The media today: Layoffs, shut-downs and salary outrage

Layoffs, firings, shut-downs and other forms of downsizing in the media industry are nothing new, but the pace seems to be picking up speed—or perhaps it is just something that comes in waves, and we are in the middle of a big one. Whatever the case may be, there seem to be more announcements every day, and there are fears that recent news from Facebook about de-emphasizing news on the platform could accelerate the damage, as traffic and advertising continue to dry up.

Just a day after CJR wrote about the difficulties that some foreign journalists are having selling their freelance reporting, the director of the International Reporting Project at the public-policy foundation New America announced that the project is shutting down, effective next month. The IRP has funded reporting for more than two decades in over 115 countries. No reason was given for the decision.

Meanwhile, significant layoffs are under way at Digital First Media, a chain of newspapers, many of which are in California, including The Orange County Register. In a statement, the LA chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists expressed its “sadness, frustration and dismay” at cutbacks at the company’s Southern California News Group. “People often complain about unresponsive, unaccountable local government and vanishing local news is a large part of why this is able to occur,” the SPJ said.

More cuts have also come to The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, with 11 staffers losing their jobs, in the sixth wave of layoffs at the paper over the past several years. “You’re probably asking yourself, when will these cuts end? I wish I could answer that,” editor Mark Katches said in a statement to staff. “Although we have made progress growing our digital audience while also producing award-winning, and important journalism, the revenue picture continues to pose challenges for our company.”

Here are some more links related to this somewhat depressing cavalcade of bad news:

  • While reporting CJR’s recent story on the problems faced by international reporters, Yardena Schwartz confirmed that Foreign Policy magazine—which has historically been one of the most reliable destinations for freelancers who want to write deeply reported international pieces—is closing its foreign bureaus, something the publisher hasn’t yet announced officially.
  • Charleston Newspapers, a family-owned chain that published dailies and weeklies in a number of West Virginia towns including Charleston, Wheeling, Parkersburg and Elkins, said Monday it has been forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Charleston Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism last year for a story about the prescription opioid epidemic in the state.
  • Against the backdrop of so many layoffs in the industry, it’s probably not surprising that there’s a considerable amount of frustration (and perhaps more than a little envy) at reports that former Fusion writer Felix Salmon—who recently announced his departure—was being paid $400,000 a year, according to The Awl. Salmon was one of a number of high-profile hires Fusion made in 2014. In a cruel twist, the Awl is also shutting down due to a lack of funds.
  • While BuzzFeed missed its financial targets for 2017 and recently laid off more than 100 people (something CEO Jonah Peretti discussed with CJR in an exclusive interview), Vox Media chairman and CEO Jim Bankoff said in a memo to employees that the company hit its 2017 targets, although he admitted that hiring will slow this year and some projects will be “scaled back.”

Other notable stories:

  • Jeff Good, executive editor of New England’s Pioneer Valley Newspaper group, said in an email to staff that he had been fired for advocating for transparency and equal pay for female employees at the Daily Hampshire-Gazette and other papers in the chain, but the publisher and some former female editors at the group have disputed Good’s characterization of the reason for his departure.
  • New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo has figured out who is responsible for all the bad things on the Internet—the advertising industry. “The online ad machine is a vast, opaque and dizzyingly complex contraption with under-appreciated capacity for misuse,” he writes. “One that collects and constantly profiles data about our behavior, creates incentives to monetize our most private desires, and frequently unleashes loopholes that the shadiest of people are only too happy to exploit.”
  • Notorious alt-right personality Mike Cernovich is reportedly interested in bidding for the remaining assets of Gawker.com, the website that was once the cornerstone of founder Nick Denton’s New York-based media empire before a lawsuit from former wrestler Hulk Hogan forced the company to shut down. According to a pitch letter obtained by Vanity Fair, Cernovich wants to acquire the site for $500,000 and turn it into a destination for “viral content.”
  • Andy Fitch talks to Danielle Allen for the LA Review of Books, about the Harvard professor’s work chairing the Pulitzer board for non-fiction, and how this has shaped her thinking about the methods, forms, and outcomes that investigative journalism needs to function properly in a political environment like the one we are in now.
  • Lauren Katzenberg, co-founder and managing editor of Task and Purpose, the news site published by and for military veterans, announced that she is joining The New York Times as the editor of At War, a vertical the paper is launching soon that will focus on military conflicts around the world.
  • The Village Voice is moving back into the same New York building it vacated four years ago. The legendary alternative weekly just signed a lease for office space in 36 Cooper Square, where it was based from 1991 to 2013. As it struggled financially (it stopped printing a physical newspaper last year) the weekly was forced to move into a new office in the Financial District, but CEO and publisher Peter Barbey said he never stopped looking for a way to move back into the old neighborhood.

