21 Apr Launch Symposium: Journalism at Risk
The following transcript is from a panel discussion on journalism risks at the Center for Media at Risk launch symposium in April 2018 at the University of Pennsylvania. Moderated by Michael X. Delli Carpini, panelists include Arzu Geybulla, Parker Higgins, Claire Wardle, Jay Rosen and Silvio Waisbord.
Michael Delli Carpini: Good morning. I thought yesterday was outstanding, really stimulating. There was a lot we talked about, and I hope today will be just as stimulating. Today’s panelists and panel are focusing on journalism and journalists at risk, although as I was saying to someone outside just a moment ago, in many ways everything we’ve been talking about is about journalism, and in many ways, journalism is about what we talked about yesterday. So these categories are constantly morphing. Although I think it was Michael Schudson—I think I have this right— who wrote that if there were no professional journalists, we’d have to invent them.
So focusing on journalism as the final panel seems to make a lot of sense. I’m going to moderate the panel, which is a pretty simple task. I’ll make brief introductions—very brief, because you have more detailed introductions of our panelists in your booklet. We’ll go in the order that they’re listed and each one will have 10 minutes to give their initial presentation.
We have an added treat. At the end, after the four panelists present, we have a short video put together by Claire Wardle, who is the Research and Strategy Director at First Draft, a non-profit dealing with many of the issues we’ve been talking about. We had hoped she’d be able to be here. She wasn’t able to, but she did put together a little video that we’ll present at the end.
And then, as before, one of the most important parts of each of the panels, we’ll open it up to questions from our interlocutors as well as the general audience.
So without further ado, let me get started. First I’d like to introduce Arzu Geybulla, who was a freelance writer from Azerbaijan and living in—I’ve read two different things—living in exile in Turkey, and then living in exile in Washington D.C., so I’m not sure—Turkey now. Okay. So we’re really happy to have Arzu here.
Next will be Parker Higgins, who is the Director of Special Projects at the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He’s an artist, activist and developer.
Following that will be Jay Rosen, a long-time friend and a great scholar and activist and practitioner. Jay has been teaching journalism at New York University since 1986 and is author of Press Think, a blog about journalism, and I hope you all have followed that because it’s really an innovative blog that has lots to say about the things we’ve been talking about here.
And then, finally, another longtime friend, Sylvio Waisbord, who is a Professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and is, at least for a little while longer, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Communication.
You can read more details about all four of our accomplished panelists in our brochure, but I think we mostly want to hear from them, so with that I’ll ask Arzu if she will start us off.
Arzu Geybulla: I think I’ll be another short person standing here. Well, thank you for having me here. I think the best way to illustrate the state of journalism in Azerbaijan is by taking you back to April 11th, which was the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. Now these were a snap presidential elections, because we were supposed to have them in October. But the President decided that it was time for snap elections and rescheduled. So on April 11th, Azerbaijan went to elections.
But I wouldn’t really call that elections, because as Azerbaijan hasn’t really had independent elections since 1993, because that’s when the father of the current President came to power, Heydar Aliyev, and he stayed in power until his son, Ilham Aliyev, who’s the current President, replaced him.
Now the only reason why he replaced his father is because his father passed away. And I fear that the current President is preparing his son, whose name is also Heydar Aliyev, for the next presidential seat. But the wife is actually first, because she’s been appointed Vice President recently. So we have a family that’s been running the country for quite a long time.
Now what was really interesting about these elections, aside from the fact that they weren’t really elections but more of a show, was the day after the elections, because the international observation mission that was consisting of the OSCE ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Counsel of Europe, held a press conference. Of course, the results that they were presenting weren’t very positive. They had long term and short term observation missions in the country.
This press conference was happening at a hotel. On one side you had pro- government media representatives, and on the other side you had independent opposition media representatives. It’s always like this. I’ve done election observation in Azerbaijan and always the next day the press statements are like that. You have one side of the room occupied by the government journalists and the other by the opposition independent journalists.
I think it was minute five, I was watching the live stream of the press statement, but I think it was minute five when the ODIHR representatives started talking about all the critical findings that they observed during the elections, starting from the ballot stuffing, to council voting, to all other violations.
All of a sudden you had this amazing performance staged by the pro-government media. They started yelling. They started accusing the independent observers of coming with an agenda, of coming to Azerbaijan, misusing the hospitality of the country, and presenting the results of the elections that didn’t really take place in Azerbaijan, because the country that they were talking about was not Azerbaijan.
They continued yelling. It took such a long time that the observers had to leave the room. They had to leave the room for like 10 minutes until everyone quieted down. Watching them live on the screen, it felt like the more aggressive you yelled, and the redder your face became, you would get more gold stars from your editors, or from the media council, which is the state body that keeps the media under control.
But that is the sad reality of journalism in Azerbaijan, because you have these pro-government journalists, who work either at media that’s owned by the government, or by the people close to the government, and you have the independent journalists. Now the pro-government journalists, what they do is, they get free housing because of the excellent reporting that they do. They get really good salary, because of the excellent reporting that they do. They are really skillful at creative writing, because much of their reporting is based on basically made up facts, statistics that are not real, development that is not real, and so on and so forth.
Now what they’re really also good at is kissing up. Let me give you an example. There’s this news agency that was established, actually, in the beginning of the ’90s. They have television, they have radio, they have their own little sub-media platforms. The guy who runs this platform, this news agency, is notorious for bashing opposition, for bashing activists, and basically discrediting everyone who says anything critical of the government at any point.
Now at some point, he made a mistake. He wanted to publish an interview with Gülen, which he did—his correspondent did, in D.C. at a press conference. That was at the time when Turkey was having its own issues with Gülen. It was right after the coup, and a lot of the Gülen-affiliated businesses were shut down, media outlets were shut down.
So what happened to him was that his media outlet, the news agency, was shut down. The license was revoked immediately because he just made that decision, independent decision, of publishing that interview. Now, what he did, and this is just really an incredible example, he wrote a letter to the dead president. He wrote a letter to Heydar Aliyev asking for an apology and guidance to help him to come back to journalism. And he did. He just created a new television channel where he basically continues to do what he did at the news agency. Most of the staff is his staff from the news agency.
Now this is what happens to the government supporters, the journalists who work for pro-government. Now on the other side, you have the independents. The risks and the threats and the sources of the threats are much higher. You can get beaten, which is quite normal and very common. You can get blackmailed. You can get intimidated. You can be arrested, and you can be charged with bogus charges. You can be murdered. You can be subject to online harassment. You can be discredited, defamed. All of these have examples. I have friends who have been blackmailed. I, myself, have been subject to, I guess “patriotic trolling,” which was actually mentioned yesterday. I’ve been discredited at international conferences by the government representatives who were sent there to just do that. I’ve been defamed. I’ve been described a traitor and a foreign agent back home. All of this was because I was working for a Turkish Armenian newspaper in Istanbul.
Actually, just two days ago, there was this article about me by a pro-government media outlet, based on an anonymous letter that the editor received. The author of this letter basically said that “I knew the father of Arzu, and he was a great man, and he always praised his country.” As I was reading it, I was like this is really strange because my father never praised the country. He never said anything good about the economy because he was an economist and he was always really frustrated by the way the authorities were actually using the economies and the revenues for their own benefit. There was one other thing I thought was very funny, was that he said, “So where was she when her father was director of the university of civil engineering?” I’m like, I was actually in middle school, and I wasn’t really active at that time, but okay.
This is the type of stuff that you get when you are a journalist with an independent mind. It’s really funny because what they don’t understand, what the government media doesn’t understand, is that every time they come up with this way of responding to your work, is actually—they make themselves look really bad and really weak. But that’s a very sad reality of journalism.
But the risks are still high. That is the unfortunate reality. It’s still incredible to see the drive of independent journalism in Azerbaijan despite the risk. You know, I have a friend who is the great investigative journalist. She has been blackmailed with sex tapes. She has been put behind bars. She was sentenced to seven and a half years on bogus charges, and yet she came back, she was released early. She has a travel ban so she can’t travel. She was not even allowed to go and pick up her mother, who died while she was being treated in Ankara. Yet she continues doing reporting. She continues doing her investigative job, her investigative reporting.
For me, this is I guess the positive, and the motivation, because there are so many bad examples of journalism that I feel like what we have, the small community of independent journalists that there is in Azerbaijan, is what keeps us together. I’ll finish here, and I’m looking forward to the questions. Thank you.
Parker Higgins: All right, hi everybody. My name is Parker Higgins. I’m, as was mentioned, the Director of Special Projects for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Some of you may know—can I get a show of hands, people heard of the Freedom of the Press Foundation? Okay, about half, that’s good. We are a nonprofit doing press freedom advocacy work in a number of areas, and I’m going to be talking about some of those areas today, and talking specifically about protecting journalists in the age of Trump.
Before I do that, I just wanted to say thanks to Barbie and the organizers. This has been a very thought-provoking and well-programed event so far. It’s really given me a lot to think about over the last couple of days. Of course, one of the luxuries of speaking on the last panel is that I can point to some of those things that came before and draw some through-lines that have come up in a number of panels. I think it’s apt to point out that we’re talking about journalism, but a lot of the things that have come before are things that effect journalists, and there’s a lot of commonalities between these.
One of the through-lines I wanted to point to—so one of the major things we do at the Freedom of the Press Foundation is security trainings. We do trainings inside newsrooms for journalists. In 2017, we did trainings for somewhere north of one thousand individual journalists. We trained people on secure communication software and ways that they can talk with each other, and talk with sources, and save their notes, and that sort of thing.
One of the important things about that training is the first step that you do in any good security training is you talk about threat modeling. Threat modeling is kind of an intimidating phrase for some people, but it’s basically just risk assessment, and you think about what risks you face and what you’re trying to keep secure, and what the consequences of losing that security would be, and you also think about who the adversary is and what the consequences are.
That, of course, speaks to Soraya’s point on the first day of who gets to decide what a risk is. I think that one of the things we learn talking to journalists and, again, talking to many dozens or hundreds of journalists, is that everyone has a different idea of what the risks are. It’s important to be, when you’re making tools and when you’re providing suggestions, to accommodate all those different kinds of risks.
