. You can read the rest here. 

Janelle Salanga: The action steps you’ve outlined on the Public Media for All website focus on working with the current public media structures. But some folks believe that public media needs to be completely rebuilt in order to truly serve the public. What’s the balance that you see in those two reforms versus revolution strands and how do those converge in Public Media for All?

Polk: It may sound cheesy, but I think you have to have both. I tend to think, why not flip the table over? Why do we have to wait?

But the beauty of having a coalition is that you’re able to be around people who all have similar goals and desires, but you’re able to say, “Well, hey, let’s be strategic about how we’re going to do this. Yes, let’s be purposeful about having a day of action, but let’s also figure out. But let’s also figure out what are going to be our tangible items that we want to share with everyone? What is going to be encompassing that day, is that just going to be a day of just venting? Or is that going to be a day of sharing stories of triumph or stories of trials and tribulations and and giving people resources and access to this type of thing?”

I’m familiar with the civil rights movement in the South, and we had both [reform and revolution], right. And when you go back, you look at the ’60s, some folks were more revolutionary than others, who were more, you know, nonviolent, but I think it’s almost like a great recipe.

I get into conversations with my peers about having a seat at a table, or building your own table. Then when I sit there and I think about having family dinner, I just want to have family dinner. We all have to sit around the table. It can be all of us in different places. But for the most part, let’s just make sure that we’re in the room so that we can exchange ideas.

Aguilar: Issues and struggles are independent of whether you are a legacy organization, or a new organization. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the struggle for equity and inclusion and fairness in organizations is always and forever. In a lot of places, it’s a continuing struggle that every organization is going to have to go through.

On the other front, for me, I think it’s important for us to remember that public media is not the proverbial theirs. It is ours. It was founded for the public’s interest, it was founded for all Americans extensively. If these organizations founded 10, 20, 50 years ago have lost their way, it is incumbent upon those that were transformed, or who care about the state of these media, to say, “We’re going to help these organizations return to their missions.”

It’s time just to remember that we own the airwaves and are a part of the FCC as the public, we are the community. We have a say and should have a say, as workers, as listeners, as donors, as people who are passionate about this space to say, this is time to return home.

A bit more media.

Yamiche Alcindor doesn’t do “both sides.” PBS NewsHour’s White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor isn’t interested in debating the existence of climate change or racism. The NABJ 2020 Journalist of the Year pulled back the curtain on her reporting philosophy in a recent interview with Glamour.

Bon Appétit, cont. Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, once the assistant to former Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport, writes that the recent misrepresentation of soup joumou is a sure sign the publication hasn’t changed since its apology in June (which Walker-Hartshorn said they ghostwrote).

Defector’s new freelancer policies. In partnership with the National Writers Union, Defector announced freelancer policies, which will remain in place for a year. Among other guarantees, freelancers will receive a subscription to the site and retain the right to republish submissions and assignments a year after publication.

Abolish the crime beat. As long as journalists prioritize their standing with the police above relationships with their communities, crime coverage will remain inaccurate, and therefore racist. In their 2021 prediction for Nieman Lab, Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli affirm that the crime beat does everything except serve the public.

#JustCauseNoExceptions. During the last bargaining session of the year, members of the New York Mag Union reached a tentative just cause agreement, laying out a standard for how and when workers can be disciplined. Almost a year ago, the union set an industry standard by bargaining to end non-disclosure agreements in unlawful harassment settlements, before negotiating their first contract.

Pittsburgh cop targets Black sports journalist. In a Twitter threadRhiannon Walker shared that, on her way to Pittsburgh, a trooper pulled her over for “minor infractions” and challenged the status of her rental car, only relenting after he learned she is the Washington football team reporter for The Athletic. “I hope y’all actually listen to people when they explain these things happen to them,” said Walker.

Why local newspapers are (still) dying. In a published interview with author Lyz Lenz, Allison Hantschel argues that the decline of local newspapers is self-imposed, and certainly not new. To get subscribers, rather than “screaming at their customers that they suck,” papers should scrap syndicated content and publish stories that serve the audience, says Hantschel. (Also, don’t miss this story from Rachel Cohen in The New Republic: “The last days of local news.”)

L.A. Times leadership search continues. After announcing his retirement in October, Norman Pearlstine is stepping down from his role as executive editor at the Los Angeles Times after just two years in the role. Called “the perfect person to guide [the Times] into this new era,” by owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, serious allegations of racism, sexual harassment, and ethical breaches were dismissed under his leadership.

Photo by MORAN on Unsplash.

POSTED     Dec. 18, 2020, 12:15 p.m.
Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Why “Sorry, I don’t know” is sometimes the best answer: The Washington Post’s technology chief on its first AI chatbot
“For Google, that might be failure mode…but for us, that is success,” says the Post’s Vineet Khosla
Browser cookies, as unkillable as cockroaches, won’t be leaving Google Chrome after all
Google — which planned to block third-party cookies in 2022, then 2023, then 2024, then 2025 — now says it won’t block them after all. A big win for adtech, but what about publishers?
Would you pay to be able to quit TikTok and Instagram? You’d be surprised how many would
“The relationship he has uncovered is more like the co-dependence seen in a destructive relationship, or the way we relate to addictive products such as tobacco that we know are doing us harm.”