Twitter has been ignoring its fake account problem for years

Earlier this week, The New York Times had a piece describing how a number of celebrities, athletes and even politicians — including a British MP who is a member of Twitter’s board — bought fake Twitter followers. An online company sold fake accounts by the hundreds of thousands, including some that were copies of existing accounts, complete with the same name and photo as real users.

As shocking as this might seem, it is almost as old as Twitter itself. In 2012, Business Insider wrote about a security researcher who looked into the fake account problem by buying their own Twitter followers — 20,000 for one account and 70,000 for another. There were 20 eBay sellers and 58 websites specializing in selling fake accounts, followers and retweets. At the time, it cost about $18 for 1,000 fake followers.

In 2013, Nicole Perlroth wrote in The New York Times about people buying followers. The fake Twitter follower phenomenon had been in the news because Mitt Romney’s Twitter following jumped by 100,000 in a matter of days in the summer of 2012. Two Italian security researchers said at the time that there was a thriving market in fake followers — there were over 25 services that sold them.

Gilad Lotan, formerly of Betaworks and now head of data science at BuzzFeed, wrote about buying fake Twitter followers in 2014. He bought 4,000 followers for $5 and said even at the time “buying your way to status on social networks has become standard practice.”

The Times story describes how the company that sold the fake accounts had a stable of at least 3.5 million automated accounts or bots, each of which was sold multiple times, giving customers access to more than 200 million fake followers (it also sold fake followers on YouTube, SoundCloud and LinkedIn). The Times said it bought 25,000 followers and paid about a penny for each one.

According to some critics, Twitter has done very little about the fake account and bot problem because those accounts have boosted the size of its user base and generated a lot of activity, making the whole network theoretically more valuable in the eyes of investors.

In 2015, Leslie Miley — then an engineering manager at Twitter — found a huge number of spam accounts and bots with IP addresses located in Russia. He recommended that the accounts be deleted, but said that the company’s “growth team” refused to do so, he told Bloomberg. Some of those accounts could well have been among the bots that played a role in the 2016 US election.

The Twitter executives who told him to ignore the problem “were more concerned with growth numbers than fake and compromised accounts,” Miley said. According to Bloomberg, 10 other former employees confirmed that they had been told similar things by Twitter executives.

In March of last year, investor Chris Sacca, an early backer of Twitter, said that the bot and fake account problem was one of the biggest challenges facing the company. “Tackling the bot epidemic would hurt Twitter short term because it would depress user numbers,” he said on Twitter. “But it has to get fixed. It’s embarrassing.”

Whether or not it has deliberately looked the other way, Twitter has definitely done its best to downplay the size of the problem. For years, the company maintained that only about 5 percent of its users were fake, the same number that Twitter executives provided when they testified before Congress last fall about Russian interference in the election. A number of researchers, however, believe the real figure is closer to 15 percent.

When it first told Congress about Russian troll activity, Twitter said that just over 35,000 accounts were involved, but then in later testimony it admitted that more than 50,000 accounts were involved. As much as 45 percent of Donald Trump’s follower base could be fake or spam accounts, according to some estimates. His account added more than 7 million followers in a matter of months in 2017.