There’s another through-line there that that brings up, which is that you can’t effectively mitigate a risk that you don’t understand. Of course, it’s hard to understand a risk that you can’t measure. We saw that yesterday with Maria’s discussion of—I thought this was very interesting—Duterte distorting the number of people killed in a drug war by re-categorizing which deaths counted. So not disputing individual deaths, but saying this is in a different column. We saw that, of course, again when Sam talked about his organization’s work in tracking police violence. This is something that, politically, the Federal government does not keep records of. So it’s a political act to keep that record. In that way, counting is political and that goes back to who counts and who gets counted, which came up in Soraya’s talk as well.
To that end, one of the major things that we’ve been doing over the past year at Freedom of the Press Foundation, along with the Committee to Protect Journalists is, we’ve established the US Press Freedom Tracker in August of 2017. This is a public website and database that tracks incidents, such as when journalists are arrested in the US, when their equipment is seized, when they’re physically attacked, and when they receive subpoenas related to their work. This is the sort of thing—even just a couple of years ago, it may have been such a small number that it didn’t seem worth tracking, but actually we don’t have information from a couple of years ago. We basically have one year of solid information that we’ll be able to compare going forward.
In 2017, in the US, there were 34 arrests of US journalists that were arrested while doing their job. 88% of those arrests took place at protests or rallies. There were 44 physical attacks on journalists doing their job. 70% of those happened at protests or rallies. In five cases, those physical attacks were by law enforcement officers. Incredibly, in two of those cases, the attacks were committed by politicians. I think everyone knows, one of those, when Ben Jacobs of the Guardian was body slammed by Greg Gianforte on the eve of Gianforte’s election. Part of the civil settlement for that involved Gianforte donating 50 thousand dollars to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which was used to fund the tracker, so it kind of comes full circle.
We also track what we call chilling statements, including many statements that are chilling to the freedom of the press by the president himself. Often they’re sort of vague threats against the concept of fake news, but in many cases he’s called out individual journalists by name, and called for them to be fired from their news outlets. He was doing this today, if you’ve checked Twitter. He’s also gestured broadly at changes to the law, saying we need to “open up libel law.” Of course just this weekend—it’s an embarrassment of examples—just this weekend, the Comey memos were released. One of the anecdotes in the Comey memos was the president calling, in private, for journalists to be jailed. It should be noted Comey didn’t disagree with that. He laughed along with the joke.
We make all this information available online. It’s sorted and tabulated, and we encourage other people working in the field to use that data. Again, we’ve only got one year of data, but we intend to keep doing this and we’ll be able to make comparisons and see how that’s developing.
There’s that counting. Then once we got a sense of that risk, there’s also the work we do to protect those journalists and their sources. In 2018, nowadays, a lot of that is not just instructing people on the use of secure communication software, but developing and maintaining those technical tools for secure communication. Most prominently, the way we do that is with a tool called SecureDrop, which is a whistleblower submission system.
SecureDrop is designed to make it such that whistleblowers don’t have to be security experts to make the right decisions to protect their identity when they’re communicating with journalists. That requires a lot of development on our end. It uses the Tor network and forces sources to download the Tor browser to communicate in that way.
Ideally when this is done, even the journalist is not able to tell through the communication who their source is. Of course, frequently journalists do follow up work and can talk with sources, but that’s designed to protect sources from their journalists getting subpoenaed for that information. In many cases, they don’t know.
A funny thing is that because this is security software, and because we take this very seriously, we don’t have any way of knowing exactly how frequently this software is being used. We do get positive feedback from journalists. It’s rarely cited in stories, but we have been told that it’s been the source of stories. We did get one report that mentioned that when the New Yorker installed it, they started getting poetry submissions through it. So that’s not how it’s supposed to be used.
Of course, and this is by the way, there are dozens of installations. It’s at the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press; it’s at dozens— almost every major newsroom in the US and across the world. That’s growing. We often install it, but it’s free software so people can install it themselves.
Of course, the need for SecureDrop underlines an important point about the threat that journalists face under Trump, which is that they have been exacerbated by this administration, but they aren’t new. We took over SecureDrop before this administration. The Obama administration prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. So this isn’t a right or left issue, it’s one of democratic ideals, which I think some of the other panelists will speak to.
Finally, we can’t talk about protecting journalists without talking about protecting the institutions of journalism. I hope to speak to this more in the Q and A, but as the Director of Special Projects, I have a little bit of license within Freedom of the Press Foundation to think more broadly about the issues and to think about how we can support the institutions that journalists rely on.
For me, that has mostly manifested in the last several months in thinking about archiving and preservation of work, as we see more and more attacks on news outlets that come in the form of a wealthy business person, either buying the outlet and shutting it outright, or launching legal attacks, or bankrolling legal attacks against the outlet. I’ve done a lot of archiving work with Gothamist, and with Gawker, and with a number of other outlets. More frequently, I’ve been— more recently, sorry, I’ve been focused on a project called FOIA Feed—that’s on Twitter. At FOIA Feed, which highlights the use of the Freedom of Information Act at major papers, and highlights this important tool, hopefully in case it comes under attack, we can show the important journals produced with it.
So, that’s my time and I’m looking forward to the other panelists and questions, thank you.
Jay Rosen: Just to add a little detail to what Parker said—in the Comey memos, when Trump mentions we should throw a couple journalists in jail, he says they make a new friend and then they have a different attitude, which I believe is a reference to prison rape. That wasn’t part of my talk, just subtract that from my time. Thank you so much for inviting me, Barbie, and congratulations on your Center.
As we meet, there is alive in the land an organized campaign to discredit the American press. This campaign is succeeding. Its roots are long. For decades, the republican coalition has tried to hang together by hating on elites who claim to know stuff, like what is art, or what should college students be taught, or what counts as news.
The media wing of history extends back to Goldwater’s campaign in 1964. It passes through Agnew’s speeches for Nixon in 1969, and winds forward to our own times through William Rusher’s 1988 book the Coming Battle for the Media, through the growth of conservative talk radio, and the spectacular success of Fox, which found a lucrative business model in resentment news, culture war, and the battle cry of liberal bias.
Donald Trump is both the apotheosis of this history, and its accelerant. He has advanced the proposition dramatically, from “undue influences,” which was Agnew’s claim, to something closer to treason, enemy of the people. Instead of criticizing the media for unfair treatment, as Agnew did, Trump whips up hatred for it. Some of his most demagogic moments have been attacks on the press, often while pointing directly at reporters and camera crews.
Nixon seethed about the press in private. Trump seethes in public, which is a very different act. The campaign to discredit the press starts at the top, with the president’s almost daily attacks on the fake news, and his description of key institutions, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, as both failing and corrupt.
At the bottom of the pyramid is an army of online trolls and alt-right activists who shout down stories critical of the president and project hatred at the journalists who report them. Between the president at the top and the base at the bottom, are the mediating institutions, Breitbart, Drudge Report, Daily Caller, Rush Limbaugh, and especially Fox News.
The campaign operates differently on the three major sectors of the electorate. For core supporters, media hate helps frame the president as a fighter for them. “I will put these people down for you” was one of the most attractive promises Trump made during the campaign, and he has delivered on that pledge.
They, in turn, deliver for him by categorically rejecting news reports that are critical of the president, in belief that journalists are simply trying to bring their guy down. On his committed opponents, the president’s political style works by inviting ridicule and attack. Their part in the script is simply to keep the culture war going. The anger, despair, and disbelief that Trump inspires in his doubters is felt as confirmation, consumed as entertainment by his supporters.
If Trump’s opponents defend, or even reference, the reporting of an elite institution like the New York Times, that only supports his campaign to discredit the press as a merely ideological institution.
Then there’s the third group, Americans who are neither committed supporters nor determined critics of Donald Trump. On them, the campaign to discredit the press works by generating noise and confusion, raising what economists call “the search costs for good information.” If the “neither/nors” give up and pay less attention, that is a win for Trump, the polarizer in chief.
That’s my short course in how the campaign to discredit the American press works. Now let me turn to our subject, the risks. I have a list. Some of these are in the “already happened” category.
There’s a risk that one third of the electorate will be isolated in an information loop of its own, where Trump becomes the major source of information about Trump. That has already happened. An authoritarian system is up and running for that portion of the polity. Before journalists log on in the morning, one third of their public is already gone.
There is a risk that Republican elites will fail to push back against Trump’s attacks on democratic institutions, including the press, even though these same elites start their day by reading the New York Times and the Washington Post. This too has already happened.
There is a risk that journalists could do their job brilliantly, and it won’t really matter because Trump supporters categorically reject it, Trump opponents already believed it, and the neither/nors aren’t paying close enough attention.
In a different way, there is a risk that journalists could succeed at the production of great journalism and fail at its distribution, because the platforms have taken over the organizing of public attention.
There is a risk that the press will lose touch with the country, fall out of contact with the culture. Newsroom diversity is supposed to prevent that, but the diversity project has itself been undermined by a longer and deeper project, which I have called in my writing, the “view from nowhere.”
The press is at risk of losing its institutional footing. For example, in the hands of Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders, the White House briefing has gone to ruin. It was always frustrating, now it’s useless and even counterproductive.
Many floors below the surface of journalism there are bedrock attitudes that make the practice possible in the first place. There’s a risk of erosion there. One example is the belief that there exists a common world of fact that can be established through inquiry. When the President of the United States forcefully rejects that premise, any practice that rests upon it is in political trouble. It used to be that when the American President went abroad, the American press came with. There would be a joint press conference with the foreign head of state. Often, this would be the only time the host country’s press core got to question their leader. In these moments, the American government and the American press worked together to show the strong men of the world what a real democracy was. All that is now at risk.
When Donald Trump met the President of China in November of 2017, there was no joint press conference. The Chinese didn’t want it, the state department failed to push for it.
