JO304 Final Project

Hostility Towards the Press:

Fight it With Facts, These Journalists Say

The press has served as the unofficial fourth branch of government since America’s beginning. It’s function was never to serve the interests of those in power that it covered, but instead to objectively report on their behavior.

In recent years the relationship between the government and the media has undoubtedly suffered.

The Trump Administration often takes the heat for cultivating this era of bad blood.

In fact, the escalated level of hostility from elected officials towards the press has been dubbed the “Trump effect,” as referred to in this article by HuffPost on Reporter’s Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.

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2018 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders

The effects of this hostility on journalists range from decreased morale to difficulty acquiring necessary information to actual physical danger, as documented by Reporters Without Borders.

Trump isn’t subtle about his feelings towards the media, and a quick search of the Trump Twitter Archive lays out his many attacks on specific journalists and publications.

 

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Given this environment, reporters must adapt accordingly.

This Q&A with reporter Shawn Musgrave explores his perspective on the matter.

Brooke Williams, Boston University visiting associate professor of the practice, journalism, and freelance journalist and BU alum Shawn Musgrave recount their experiences and offer advice to fellow reporters.

Williams and Musgrave typically work on investigative stories which require reaching out to government agencies for data. Hostility from government sources has been a constant for them, not a new product of the Trump administration.

Adapt to the Environment

“Honestly I don’t know about increased hostility from government sources, I encounter all kinds of opposition to information being given to the press both under the Obama and under the Trump administration at every level of government, federal, state, and local,” Musgrave said.

“If anything I’ve noticed that there are some instances in which government FOIA officers and other people in administrative roles that deal with the media are trying to be more helpful,” Williams said of the cooperation of these agencies.

While reporting, they adopt certain strategies to ensure they receive the necessary information.

“It depends on the context, for freedom of information or public records requests, I know the law well and I assert my rights, and I try and just keep the focus on what my rights are under whatever statute I’m requesting information under,” Musgrave said.

Other cases “just requires being alternately polite and very adamant or finding someone else within a government agency that will speak with me rather than the spokesperson,” Musgrave said.

Respond Productively to Backlash

Usually, once the articles hit the web, backlash ensues.

Williams and Musgrave bring up a popular saying in journalism to describe this trend: “If you’re doing your job, someone is not gonna like it.”

“I encounter hostility basically, you know, almost every time I try to do [reporting]. I focus on investigative journalism so the journalism that I’m doing, someone is going to be unhappy about it in most cases,” Williams said.

On bracing herself for hostility from the subjects of an investigation, who are typically members of the government, “I fact check–literally fact check every single fact in every single story before it is published. And I know the next day whatever they say I can just flip to whatever fact and look at the primary document,” Williams said.

Musgrave takes a similar approach.

“I try and stick to the facts of the story as I find them, I use as many primary sources as I can meaning documents and data that come straight from the people that I’m reporting on,  I double down and be as thorough as possible, and if people consider the facts that I’m reporting to be fake, I mean, at a certain point that’s not my problem,” said Musgrave.

It is not uncommon for both reporters to issue a rebuttal when their work is called into question by those they’ve investigated. Williams and Musgrave have published memos to further verify the facts they’ve reported after their subjects deny them.

“My work IS called fake news. Shawn and I are working on an investigation into the DOJ [Department of Justice] and I’d be shocked if it weren’t dubbed ‘fake news’ at some point,” Williams said.

“That’s always been there. I haven’t been reporting for decades and decades but certainly for the period that I’ve been reporting, the idea of [fake news]. It hasn’t necessarily been encapsulated in such a tidy term as ‘fake news’ but that feeling has always been there,” Misgrave said, agreeing.

“Reporters have to grow a thicker skin. We should be addressing substance instead of ‘they dont like us,'” said Musgrave.

“The time is ripe”

As far as the public’s perception of the media, Williams sees things moving in a positive direction.

“There was a time when in the early 2000s when I was first starting out as an investigative reporter in which I hesitated to tell people what I did for a living, like my friends… Because people, their immediate reaction was ‘Oh, like a tabloid?’ and [because of] the general mistrust of the media,” said Williams

“That has actually shifted whereas now, when I tell people what I do, there reaction almost every time is ‘Thank you so much for what you’re doing,'” said Williams.

Musgrave doesn’t worry much about the opinions of others, whether it is those of the government or of the public.

“I think there’s probably upticks and downswings of how prevalent distrust of the media is, there’s been some great research into that and certainly we’re on the uptick in terms of distrust of the media, but that distrust is always going to be there,” Musgrave said, “It’s a great challenge to reporters to try and foster a sense of trust in the media… but we are never going to get to 100 percent, so that worry about public distrust, we should only let that be productive.”

Being a journalist today comes with these challenges, but that doesn’t mean now is a bad time to get involved.

“The time is ripe; this is a perfect time to launch a career as an investigative reporter,” said Williams, mentioning the increase in recent years of jobs and funding for reporters, “This is a heyday for journalism.”

 

 

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A Performance Review: What I Learned From HuffPost

I’ve been following and analyzing the performance of The Huffington Post all semester. Of course, I’ve caught on to some trends.