There were about 400,000 bots posting political messages during the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Twitter, according to a research paper by Emilio Ferrara, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California. He told Bloomberg that he has discovered that the same group of 1,600 bots tweeting extremist right-wing posts in the U.S. elections also posted anti-Macron sentiment during the French elections and extremist right-wing content during the German elections this year.

Bot networks have been found that number in the hundreds of thousands with accounts all sharing similar characteristics, suggesting that someone is using them for a specific purpose. The Russian troll factory known as the Internet Research Agency reportedly used large networks of bots and fake accounts to distribute fake news in order to try and destabilize the US election.

An analysis by researchers at Oxford University showed that more than a third of pro-Trump tweets and nearly a fifth of pro-Clinton tweets between the first and second debates came from automated accounts, which produced more than 1 million tweets in total. Researchers say trolls and bot networks were also active in the Virginia state elections, amplifying race-baiting tweets by Donald Trump.

One Russian and English language site called Buy Accs offers 1,000 Twitter accounts for $45. The Daily Beast bought 1,000 accounts with the pseudo-anonymous digital currency bitcoin. Other similar sites and services include SocialEnvy, Peakerr, CheapPanel and YTBot.

Bot networks are also used in some cases to attack journalists by flooding their accounts with suspicious activity, which often results in their accounts being suspended or banned. A Twitter spokeswoman told The Times that “we continue to fight hard to tackle any malicious automation on our platform.”

Jonah Peretti on Facebook’s changes, that revenue miss and how BuzzFeed is growing up

BuzzFeed co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti seems like the kind of guy who never sees the cloud, only the silver lining, no matter how dark things get. But even he admits his new-media empire has had a difficult few months. Revenue last year came in as much as 20 percent below targets (Peretti won’t say exactly how much), and more than 100 people were laid off. Then Facebook announced a controversial shift in its News Feed algorithm, one the company says will de-emphasize news from mainstream publishers.

This last item seemed to be a dagger pointed straight at BuzzFeed’s heart, since the company has built itself into a digital behemoth in large part by catering to Facebook’s whims with respect to content. In memos and interviews in 2016, Peretti talked about how the secret to BuzzFeed’s success was going to be a distributed publishing approach, one in which the company would be deliberately agnostic about which platforms its content appeared on. “Fishing for eyeballs in other people’s streams,” Peretti called it.

Is that stream drying up in Facebook’s case? And if so, how does the company plan to adapt after putting so much effort into integrating itself into the giant social network’s content plans? I asked Peretti about all of this and more during a wide-ranging interview, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

CJR: What do you think of Facebook’s latest changes to the News Feed algorithm? Do you think they will benefit BuzzFeed or hurt it?

Peretti: “A lot of changes that Facebook has started making really play to our sweet spot, which is making social content that is about bringing people together. It’s hard to predict, but I think overall it plays to the kind of content we tend to make. I think Facebook got too much into content that was just the kind of thing you could read on some random website, as opposed to something that really makes sense on Facebook. So to have more content that actually makes people happy or provides meaning in people’s lives or is about what they like to cook or what they do on the weekend, I think that’s very aligned with Facebook’s objectives.”

CJR: What about the impact this is going to have on news — are you concerned about how it’s going to impact BuzzFeed News, and are you planning to de-emphasize news as a result?

Peretti: “What we know is that there are a lot of young people, particularly young people who are really active on Facebook, who really trust BuzzFeed News, so I think we will do well. And we’re not de-emphasizing news at all, BuzzFeed News had a really tremendous year, we had a lot of scoops and high impact stories. There’s always a question of over time, what is the rate of growth of news vs. entertainment, and Tasty definitely grew faster than news. But I think news has been a part of a lot of great businesses throughout history. Once you build a great news-gathering operation there are a lot of things you can do. There are reputational benefits, and benefits to the world, but it’s also important to the platforms, to the Snapchats and so on, to have a source of digitally native news that is global.”