There’s a risk that established forms of journalism will be unable to handle the strain that Trump’s behavior puts on them. For example, the form we used to call “fact-checking” has had zero effect in preventing him from repeating falsehoods.
There is a risk that the press will hang onto these forms well past their sell-by date, because it’s what they know, and they want things to be normal. For example, access to confusion and disinformation serves no editorial goal, but access journalism is alive and well in White House coverage.
I will close with something that Steve Bannon put to the great author Michael Lewis. “The Democrats don’t matter,” said Bannon. “The real opposition is the media, and the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” To this kind of provocation, Marty Barron, editor of the Washington Post, has a succinct reply, “We are not at war. We’re at work.” We’re not at war, we’re at work.
I think our top journalists are correct, that if they become the political opposition to Trump, they will lose. And yet, they have to go to war against a political style in which power gets to write its own story. There’s a risk that they will fail to make this distinction. In my role as a critic, I’ve been trying to alert them to the danger, but I can’t say it’s working. Thank you.
Silvio Waisbord: Good morning. Thank you, Barbie, and everybody else for having me here. It’s great to be here. Barbie asked me to talk about journalists’ safety. The first question, of course, is, what can be said that has not been said, especially after a day and a half and the brilliant presentations by my co-panelists.
Let’s see. I became interested in issues related to journalists and safety about 25 years ago when I was doing research on investigative journalism in Latin America. I became fascinated by the question of how journalists sort of put their life at risk, in contexts where some of the basic protections did not exist. These offer all kinds of threats and harassments and newsrooms that were bombed, and the whole kind of attacks, plus trauma and shattered lives and everything else that comes as a consequence of practicing that kind of journalism.
What is interesting is that it was a phenomenon across the Global South, not unique to Latin America. Then what can be said? Where are we now? Here’s my spoiler alert. I don’t have any good news, and my recommendation is that we should leave hope for a better moment right now. I tell you—there’s a glimmer of hope at the very end, but anyway.
What’s the current situation? The current situation is troubling, worsening, around the world as recent reports produced by a number of freedom of press organizations, and some new recent stories in the press. There’s a number of figures and data and maps that we can use to demonstrate this. One map produced by Reporters Without Borders is this, the darker the color, the worse the conditions are for reporters. It used to be slightly better, let’s say a decade or 15 years ago. It’s becoming worse.
This is about the number of journalists killed by region in recent years. You can get a sense of where the situation is, sort of has been bad, chronically bad, for a while, and the situation seems to be worsening in specific regions and specific countries. We can go on with data demonstrating how bad the situation looks like.
To me, the first problem is how do we understand this problem? What is the problem about? I want to propose here is that we need to approach the question of journalists at risk, that problem is basically a human rights problem. That is, in my mind, the right way of approaching or framing this. That is not just the question of journalists safety, it’s fundamentally a question of communication rights that particularly effect journalists as well as ordinary citizens.
And second, that journalism, and this was mentioned in the key note, that journalism is—and people have been using this metaphor recently—remains the canary in the coalmine, a case for human rights. So it’s really large. It’s not just about journalism.
My co-panelists already described the threats that journalists are confronting, so just a quick summary. The range of threats, legal actions, direct threats on physical safety, sexual harassment, verbal attacks, economic punishment. What is interesting in this is something—that is, something that, I think, runs through many of the presentations that we heard in the past day and a half—which is: who is at risk, and who determines who is at risk? The cases that we know better, at least in the Global South, is that reporters who cover specific types of issues are more likely to be at risk, or suffer a range of threats. Those who cover illegal activities, environmental issues, corruption, government and business collusion, drug trafficking, insurgent movements conflict, those are particularly vulnerable.
But we have known this for a long time. People who have been interested in this question outside of the Global North. To me, in my mind, is when is it that the question of journalists’ safety becomes a public, a collective, a global problem? When is it, and who, becomes something that we worry about globally? That is, to me, the question of the identity, not only of who defines who’s at risk, but what type of risk and who is at risk.
But also on top of the additional threats, we have something that has already been said many times here. Different forms of online harassment, hacking, doxing, identity theft is a recent study by Pan America, that defines online harassment in this way, I think it’s a good working definition of what we’re talking about.
What are the consequences? The consequences are many. The consequences are individual and collective. Discourage reporting on free expression, individual and collective trauma, financial repercussions, reputational risks, defamation campaigns, investigation backlash.
It’s interesting that we have been talking about this for a long time, and look at the recent story by CPJ [the Committee to Protect Journalists] talking about the current situation in the US. What’s happening now in the US actually checks everything that we have been saying for a long time about the causes and the consequences of these process.
Let me just show you very quickly this. What is interesting is that we are having now—a north and south conversation about issues that in principle have a lot of overlapping. I will not say they’re identical, in which the question with journalists supposed to scrutinize power becomes the power scrutinizing journalists. The journalists need to figure out the threats on their own typically, in spite of a range of supporters that might exist.
On my interviews that I conducted with Colombian reporters, I was fascinated by the fact of how their own sources, sources inside the actors that they cover, become the best sources of information about the likelihood that something is going to happen to them. To calibrate the danger, when is the time to basically stop it? When is the time to bail? When is the time to go? When is the time that you can continue with the story? The trauma that also typically reporters deal by themselves. Self-censorship—all this stuff is stuff that we have known for a long time.
So what are the causes? We were asked to figure out the causes of this. Very quickly, there are long-term causes, at least in the countries that I know better. Statelessness, the weakness of the rule of law, journalists cannot trust the police. There are inefficient mechanisms, the state is the perpetrator, or is an accomplice, is the case of state failure. But at the same time, I think it’s a political juncture. The current authoritarian illiberal populous moment, coupled with the backlash against progressive gains from the last decades in terms of human rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, actually come together. Plus, social currents. Anti-human-rights crusade plus disinterest in ensuring and supporting human rights.
In some ways, it’s hard to think about whether or not society at large really cares about when these things happen every single day. So what are the responses? The responses, and already Parker talked about this, there are numbers, there are plenty of action and resources. There’s training on ethics and legal issues, risk analysis. There are a number of publications to train reporters. There are a lot of practical measures, hotlines, social media alerts, monitoring attacks, safe houses, safety fund for families, first aid, trauma counseling. All this stuff in the countries I know better—Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Central America—have been widely implemented, as well as advocacy for better laws for the protection of journalists. The Journalists in Distress Network, to me, is one of the most interesting initiatives around this set of issues.
There’s a story that came out yesterday—again, there is no shortage of resources about how to tackle this. So what is the question? The questions, to me, are the following. What happened here? Oh, right. What I found out in my research, and other researchers have found, is what actually makes a difference? Consistently what you find from reporters is the sense that they are alone, in spite of all these networks and institutions that have done tremendous work. That, I’m quoting a reporter from a Mexican news site that has been recently the target of attacks. “It continues being the same nightmare. Nothing and no one protects us. Criminals have permission to do as they want.” The journalists themselves typically offer individual solutions because they are skeptical about collective solutions. Collective mobilization often seems too far from where they are.
This all crystallizes in the impunity index. Impunity continues. So what are the questions that I hope can inform the conversation going forward? Who cares? Who cares about this? Who cares beyond the freedom of expression and freedom of the press community? The journalists, the NGOs, the international agencies who have done tremendous important work. But who else cares about this? The problem is that we have reached, at least in the countries that I know better, the naturalization of human rights violations, in spite of these mobilizations.
Second, who mobilizes? I imagine that probably these issues lack a broader contingency, and that’s probably why we have made reactive efforts, reactive success, rather than proactive—addressing the structural causes that underlie these problems.
Which takes me to this, what could make political elites and ordinary citizens pay attention and maintain support through effective actions? Curiously enough, these are not just questions for the Global South. These are relevant questions in this country right now.
Human rights norm-signaling and normal enforcement, which, according to the human rights literature, has had some success in the last three or four decades— do they work on the questions that we are discussing here? I’m not so sure about this.
Here are my conclusions. What to do? If you asked me to just summarize it in one phrase, is basically: build a movement—but not only build it. Someone said it’s easier building than maintaining something. Well build and maintain a movement. That’s what it is. I think that it was important for us in academia is to develop, nurture, continue partnerships. Universities in the Global North and the South with journalist organizations, with NGOs, and at agencies—to do what? What is it that we can do?
It’s just some ideas. Document virtuous cases. Where does it work? Where all this amount of work has changed the situation, has improved the situation. But specifically, how we can broaden the support around these issues? How we can raise social awareness about media at risk and safety? In what cases were the structural conditions mentioned earlier successfully addressed?
Training curricula appropriate to local circumstances. I’ve seen a hundred of places where people are trained to be a journalist in places that do not exist— that doesn’t match the reality in which they are likely to work.
I conduct social and political advocacy, because this really has been the hard nut to crack in terms of how you move forward, rather than only or mainly have ways to react when the problem exists.
So I think there are plenty of opportunities and plenty of needs, not only for this conversation, but actually for concrete actions around some of these issues. That’s why I think it’s a great idea to have a Center for Media at Risk, because it cannot be more timely given the current conditions and the fact that we are in the middle of a global conversation around these issues, in spite of differences across regions and countries.
Thank you very much.
Michael Delli Carpini: So I’m going to see if I can get this video from Claire up. In the meantime, so that, as Dean, so that our panelists don’t sue the Annenberg School for bad necks, I think maybe you could all, if you wanted to sit in the seat there to watch the video, that might—yeah, come around. Yeah.
Claire Wardle: I lead First Draft, a project at the Shorenstein Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. We’re focused on “information disorder,” a term we use to describe all the different elements of our polluted information ecosystem. We work on initiatives in the field, where we test different methods and interventions for tackling information disorder.
We then research those efforts using academic vigorous methods, and use the results to build resources for journalists, whether that’s online courses on how to verify images or videos sourced from the social web, or it might be best practices for publishing fact-checks or debunks. Or it could be guidelines for reporting on disinformation to prevent unnecessary oxygen-amplifying claims. Increasingly, those orchestrating these information campaigns is exactly that.