Pros: 

The Front Page is Clickable, But not Clickbait

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The headlines are witty, especially those that grace the top of the web page. The dynamic, often humorous photos enhance the desire to click on each story. They do a great job striking the balance between a straight news headline and satire.

 Brevity Makes Catching Up Easy:

They condense long-winded stories into short videos. The White House staff video takes a sarcastic tone to present the information in an entertaining way, while the Facebook video highlights notable quotes from both sides of the issue and sneaks in some background information.

Cons:

The coverage can lack range.

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The headlines shown from April 10 illustrate the undeniable trends in HuffPost’s writing. They focus heavily on criticizing Trump; not that the criticism is undeserved, but they could be more subtle. They typically fill up the rest of the front page with celebrity gossip/news. At least in this case, they offer a critique of the Democratic Party and one international news story, which usually is not the case.

Editorials are Buried

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I’ve read some brilliant editorials on the site, like this one, but they are not front and center. This was a new and shocking issue to me, and I was surprised the site did not give it more exposure; I found it while sifting through the opinion section one day. This piece included research and personal experience that brought a valuable perspective to an extremely popular movement. So why didn’t HuffPost make it go viral?

Suggestion:

Social Media is Lacking Some Follow Through

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They post interesting and thought provoking news on their Instagram account, but they fail to link the posts to articles on the subject. Social media is supposed to be a tool to further their brand and increase traffic to their site, so linking these posts to larger stories would be a smart move. I wanted to know more on these subjects when I came across these photos, which is a start, but I would appreciate the extra effort and I anticipate other consumers would as well.

HuffPost’s Got Data

Huffington Post contains articles featuring data visualization on a range of subjects from music sales to wealth to political ideology to obesity (the article I chose to examine).

The first visualization is a video map that tracks the obesity rate (indicated by the color of each country on the map) from 1975 to the present. It’s refreshing to see a graphic that moves and changes before one’s eyes instead of interpreting the change through a line graph or other static visualization.

The second set of visualizations contains color coded line charts of the BMIs of all the geographical regions of the world over time. This is less clear and less original than the first visual, but it gets the job done.

HuffPost fills in the gaps and interprets the data in a few sentences to move the article along.

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The scatterplot below provides a final look at recent statistics and completes the narrative that obesity rates for women are a significantly worse problem than the rates for men.

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Overall, HuffPost curated relevant data sets that tells a story of rising obesity rates and where/whom they are affecting most.

#KaramazovConference Showcases Wide Range of Perspectives

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The Brothers Karamazov, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1880, discusses religion, socialism, free will, guilt, love, and father-son relationships, just to name a few topics. Boston University professor of Russian Literature, Yuri Corrigan, teaches a class on the novel and organized a symposium for professors and students to share their ideas and reactions to the novel. I summed up some key points of the day in this Twitter Moment, but the full range of coverage is on my Twitter account under the hashtag #karamazovconference.

 

The Stormy Saga Summed Up

HuffPost tackled the continuing breaking news story of the affair between Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump with a video including the following caption for context:
“Her bombshell ‘60 Minutes’ interview was just the beginning. Now pornstar Stormy Daniels is suing Donald Trump’s lawyer for calling her a liar for claiming she had an affair with the President.”
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The video contains footage from both Daniels’ lawyer (speaking to MSNBC and TMZ) and Trump’s lawyer as well as the recent 60 Minutes interview with Daniels. It is easier to follow the complicated and dramatic turn of events when you can physically see and hear the people involved explaining it.
HuffPost also includes statements in between clips to further explain and contextualize the interviews.
The site contains several videos on the topic of the affair and they push out new ones as the story develops. They make it easy to follow because they quickly remind the viewer of what has happened with a few screencaps before delving into new footage.

 

Willem Dafoe Visits Boston University

The respected actor gave a free question and answer session to Boston University students Monday night. Those without a BU ID could attend for a fee of $25.

Dafoe answered questions from the dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, Harvey Young, as well as from the audience. Topics ranged from what it was like to take on his most famous roles, to working with inexperienced actors, to his upbringing, and to his connections to Boston.

Dafoe’s papers, donated to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center (which hosted the event), were on display outside the auditorium at the Tsai Performance Center. They revealed behind the scenes snapshots from his most famous films, including “Shadow of the Vampire”, “Platoon”, and “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

Twitter suspends tweet thieves, and users rejoice

Twitter suspended many large accounts with millions of followers on March 9 for stealing tweets from smaller accounts, HuffPost reports.

Among those banned were @GirlPosts, @Dory, @CommonWhiteGirl, @SoDamnTrue and @memeprovider.

These accounts have become infamous for plaguing users’ Twitter feeds by repeatedly posting the same stolen tweets in exchange for money. They’ve been dubbed “tweetdeckers.” Tweetdeckers also accept money in exchange for retweets.

These practices violate Twitter’s terms of service, and Twitter is finally cracking down.

The decision was a smart business move because it’s ethical and practical. Spam is annoying and users don’t like it. Buying likes and retweets and stealing content is wrong; users don’t appreciate having their content taken as HuffPost proves.

I am already noticing a difference in my feed, it is less cluttered.

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