This summer we’ll be building a lab at Harvard to monitor attempts at manipulating the mainstream media, those who are targeting journalists. We’ll be doing that by sending out alerts and advisories to national and local newsrooms in the lead up to the midterms, to try to prevent this unnecessary amplification of disinformation. We’re increasingly seeing this as a key tactic during breaking news events, and we suspect the same will be true in the lead up to the elections.
So unsurprisingly—I’m really sorry not to be there with you today. I had major surgery last month, and my recovery’s been slower than I had hoped. Everything is fine, but the truth is, I’ve been told by my doctors to avoid stress, and I just know that listening to all these discussions about the media and journalists at risk would have led to a risk to my own wellbeing.
As some of you know, Barbie was my Ph.D. supervisor. I did my Ph.D. with her at Annenberg. She continues to be my mentor and—who are we kidding—my official American mom, with an O. So it’s even harder not to be there, as I’m so excited about the new center she’s building there.
I’m not actually going to give you a full paper here, nobody wants that on a video stream. But I did want to offer a reminder for all of us working in this space, academics and practitioners, to think about the importance of definitions, the language and terminology we use when discussing these issues. For most of last year, there was a constant battle to try and stop the use of the term “F***” news. Margret Sullivan wrote a great piece in the Washington Post very early in January 2017, just before Trump first used the term in the press conference calling out CNN.
Around that time, a number of us wrote similar posts and articles, and at conferences we would try relentlessly to make the point that as this term was being used, first by Trump as a way to discredit any information he didn’t like, but then we saw the same patterns by politicians and others around the world. We began to say that the news industries should be thinking much more critically about the use of the term, as it was being weaponized against them. Research was starting to show the audiences when asked were increasingly associating the term with problematic, or misleading, mainstream news coverage, not the type of content that academics and journalists were talking about when they were using the phrase.
But when journalists would call us, as they did frequently to discuss F-news, then I would explain that I would talk about the phenomenon, but didn’t use the term and advise that they didn’t use it too. I was told every time that search engine optimization meant there was no way they could avoid the term. It was all about traffic. The industry showing that Silicon Valley has control over their profits prevented them from fighting back against the term being used against them.
But it’s now April, 2018, and thankfully we’ve seen a slight shift away from the term. I would argue this isn’t about the reasons I just outlined, it’s actually a result of a growing understanding that it’s less the fabricated content we should be worried about, it’s the data protection issues and micro targeting that’s the bigger concern than the moral panic that we saw about Macedonian teenagers creating fabricated news sites that looked like professional news sites.
However, I do want to return to the importance of definitions. Earlier this year, I was a member of the EU Commission’s high-level group on fake news. You can imagine my displeasure at that name. We were a group of 39 people, representing almost every one of the EU’s 28 countries. We were academics, print journalists, broadcasters, representatives from civil society, and also from the technology companies themselves. Over the course of four day meetings in Brussels, the urgent need for definitions became stunningly clear. At the outset, we were told by the EU staff—and we were told this in no uncertain terms—that the EU already has regulation around illegal speech, hate speech, extremist content. But our task was to decide what the EU should do about this type of legal speech.
Now, in my own work, I’ve written about the differences between misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. When I talk about disinformation, I set the boundaries around this as false information that is created, or shared, deliberately to cause harm. Now, this sounds great when you write that down in an article and you create a fun-looking Venn diagram that gets shared on Twitter. It gets harder when you’re face-to-face with a very well dressed Italian lawyer demanding that you define harm for the purposes of building a watertight regulatory framework.
Hours were spent in Brussels discussing what we mean when we use the word “harm.” Coming away from that experience, and watching with horror as Emmanuel Macron talks about passing a fake news law, Brazil and Italy are bringing in the police to arrest people who share fabricated content—not creators, those who share. Malaysia has passed a law recently, and India almost passed a law, which fortunately got withdrawn due to the challenges of defining who a journalist is. Clearly they missed the early journalism conferences of the “naughties” [2000s], where we spent long hours defining what’s a journalist compared to a blogger.
All of that is to say, I used to enjoy our academic debates about these issues. They were intellectually challenging, and fascinating. However, we no longer—I would argue—have the luxury of seeing these debates as interesting, intellectual endeavors. Regulation is on the verge of being passed in many locations by politicians who have very little understanding of this issue, and are driven by a palpable fear that their own reelection changes will be impacted by disinformation.
These individual country inquiries and commissions are desperate for things that people in this room can help them with. Firstly, definitional frameworks that stand up to legal scrutiny, and definitions related to different types of content, different types of harm, and different types of technology companies. One of the reasons the discussions with Mark Zuckerberg on the Hill a couple of weeks ago was so frustrating was that until we can agree upon a definition of what these companies actually are, we’re a long way away from effective and responsible regulation.
But should we see them as utilities? Should we see them as data brokers? As common carriers? As publishers? None of these definitions work, and maybe— well not maybe; certainly—that’s the issue. They’re so new that I would argue they need to be considered as a new type of entity, but their functions are so diverse and distinct, can we even place them in one bucket? When a company like Amazon does so many things, surely there are so many different regulatory frameworks that would need to be applied.
Secondly, we need academic research that demonstrates the scale and impact of the whole ecosystem, and it has to be the whole phenomenon—ads, doc posts, memes, messaging apps—not just the parts of the problem that are easy to research. We desperately need research that is carried out in locations other than the US. During our EU conversations, it was shocking that there was almost no research about the phenomenon in any EU country. We constantly had to draw on US research.
Without any of these things, we face a very troubling reality that the information ecosystem will look very different to the one we currently have. When I see the speed at which regulation is moving in countries around the world, it makes me realize that while these conferences are great, how can we actually turn these conversations into something that can actually, tangibly help inform these discussions.
So enjoy the rest of today’s discussions. Again, I am so sorry not to be there. Can someone give Barbie a congratulatory cuddle for me? Thanks very much…
Michael Delli Carpini: Okay, let’s open it up to questions. Same rules apply. Please state your name and your affiliation. We’ll do individual questions, and if we still have a lot as we approach the end of the session, we can group them together a little bit. Yes?
Nikki Usher: Hi, Nikki Usher from George Washington University/University of Illinois. I just wanted to throw out a couple of things to augment this, and then ask a question. So Pew in 2017 did an updated survey on media trust. 44% of Americans believe that the news at some point fabricates stories about Donald Trump. 31% of Americans believe Trump’s claim that the news media is an enemy of the people. With regard to questions of security, in my own work, we looked at 2,515 DC journalists, and only 2.5% of them solicited end-to-end communication on their Twitter bios, and only seven of them had a secure email listed. Of the SecureDrop opportunities, none of the television stations, CNN, CBS, ABC, had any sort of formal SecureDrop.
That was July 2017, so some of that may have changed.
But I wanted to ask the question about how trust is at risk, and I hate talking about trust in the way that the journalism community has framed this crisis of trust. But I want to think about the fact that trust is ultimately a risk. To place trust in somebody is to take the risk in an unequal power distribution. I’m wondering to what extent thinking about trust and this sort of nuanced idea, or not so new, but as a concept of risk, feeds into all of these conversations.
Then secondly, I’m wondering if we have to accept this new North/South global reality of just a messy world for press freedom and misinformation—is there something that the Global South, or more authoritarian cases, can tell us about how to interpret and understand a world of misinformation when you already have crossed that bridge where you no longer trust? So yeah.
Michael Delli Carpini: Anyone like to start taking that set of questions on?
Parker Higgins: Well I can speak, at least to the security aspects of that. I’m looking up to see whether we’ve added any television outlets in the last year, and I don’t know for sure. Bloomberg is kind of split, and they’ve got one. Yeah, so with regard to encrypted email in particular, I think one of the things that comes up a lot in the journalistic context is something that the info-sec community has been dealing with for a long time, which is: encrypted email is really hard and it doesn’t work very well. It’s that kind of problem that SecureDrop’s designed to address, that even if—I’ve seen a lot of journalists put their PGP key in their Twitter bio, for example, and there’s a million ways to do it wrong. You’re depending on the source getting it right too. So that stat is less depressing than it might be. The other ones are still depressing, don’t worry.
But yeah, there’s a lot of work to be done. A lot of this work, frankly, can’t be happening at an individual-journalist level. A lot of this has to be something where our info structure gets more secure, and that makes journalists’ source communications more secure, as well as everyone else’s, because I do think we will encounter those low numbers. Then yeah, the trust problem I’ll let other people on the panel address.
Michael Delli Carpini: Do you want to?
Jay Rosen: I take your point, Nikki, that trust is itself a risk. We know this from our love lives.
I trust you, you say to your partner, and now you’ve just entered into a big risk. So yeah, trust is a risk. What I’ve been trying to tell journalists is that you have to give us more help in trusting you. So for example, when reporters at the Washington Post say this account is based on 24 interviews with people in the administration who didn’t want their names used, we can trust the Washington Post with that kind of reporting, and we do, but other than the reputation of the Washington Post, and possibly of the individual reporter, there’s nothing that our trust can grab onto in that kind of account.
So what I’ve been trying to argue is that transparency gives us more ways to trust. If I not only tell you what I found in my reporting, but show my work, that’s easier to trust. If I not only tell you about the data, but I put the data online, that is easier to trust. If you know that I’m not only going to report it, but I’m also going to correct it if it needs correcting, that is easier to trust.
So yes, you have to take a risk by trusting, and you take a risk by trusting journalists. But they can give you more help than they’ve been giving you in trust, and that is an evolution that our press is undergoing as it moves out of a system of authority in which you were trusted because you were professional—you were CBS News, you had the microphone, you were one of few people with communication channel so you were trusted—into a system where with many speakers, you’re trusted because you make it easy for people to trust you.
Michael Delli Carpini: Silvio or Arzu, on the issue of whether the experiences in countries that have been dealing with this for a lot longer than we have?
Silvio Waisbord: Just a few thoughts. Two issues. One is that this sort of disinformation is always part of an active campaign. It’s a textbook case what we’re seeing in this country is textbook case of a collusion between politicians and moneyed elites and part of civil society collectively mobilizing to do this kind of work that they describe. Nothing just happens just because. There’s no just one actor.
Second is that what people in government do actually makes a huge difference, because it legitimizes, it condones into acts, it empowers. It becomes the new social war, which makes it more difficult, what we’re saying. What is striking is the similarities. I give sometimes this presentation on populism and the media, and I play a game which is “guess the populist.” I put a phrase, and who said that, who did that, and it can be anyone of the 20, 30 names that today we define as populism in the sense of illiberal, and one of the striking common features is exactly the position vis-à-vis the press.
That’s the way to interpret, and that’s what I was trying to emphasis, that against a collective movement against these issues, what is needed is a counter movement. There’s no just individual isolated actions.
Second, building off what Jay just said, how to rebuild trust when the media has been sort of weaponized discursively by a big part of society that is not just appealing to the trust of the traditional way of conceptualizing trust—the “trust me, I’m a journalist” kind of argument. But when the divide—when there’s a fracture of trust, when it is grounded in partisan ideological and other identities, and is renewed constantly—then the question of “trust me because I do what”— at least in the canon of professional journalism—”journalists are expected to do,” it’s insufficient. It’s a much bigger problem, so journalists might not be very successful, and that’s one of Jay’s points. Been failing even though they’re succeeding in the job that many of us expect them to do.
Arzu Geybulla: I think from the Azerbaijan experience—because over the years, since independence, we’ve seen how independent media has been completely silenced, we know that there are only a handful of media outlets where you can actually get independent use. This makes it slightly easier for the journalists who work for these outlets in terms of having this channel for communication with the audience.
The authorities try to prevent and get in the way of that communication channel by first coming up with legal changes, launching libel suits, or accusing the paper or the outlet of tax evasion, and eventually shutting you down. Then what you have left is having this online platform where you can still continue having a communication.
Then, again, in the case of Azerbaijan, you get a very skillful parliament who decides to approve an amendment—who decides to approve an amendment that blocks access to these remaining independent online, or opposition news outlets, which really leaves the people without any access, because internet was this remaining place where all of this conversation was taking place.
Again, what was interesting is that because of the reputation of these outlets that have been built over the years as independent outlets, an individual who’s been illegally taken, moved from his house for instance, would call the journalist from the Radio Free Europe Azerbaijan service, or from ADOM TV, because there is this trust communication channel that’s been established.
I think this, within this authoritarian state that is Azerbaijan, it’s you either watch what the government gives you, because all of the television channels are government owned, or you try to find alternatives. It’s this constant ongoing battle between the government channels trying to bash independent media, and independent media trying to find a way of actually building a line of communication with the people.
Michael Delli Carpini: That’s great. Yph, and then did you wanna? Yeah.
Yphtach Lelkes: Yphtach Lelkes, Annenberg. Fox News, and maybe, to a lesser extent, Breitbart, figured out that attacking the media, and also attacking migrants and non-white people, sells. One thing I didn’t really hear is, we talked a lot about changing norms, and there hasn’t been much discussions about altering economic incentives. What is it? Is there anything that can be done on that front to alter economic incentives in an age of fragmented media?
Jay Rosen: Well, like many people, I’m sure, in this room, I woke up on November 9th  in a state of despair, and felt like I had to go back and figure out where I took a wrong turn and do something that might be constructive in some way. Took me a while to figure out what that was, but now I’m working with a Dutch site, the Correspondent, which is the world’s most successful member-funded news site.
They have 65 thousand members who pay 7 euros a year because they believe in the kind of journalism this site does. They have no ads, no tracking, no data collection, no billionaires, and nothing really except the members.
Because of that, they don’t engage in clickbait; they don’t have to use any of the tricks for driving traffic that have done so much to coursen public dialogue and undermine trust. They ground the site in the relationship between journalists and readers. That’s the primary relationship. For example, you follow writers at the site, you don’t follow topics or sections. Each of the 21 full-time correspondents has to produce a weekly email to their followers that explains what they’re working on and how far they’ve gotten in their investigation, as well as what knowledge needs they have and what sources they’re looking for to create the relationship between the readers and the writers.
They have aligned the incentives of the organization so that it isn’t necessary for the journalists or the product to engage in attention-grabbing. It’s based more on attention-granting. So they want to move to the United States, and I’m helping them do that. It’s a different economic model. It’s not subscription—this is the part that I want to emphasize—it’s not subscription, in that subscription is you pay your money, you get the product; if you don’t pay, you don’t get the product. Membership is different because the people joining the Correspondent believe in the cause and support the work, they want it to spread beyond the members, so there’s no strict paywall, there’s no limit on how many articles you can share, there’s no meter like there is with the New York Times.
It’s not a solution to anything. It’s not like this is the answer. It isn’t, but it’s just something I’m doing. The reason I’m doing it is because the entire incentive structure is aligned differently than the mass media as commercial model, the advertising-driven model, that has been the default for so long. I’m working with them to try and figure out if that can succeed in English language publishing, and we are going to launch the crowdfunding campaign for that English language site sometime in 2018.
Michael Delli Carpini: Yes, right here.
Nour Halabi: My question is for Jay. I agree that sometimes international tours are opportunities for the international press to question their presence. It is also opportunities for the American president to get swatted with a shoe, in other cases. I think part of what I see as an international person moving to the US, is part of the weakness is this assumption that the press in the US is some sort of bulwark of objectivity, reality, freedom of speech, all this other stuff. And I think yet again, we are over-estimating some of these issues or treating them as new, and under-estimating the lack of freedom of the press that existed in the Obama administration—or as your presentation showed, we don’t question ourselves about what was going on before or the limit to speech before, or the systematic horizons of what you can ask and what you can’t ask, within liberal democracies.
Jay Rosen: Yeah, sure, I take your point. For one thing, the Obama administration was extremely aggressive in going after journalists in certain ways, especially through use of the Espionage Act. There’s no doubt that the freedom with which they felt they could maneuver around those things helped create the conditions that we have now. But even more than that, I didn’t go into this in my talk because I think the threats coming from Trump’s campaign to discredit the press are so big—but I didn’t go into all the ways that bad practices before that moment had led up to this. An example that I tried to put a lot of my own energy into was that at a certain point, political journalists in the United States, I think, lost solidarity with the citizenry and began to see their job as informing us about what the political class was doing to manipulate the majority of the country. I call that approach the “savvy style of political journalism.”
What the savvy style does is, it tries to get the readers and the listeners and the viewers to join up with the political insiders in the game of manipulating the electorate along the lines of will this appeal work—will the people in the suburbs of Philadelphia respond to that ad? What’s the strategy, what are the tactics? That kind of journalism, which became the dominant form in Washington journalism, was a massive failure that went on for decades, and is part of the reason that the press was in such a weak position when Trump, the destroyer, came along.
Michael Delli Carpini: There was one question here, then I’ll go back to this side. Yeah.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, NYU. This picks up on something with Jason and others, but also questions that were raised yesterday. I’m really concerned about the masochism of journalists, especially television journalists. You were talking about this desire for normality where they have people on, and continue to have people on, like CNN with Kellyanne Conway, who are part an integral part of the system of threat against them. This is a dynamic, and they don’t seem to learn.
Now, on the one hand, in their defense, you say they’re doing that to combat what we talked about over this conference, this kind of two echo chambers of polarization. But it’s the history of regimes of propaganda show that you must quarantine these dangerous, dangerous individuals immediately. Instead, we’ve had the opposite. So it’s an open-ended question of how do we manage this, how do we reach an equilibrium between—It’s the partisan question, like MSNBC, again, I’m not a TV critic, perhaps they also have Kellyanne Conway-type people, I don’t believe they do—but how do you manage this equilibrium in a way that doesn’t threaten our democracy? So that’s a small question.
Michael Delli Carpini: Anyone want to try to take that on? Maybe we can leave that as a kind of background. Yes, Kathleen in the back.
Sorry, Kathleen. Was there someone who wanted to take a shot at it?
Barbie Zelizer: I thought, Jay, you were beginning to lean forward.
Jay Rosen: It’s something I’ve written about. I wrote a whole Twitter thread about it, which you could find on my Twitter profile. I think it’s part of the threat. I tried to mention this as a threat. There’s a risk that our journalists won’t act on things that are intended to erode their institution, that they will instead treat them in the frame of fairness and both parties, and let’s hear from everybody because it’s a nice civil discussion, and they won’t rise to the moment of threat.
I think that’s a huge danger. The example you point to is a perfect one. CNN found that its regular conservative commentators that they already had signed up when Trump was elected president—all of them were anti-Trump. They had a lot of conservative voices, but they were all anti-Trump, and they freaked out. Instead of asking themselves, “why are all the people that we picked anti- Trump?”— that’s significant in itself—they immediately freaked and they had to sign up people who could, in an entertainment sense, a sitcom way, play the Jeffrey Lord, the crazy uncle who’s always saying stupid things in defense of Donald Trump. Right, which was an entertainment move. That’s not recognizing the threat that you’re facing.
Michael Delli Carpini: I’m sorry, but I want to bring other people in. Kathleen—Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg School.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson: Jay, I agree with you that the fact-checkers have had no effect on Donald Trump. So if you were running something hypothetically called FactCheck.org, what would you do with your resources right now?
Jay Rosen: My mentor, Neil Postman taught me to ask, “in what spirit do you ask this question?” I really don’t know. I wouldn’t quit. I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for you. Fact-checking always preceded, as Glen Kessler has said at the Washington Post, under a rough assumption that if you call out a candidate or a president about something that’s truly factually false, it’s not that they will admit they were wrong, but they will change their behavior so as not to get censored by that judgment. That was the way fact-checking worked up until the present moment.
Now we’re in a different world. I wish I had a better answer. I don’t.
Michael Delli Carpini: Yes. Please, yeah.
Magda Konieczna: My name is Magda Konieczna, I’m from Temple University. I feel like all of you and people over the course of all of these meetings have done a really good job of addressing the acute threat to journalists. I think a lot about the less acute, kind of the slow drip erosion of the means of doing journalism, challenges to the economic model. I’m wondering—and some of you, of course, have talked about that as well—I’m wondering if there’s something to be gained by thinking about the acute physical danger alongside that slow eroding danger, which is portrayed, I think, in the US as the outcome of the free market, but can be seen in different ways, I think.
Michael Delli Carpini: Any thoughts on that more dripping of …
Parker Higgins: Yeah. I mentioned this briefly, but one of the things I’ve been working on at Freedom of the Press Foundation is archiving work. That is—in some ways, it’s very cut and dry. I’m making sure the HTML files have copies of them. Archiving, like so many things, is political, and part of that has been a discussion with outlets and about outlets, about what we consider to be endangered and what’s threatened and the ways in which that’s threatened. Very frequently it is an economic thing. Very frequently, it’s an outlet that has just gone bust in some cases, as the things that we’re focusing on is a little more acute because it’s the knife edge of that where it’s the outlet got purchased or is being sued out of existence.
But in doing that, I do interact with a lot of newsrooms that can’t ignore the looming dread there. I will say it’s been a lot of newsrooms are unionizing, which has been, if you look at the way the journalists talk about—the journalists in unionizing newsrooms—talk about that process. It’s compelling and it’s encouraging.
Speaking a little bit to the business model question, it’s also hopeful in a way that not a lot of things around that ecosystem are. I don’t think the answer—I think the answer to a lot of things is probably unionization, but I’m not saying that that will get rid of the general problems. But that is one of the few areas where it kind of seems like that has led to an active force of people who want news and journalism, not just media outlets to continue to exist.
Michael Delli Carpini: Going to go back to this side, yes, right here. Yes.
Charlie Beckett: Hi, Charlie Beckett from London School of Economics. I have to say, quite a long question—because I’m coming all the way from London to do this. What I wanted to do is, I want you to do my work for me, which is that I’m leading an LSE commission into some public information crisis. It’s not-unironically called the LSE Truth, Trust and Technology Commission. We’re trying to—this has been incredibly inspiring, the whole conference not just this morning—I want to pick on what Silvio’s sort of clarion call at the end there for some kind of campaign, some kind of public engagement.
I wonder if you could come up with something for my commission, one conquering strategic policy move. It might be recognition, or it might be an unusual organization, something concrete what they can do.
Just to make it a bit tougher, I want you to try and come up with something that will address the news gap, because I think a lot of the things we’ve been talking about are effectively aiming at the kind of elite—sort of boutique, policy- trustworthy journalism. But I think in a way the biggest risk is that we’re losing popular and tabloid good journalism—or the good journalism’s going away from the popular media. If you’re going to counter populism, for example, surely we have it be popular. Can you give me something I can stuck in my report that’s coming out in the fall?
Michael Delli Carpini: Silvio, you want a second?
Silvio Waisbord: Well, typically I don’t work on Saturdays, but since you put me to work, I will try to do it. I will talk to people about forgiving me for working on Saturday. A few ideas. I mean, it has to be done at the local level. I don’t think that this sort of global formula because the situations are varied.
One is: how you de-normalize these kind of attacks that journalists live constantly? Not just among journalists, but among citizens and among political elites. At least in the countries that I know better, political elites are really badly inform about this. Journalists work for large organizations in metropolitan areas are largely misinformed, disinformed about this. Citizens have no awareness of this issue. Once in a while I work with something that somebody got shot or harassed or something like that.
The question is that because of the drip, drip, drip, it might be too late, but it’s never too late to how you de-normalize this in different ways with different publics. Right? That’s one way to do it.
Second is actually assessing the effectiveness of these sort of mechanisms, institutional mechanisms for alert and for—I’ll give examples of the legal framework about trying some of these attacks. The fact that now journalists believe that anybody is attacked online, will you report that or not? It’s just part of your report when you figure out that things are really escalating, rather than along the way.
That’s the new world which we are. Not only bring awareness about this, but actually assessing the impact of what we have in place, assessing the impact of all this training, all this stuff. The organizations that I know better, they get money, funding to actually do their work rather than primarily to assess the impact of this work. For a variety of reasons, anybody who has worked, I don’t know, NGOs, international, know where the money goes in this.
Then asking journalists—ask journalists, what is it that realistically can do? In my experience, many of these things are done primarily because it is the assumption that they will make a difference in everyday life, as opposed to asking journalists, “really tell me, what will make a difference next time you are harassed that goes beyond the social media alerts or the hotline and all this stuff?” Rather than figure it out in a room with people who design something. So it’s a question of public engagement with the people who actually are at the front lines of what we’re discussing.
Finally is, to what kind of harassment or attacks do we react? Because not everybody is simply a risk, depending on the different societies. After being in this conference, my conclusion is that basically what we have was certain kinds of people, who look certain way, who do certain work, who have certain contacts, or certain political and social capital. When they are attacked, then this becomes a bigger issue. Not with people who don’t have, because where they live, they look different, I mean all kinds of issues. That is what we badly need, sort of turning the tables around and saying this is the position. We don’t have to wait until somebody who looks “like us” is attacked for the issue to become an issue. That’s what comes to mind right now.
Parker Higgins: Can I add something? In a different part of, maybe, a different chapter of the report—there’s, I think it’s tempting to look at, when you’re talking about, what is it, Truth, Technology, and Trust? It’s tempting to look at the worst part of that. I think some of that is what Jay described as the 30% of people that are tuned out by the time the journalist shows up. But another big chunk of this, of course, is people—there’s a tremendous appetite for people who do want good journalism and who want local journalism. I think about, sorry to bring it up again, but I live in New York, and when Gothamist was shut down one day— Gothamist was a profitable publication—it was shut down all of a sudden, and now there aren’t local journalists going to City Hall meetings in New York City.
I mean, certainly some, but there are a lot of things that were covered by Gothamist, where there’s nobody there anymore.
So there’s room for, I think, people who are a receptive audience, who you don’t have to fight them to shove the broccoli down their throat. There’s people who want to eat healthy, news diet-wise, and that’s their—there’s important things that can be done there too.
And just as a coda on the Gothamist thing, it’s being reopened in partnership with a public radio station. So that was a funding model change that’s enabling that.
Jay Rosen: I have two quick things for Charlie. One is, check out the Bristol Cable. Bristol Cable is a local news cooperative. It’s attracting people who are not already educated upper-middle class. They have local control over the production. One of the things they do is they teach people how to do some of the journalism for themselves, which I think is very interesting, almost like a community organizing community development married with local journalism. It’s not a model, but I would definitely tell your commission to check it out.
The other point I would make is, it’s a very important political fact in the US predicament that the Republican party, Republican elites, Republican leaders, have not themselves objected to Trump’s campaign against the press. They do not create friction for that, and the fact that they are in default on that, makes it possible for this thing to go on. So one of the answers has to be that both sides, or all sides of the political spectrum have to realize the importance of public interest journalism. It’s been a massive failure of the republican party in the United States.
Michael Delli Carpini: Good. Yes, right here.
Judith Matloff: Yeah, Judith Matloff, of Columbia. I wanted to inject a tiny little note of optimism, which is that nothing’s static.
Parker Higgins: Not at all.
Judith Matloff: Just hear me out. In that, it comes in ebbs and flows and that I think during these grim times we tend to think it’s all going downhill, which it is, but it can also go uphill again. I just wanted to give a couple historical examples. When you think about the military dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, just to name a few, there was no press freedom. It’s quite robust now in all three of those countries. Look at Russia during the Soviet Union. You had no press freedom. Then, during the brief Yeltsin years, it came back. Now we’re back with Putin, but certain seeds of freedom have already been set. I think we have to hold onto those things.
The current political climate is so toxic, but Trump is not going to be here forever. I know, my husband says he’s actually going to be in power for 12 years, not eight. But the thing is, he has created much of the toxicity of public debate, and it hopefully will not be permanent.
There’s one other point I want to make, which is something that I’ve been talking a lot about with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is that we only really began to make records of attacks and threats against media in the 1990s, which was the rise of internet that we can document this. When I think back to the countries that I’ve worked with back in the ’70s and the ’80s—look at Lebanon in the ’80s. That situation has gotten better. Mexico, arguably in the ’70s when I worked there, was no worse than it is today.
So the question is, are we simply— Now definitely the situation’s deteriorating in places like the United States and Syria, without a doubt, but the question I wanted to pose is, are we keeping better records, and therefore we think the situation has gotten worse, or has it always been in many of these countries pretty dire? That’s just what I’m posing, and I don’t have an answer for that, so you can answer it.
Parker Higgins: We are keeping better records, and I think that’s not neither/nor to me. I think things are getting worse. I think that right now, in this moment in history, spending too long discussing history looks like a rhetorical cousin to “what- about-ism,” which I don’t think you’re doing, and I’m certainly not trying to do. But to say that some of the things we’re seeing are the latest in a trend is true, and trends can reverse over time, which is also true.
I think things are bad.
Michael Delli Carpini: Silvio, did you want to jump in on this?
Silvio Waisbord: Yeah. I mean, part of the reason why I was pushing to see it as a human rights issue, because if you look at the human rights literature, or you just mention this at the center of the current debate: are things better or worse now, and why? Is it because we know more? Because we document more? It’s between a more positive argument in spite of all the challenges that we have been discussing, and a more pessimistic sort of view.
What is my take on this? I’m self-inclined to be skeptical of the more optimistic version, in spite of recognizing this. Probably because what Kafka said that there is optimism, but that it’s not for us. The reason why is because if you think that yes, things are better if you compare to military dictatorships and totalitarian regimes, what is the yardstick of how much problems we could have made by now? That’s a hypothetical question, but it seems to me it’s a legitimate question. Are we comparing to what the situation was in some countries 40, 50 years ago in terms of basic fundamental speech rights, communication rights? Right. Is that enough to say yeah, we are better in spite of everything? I’m not convinced. Not because it might lead to, maybe, “it’s a bump along the road” and eventually after somebody’s off power, things will get better. Because if we look at the more structural issues, that is not something that will easily change because somebody is in government or someone is not in government.
That’s what worries me. It’s about if you look at the structural, long-term issues, there is probably—I mean, there is not enough evidence to conclude that we are better than we were before. I grew up in a military dictatorship in the 1970s in Argentina. Yes, but it doesn’t make me happy to say, well, calm down, things are better now. Right? Compared to what? 40 years after?
That’s why in that debate, in the human rights literature, I do not tend to side completely with the pessimists, but I tend to take with a grain of salt, a big grain of salt, the more optimist argument. I mean, Kathryn Sikkink had a very compelling interesting book called Evidence for Hope, which came out a few months ago, in which she makes an argument that things are better, and she provides plenty of evidence. But then the question is, is that comparing to the past the only measurement we conclude? Even if we conclude that things are better, so what do we do next given the multiple challenges that we have been discussing here?
Michael Delli Carpini: I’d like to follow back of the room, and then we’ll go right here.
Samantha Oliver: Hi, I’m Samantha Oliver, I’m a PhD student here at Annenberg. I have a question for Arzu. We’ve spent a lot of time today talking about the risks that are bound up in the relationship between journalists and the public. I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit about the relationship between journalists and the public in Azerbaijan, and how that relationship might contribute to, or relate to, risks for a journalist doing work there?
Michael Delli Carpini: Why don’t you also ask the question that you were going to ask too, so we get two on the table?
R’anan Alexandrowicz: I’m R’anan Alexandrowicz, I’m a filmmaker. This is inspired both by everything that was said in this panel and the digital panel yesterday. The dark thing that comes out of it is that both all this oppression and the opposition are part of the business model of the platforms. I’m wondering if the movement that you are suggesting, Silvio—shouldn’t the journalism and the activism and the criticism shouldn’t be pointed much more directly at the platform, because maybe they would care?
Michael Delli Carpini: Either of those questions, anyone want to address them?
Arzu Geybulla: Just to clarify, the question was about the relationship between journalists and the public? Yeah. It’s a very complicated relationship in Azerbaijan because if you have a very—if you work with, say independent outlet, like Azeri service for the Radio for Europe, or ADOM TV, or Turon, you have a certainly much more transparent channel of communication with the public because public knows who you are.
I mean, these are the journalists. As I said earlier, it’s really a handful of journalists, so everyone knows that, you know, Khadija is an investigative journalist, I mean it is the head of the ADOM TV, which is an outlet based out of Berlin. These people work for these outlets.
It’s very open channel of communication. If a journalist wants to do a story, for instance, they are—they have this backup. When they name that channel to the person that they want to do the story with or the interview, it gives you this sort of support. This is not the case if you’re speaking with a government official, for instance. If you call them, like I did during the elections, asking them about the— they were covering the camera in the precinct with a paper while they were putting a ballot box with votes.
It was caught on cameras, and I called the chair, and I asked, “I work for Radio Free Europe,” and as soon as I said it, I could sense this tension in his voice. He’s like, “Yes, yes.” Then he started saying that there’s noise in the background. Then he was like, “Okay, I’m back.” Then he said, “Well, no such thing happened.” I’m like, “Are you really sure there was no paper over the camera, because that’s what everyone saw?” They’re like, “No, it was a technical glitch.”
This went online, because that was—we recorded his voice, so that went into the story. There’s this type of connection and relationship that you have, like when you call a government official, they’re always there freaked out that someone from the Radio Free Europe Azeri service is calling them, or ADOM TV is calling them. But when you call the public and someone from a remote village reporting on electricity cuts that the government says do not exist, you always have this sort of evidence, basically, to collect and counter the arguments of the officials.
Michael Delli Carpini: Anyone on the second question that was raised?
Jay Rosen: I think there would be a lot of value in wrestling with the platforms and focusing in on one aspect of how they operate, which is their terms of service documents. Because the existence of those documents, especially in the case of Facebook, allows them to secure a kind of consent that is uninformed consent, which we don’t actually have a great deal of literature about. We have a lot of understanding of how force works, and we have a lot of understanding of how informed consent is supposed to work, but we don’t really think much about uninformed consent, which is what most people who are using these platforms are actually giving them.
There’s a connection there to the 30% I talked about, because those people want uninformed consent too. They don’t actually—They want to push journalism away. The terms of service documents are legalities, we check them, we have no idea what we’re signing or signing away. They lead to this condition of semi-trust, or injured trust, or uninformed consent.
I think if pressure was put on Facebook to start actually telling people what’s going on in those agreements, and transparency and plain language came over and they had to change, that would be a positive thing. This could happen because the new European rules have a provision that mandates plain language in those kinds of key documents. It’s not a cure-all, it’s not a big thing, but it might be a small thing to start changing our relationship with the platforms, and something that academics could work on. Not that we’re so great at plain language, but—
Michael Delli Carpini: All right, I’m going to take a bundle of you right here. Then in the back of the room, then right here.
Daniel Grinberg: I’m Daniel Grinberg, University of California, Santa Barbara. Since it didn’t come up that much on the panel, I was hoping some of you could speak to the risks particular to reporters of war and violent content. I’m particularly thinking about are there challenges and risks that are changing as the ways that war is being waged are changing, and the ways they access those wars are changing? Then also if you see the coverage changing as a result of those risks, and if there is any kind of tools or training that are particular to those precarious reporters?
Michael Delli Carpini: Right, and …
Nelson Ribeiro: Nelson Ribeiro, from the Catholic University of Lisbon. I was wondering if you could speak a bit about the “Trump effect” abroad, and when it comes to threatening the media. What I mean is, how groups and politicians that have been attacked in the media, they feel now legitimized by what is happening in the US, because, as Jay mentioned in his talk, the US was perceived as this model for liberal democracy and free press. I wonder if this is not transitioning somehow into a model for attacking the press.
Let me just give one example. In Europe, of course we have our own share of authoritarian governments and pro- authoritarian politicians, but even those who are committed to democratic institutions, today they seem to be saying things that I have never heard in my life.
Just one example from my own country, we have a leftwing Prime Minister, who is very popular in polls. He has, clearly, a left agenda, and in the last month, there have been lots of reports in the media about shortcomings in the national health system. His reaction was, “We don’t have a problem in the health system, we have a problem in news reporting.” Now, this would have been something considered outrageous for a Prime Minister in office to say two years ago. But the reaction was—there was almost no reaction. It was just normal. I would like to know if you would say something about how you perceive the impact that the US model is having abroad?
Michael Delli Carpini: And the last question from this group.
Ellery Roberts Biddle: Hi, Ellery Roberts Biddle from Global Voices. Silvio, I was very intrigued by your presentation. I think that the framing, the ability to talk about human rights, not an abstract sense, but actually—we have this robust global international human rights doctorate, and regional human rights bodies, and in the United States, nobody talks about that stuff. It is a term that I find when I’m in US media circles, people are like it sort of sounds like a thing that the rest of the world thinks about and we just, “eh.”
So I was wondering if, Arzu and Parker, you’re my friends and we all encounter this from different angles, and I wondered if you could talk to us a little bit about what’s going on with that? Could it change? Could media in the United States start to have more consciousness about human rights and the fact that they really matter here too, and maybe to take some cues from media in other parts of the world on that?
Michael Delli Carpini: All right, so we’ve got three questions on the table. Anyone can address any part of those, if you like. Silvio, do you want to start on that last one?
Silvio Waisbord: Those are great questions. Let’s see, on the reporters at war: that’s not my part of specialization, but I’ve always been struck—again, something I mentioned earlier—when the issues become relevant when Western reporters are attacked, or the victims, rather than the people who work typically with them, non- Western reporters and local reporters. Not only what happens during the attacks, but after the Western media is gone and moves somewhere else. For me, it’s like there’s a need for a bifocal view on this issue. It’s not just about foreign correspondents, it’s about global journalism and what happens to the local journalists once the attention goes somewhere else.
Second, yes, you’re absolutely right. There was an article in the Washington Post a few days ago that had sort of a list of current political leaders using a very similar Trumpian language about their own media. Again, the question is, that it normalizes globally certain kind of practices that probably that is a strong tradition, or weak tradition, in individual countries, but now it seems like it’s okay, it’s legitimate to actually engage in that kind of public discourse.
The third one, the question is—I absolutely agree with you. The question of human rights. I will guess that, probably in this country—because these questions have been traditionally seen as part of the big family of freedom of the press and first amendment—there have been some challenges to reframe it in terms of human rights issues, rather than just a question of speech and expression in this period of the first amendment, or at least in the interpretation of the first amendment.
How do you turn that around?
Because it seems to me it’s a much more useful way of dealing with the nuances of what we’re talking about here, which is not just about speech in the very orthodox, almost libertarian way of thinking about this question. But it’s a question of communication rights. I have no good ideas how you do that, because you are sort of basically battling very dominant, hegemonic way of thinking about these questions, and a very, I would say different tradition of thinking about this. In my mind, it’s an out of way understanding if you take the libertarian tradition when looking at many of the problems that we have been discussing.
In countries instead with risk, with human rights, with that kind of language, it has a longer tradition, in some ways it’s sort of more obvious that you will see it—I mean, the problems that we have been discussing for the last day and a half, as a question of human rights, rather than a question of, “what happened to speech rights gone wrong?” That’s not the right way to understand this.
Michael Delli Carpini: Arzu, any of the three questions you’d like to address?
Arzu Geybulla: Sure. Actually, risks and war reporting. One of the reasons why the OSCE ODIHR mission, and dissidence, and journalists are often accused of being Armenian agents or working for the Armenian government, is because Azerbaijan is in an active state of war with Armenia.
The risks of reporting on this conflict, especially objectively, are quite high. When in April 2016 there was a four day war, the only two independent outlets that reported facts based on the reporting from journalists, both from Armenia and Azerbaijan, got blackmailed by the authorities. They were accused of subjective reporting. They were accused of blowing up the numbers of the soldiers who died and the citizens who were being killed because the government wanted to keep the facts really under control.
We don’t really have active war reporters because of this, because you’ll become an immediate target, and this is something that is very sacred for a lot of Azerbaijanis and for Armenians, because the conflict has been going on pretty much since we gained independence, and even before that. So I don’t really see the coverage changing, because it’s the same type of coverage that we’ve been seeing.
If not, it’s gotten worse because in the mid-’90s there was far more dialogue between the two governments where journalists could travel to the frontline from both ends and actually exchange notes and talk to people. Now, this is not happening because if you do this without permission from the government, you can actually be jailed for that. So that’s really interesting to see this sort of, it’s almost like a black hole. We don’t know much of what’s going on.
Now about the Trump effect, I think if anything, I think our politicians are teaching politicians here on how to be more authoritarian, and how to make more increasingly un-sensical statements. So I don’t—yeah, I think the reaction has been the other way. If, actually, the Trump administration has given far more, sort of this self—I’m blanking on the word, but Azeri government officials feel a lot more comfortable in saying the things that they say.
I mean, they were saying these things for a really long time now. I mean, we’ve lived under this regime for 20 years plus. But having Trump—of course it’s really damaged the institution of the civil society as a whole, and it’s given more power to the government officials.
And on the last question, that more consciousness, I don’t really have an answer, but I think it’s really important to look at the experiences of other countries who have been struggling, and who have been trying to bring in the conversation around human rights into public debate. I think, I have a lot of American friends who are journalists, who are telling me now that we now understand what you’ve been going through. I think it’s this kind of experience sharing that needs to be brought into the conversation and be open to the public here.
Michael Delli Carpini: Parker?
Parker Higgins: Okay, I’m going to go a little bit quickly for sake of time, and I’m not going to speak to the Trump effect, sorry. Actually, my answers to the first and second questions interact in a funny way.
Risks particular to reporters at war: obviously physical risk is outside of my scope. It’s a high surveillance environment, and it’s an environment where you cannot count especially on the rule of law. So technical solutions. If it would be catastrophic for your notes to leak, you need to make sure those notes are encrypted in a way that even if it would be legally inappropriate for someone to take the notes, if they physically can, then you know—In many ways, it parallels other high surveillance, low rule-of-law environments, which is border reporting. So yeah, we have at Freedom of Press Foundation, we talk to a lot of people who are in similar environments, and that’s what you have to take into account.
The reason why I think that’s sort of a funny interaction with the human rights question is because, echoing what Silvio said, a long history of libertarianism, and especially—I previously worked for a California based nonprofit, which had in its DNA the California ideology of a sort of left-sounding libertarianism.
A lot of its ideals, and a lot of our ideals are constructed as “freedom from.” When you have a “freedom from” environment, that’s not as conducive to human rights, and I think a lot of that has to do with the economic models of philanthropy in the US, and that has been very beneficial in some ways. But if you are not adjacent to an industry that wants freedom from some kind of regulation, it’s hard to get money to run your nonprofit. There’s no human rights factory that is going to have employees.
I’m not even talking about nefariously, I just mean if you work in digital rights, as I have for a long time, employees of tech companies understand and value your work. Their employees and CEOs will help pay for that work. So that does lead to this environment where you are mostly focused on freedom from regulation, which is not the, obviously, only construct.
Michael Delli Carpini: Jay?
Jay Rosen: It’s a very good point about “freedom from.” I don’t have any knowledge about the risk of war correspondents. I do want to respond to this question about the Trump effect. Peter Baker is the “dean” of White House reporters in the United States. He’s the White House correspondent for the New York Times. At a conference like this, a few months ago, he was saying that he understands why people get upset about Trump attacks on the press, “but really doesn’t affect me too much,” he says. He characterized those attacks as just theater. Those are the words he used. “It’s just theater.”
I thought this was amazing and just off the charts complacent attitude from the very top of the professional hierarchy, because of what you said—that the most dramatic effects of Trump’s hating on the press are in this reversal from the United States and the United States press, as a kind of beacon in the world— even though it was filled with imperfections and dark sides to its own history—a kind of beacon or model to the world to the reverse, where Trump’s behavior is now enabling and justifying regimes to restrict the press and try their own tactics of hatred towards—it’s an astonishing reversal, and it’s one of the darkest episodes that have resulted from his election.
Finally, on this question about human rights, I think Silvio is totally right, that we should start to think about these issues with journalists as human rights problems. I think that’s completely on point. Part of the reason that you get this reaction has to do with something Barbie has studied a lot, and I’ve studied a lot, which is professionalization in journalism.
American journalists develop their professional identity by pushing off against other figures that they see themselves as not being. They use everybody for this. They do it with academics. They push off against academics, because academics, for example, don’t speak in a public language, and journalists do. So that’s what makes us different. They do it with politicians, obviously, right? I’m not part of your party, and I’m not part of your party. I’m pushing off from both parties, and that creates professional space for me to be in the middle, as I said yesterday.
One of the groups that they push off against to create their own identity is activists, especially in saying that journalism is not advocacy. I’m sure you heard this a zillion times. That’s been true for a long time. What’s different now is that in order for their institution to find the support it needs to survive in an atmosphere of threat and attack, journalists need allies. Where are they going to get these allies? From the very people they’ve been pushing off to create their professional identity. This is a big problem in the profession of journalism right now, but the good news, to get to your point, is that they’re kind of sort of realizing this. They need friends. They need friends.
Barbie Zelizer: Isn’t there a song there?
Jay Rosen: [Singing] You’ve got a friend. Yeah, so they need friends, so there’s a bit of an opening there. An example would be they’re very aware now that the readers are their friends, because they’re paying more of the freight of the cost of news getting. With through subscription, and at times meter and other things like that. They’re kind of aware that now, when we really need you, and for most people in the world, they had to be aware of who they needed in order to survive. Journalists lived for a long time in this kind of fairy tale world, where their business model was great, and they had this space, and they controlled production as well as distribution.
Now, all that is coming crashing down. So there’s a possible opening there, but you still see this attitude flare up where journalists will say, “We’re not activists, and we have nothing to do with activism.” Well, good luck saving your institution with that.
Michael Delli Carpini: I’m cognoscente of the time, even though we started a little late, and I know we can go on for quite some time, but I’m going to give Barbie the last question.
Barbie Zelizer: Yeah, first of all, I keep saying the same thing, I’m getting very boring, but man, thank you. This panel was absolutely terrific, and it’s just really gratifying to see how each of the four panels went their own direction, gravelled into their own texture, and came up with really interesting insights, so thank you to all of you, including Claire, wherever she is.
I have a kind of unfair question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. We programmed you guys, the journalism panel, last because I didn’t want everybody to do what I thought they would do, which is think about journalism. And yet, I think I was right, because, of course, we’ve been talking about journalism, as Michael said, all the way along.
Have you learned anything from the other panels? Have you learned anything from the other panels that strikes you as fundamentally different from what we think of as media practitioners at risk when they are in journalism? And I know the panels aren’t easily distinguishable, they blend themselves, but I’m wondering if there’s anything that you heard that made you kind of sit up and say, hmm, that’s different?
Silvio Waisbord: To an unfair question, I will give an unfair answer. Yes. That’s the unfair answer.
Probably a better answer is, exactly what is it that I learned? That is the question of how do we define—the common thread to me is: who is on the line? Who defines who’s on the line? And sort of the ways we understand what the problem is. Probably one of the things that the Center could do, is to contribute the conversation in a way that we understand what risk is, to what extent media workers, journalists and others, think or do not think—or think that instead of risk, despite part of what you do as opposed to a fundamental human rights problem.
That is something that seems to me that we, I mean, consistently heard that in different panels, even though the specifics were about different issues.
Arzu Geybulla: The entertainment industry. I felt really close with the panel on digital, and documentary, and of course today, journalism—it’s what I do. But the entertainment panel was quite interesting in a sense that you watch these talk shows and you have a laugh, especially when they poke fun at the president here and you wish that such programs existed in countries where I’m from and where I live, but you know that is not possible. But you don’t ask the question about the risk within this industry. That was interesting for me, on a personal level.
Parker Higgins: I think that there’s a degree to which a lot of people, especially people affiliated with institutions in journalism, are facing the same risks as many of the other categories of media that we’ve talked about, but have not yet been as creative in their response. I think some of that is precisely what Jay was just talking about, where they have boxed themselves into a professional identity that relies on more of a code of conduct in a sense, many of which—many of the elements of that code are good, but there hasn’t been—hearing about some of the examples from the other panels of ways that documentary, especially filmmakers and people in the entertainment industry are addressing those risks, I was a little— I’m looking forward to when journalists and journalistic institutions are that sort of free-thinking about it.
Jay Rosen: The answer is yes. I can’t remember which panel it was, but there was a point where one of our speakers was talking about the forms of popular culture that actually grab attention now, which are usually not text-based. It made me think that the world of people who care about truth and verification is much larger than the world of journalism. What we really need are verification troops that can go out and fight that battle, and only a portion of them, a small portion of them, are going to be journalists.
So a really good example is John Oliver, who makes these arguments. They’re about stuff that’s true in the world. He has journalists on his staff. He cares hugely about verification because he doesn’t want to put a fact in there that somebody can say was made up or doesn’t withstand scrutiny. I think what we want, what we need, is like an alliance of people in entertainment and documentary, in activism, in journalism, all of whom start from almost, like, a holy belief in the power of verification—like, “this actually happened, you can’t wipe it away.” You can’t say it didn’t happen because it did happen.
I think the verification troops, as it were, are many and they have to kind of fight together, and really, journalism is like one division, one wing.
Michael Delli Carpini: I’d like to just add to that Soraya’s opening keynote, where I think the question of who defines risk is one of the crucial ones. Her answer that it’s often the same people who get to define almost everything and the problem that that uncovers as to going forward, not just in the case of gender and women, which is obviously crucial, but in terms of looking to other parts of the world, in terms of looking at risk that’s faced by other under-served, under-privileged groups in the various societies we look at—that going forward, that first question needs to be answered in a more holistic and open way as well.
So thank you very much. Thank you all very much.
We can now go to lunch.