CJR: What do you think about Facebook’s plan to rank news sources based on trust. Do you think it will work?

Peretti: “If you look at how you would want to design a trust ranking if you were Facebook, you would want to have a pretty light touch. They don’t want to have some major news source like Fox News or the Washington Post or New York Times that is going to be hurt by the algorithm just because there’s lots of people who distrust it — they’re going to have to deal with the partisan issue and adjust for that. I think news sources that a large group of people broadly trust and that other non-partisan people have a neutral or slightly positive view of will do better. The real issue isn’t how high the HuffPost or Talking Points Memo should rank, the real issue is hundreds and hundreds of super sensationalistic news sources that no one’s ever heard of, they need to design a trust ranking that hurts those kinds of publications. I think it will be designed so that the broadest possible number of people get news they trust from a brand that they know, and so it minimizes the sites where they just spun up a page and called it Patriot News or whatever.”

CJR: Your end-of-the-year memo seemed much more negative towards Facebook than in the past. For example, you talked about how you think they need to pay media companies more for their content.

Peretti“When it comes to monetizing video, I think YouTube is doing a pretty good job of it. In Facebook’s case, there has been a lot of thought that in the future they might do a better job, but right now they’re not doing a great job. There’s a certain length of time you can wait for that future to arrive, and I think they need to accelerate that. Basically they have taken the approach that they will share money with our partners on new services, maybe Watch or Instant Articles, but they aren’t sharing on the main news feed, where they’re really good at generating revenue. Instant Articles is fine, it’s meaningful for us, but it’s still not a good enough product to support news, it’s still not paying enough to fund journalism. My main criticism of Facebook is they have done lot of experiments, but they’re making gobs and gobs of money on news feed, and their partners are providing a large chunk of that content, but that’s the one place where they’re not sharing revenue.”

CJR: Other than being a benefit for media companies who need more revenue, what would paying media companies do for Facebook?

Peretti: “I think it actually would be good for Facebook. If I were running Facebook, I’d want to be able to influence the news feed not just through traffic but also through money. If you want to get rid of fake news or sensationalistic content or whatever it is, the best way to influence the content that’s there and shape it in a positive way would be to say I am going to reward content with traffic — which they already do — but I’m also going to reward it with revenue. Those two things together would allow for an economic model that would give them some control over the news feed, but without that it’s very hard for them to control what’s in it. You can’t control random people who post things, and you don’t have much control over news companies if you’re not paying them anything. The reason cable operators paid for content was they wanted media companies to invest in better content so more people would sign up for cable.”

CJR: You said in the past that BuzzFeed’s strategy was “fishing for eyeballs in other people’s streams,” an approach that seemed to be based primarily on Facebook. But in your latest memo you seemed to be moving away from that.

Peretti: “I don’t think our strategy has changed so much as we’ve added to it. We started as a website, with native advertising as the main goal, we were much more vertically integrated, so we made our own ad products and so on. Then we shifted to a model where we wanted to be distributed, to make content that could be consumed all across the web, including on our own site. Then we had a lot of success reaching a huge audience across these platforms, so the next evolution of that strategy is to say, okay, we should focus on using that reach to build all these strong brands like Tasty and Goodful and BuzzFeed News, and then generate revenue in multiple ways from those brands. A vertically integrated company often will have one source of revenue, but for a company that’s distributing across many different platforms it makes more sense to have multiple revenue sources, because maybe you make money one way with Snapchat, maybe a different way on YouTube, maybe a different way on Facebook.”

CJR: There were a number of reports that BuzzFeed missed its revenue targets for 2017 by as much as 20 percent–is that true? And were the layoffs primarily an attempt to cut costs?

Peretti: “We had another year of growth in 2017, but we’re always trying to grow more and faster. I would say we had a good year but not a great year. What we saw was that growth was faster than expected in some areas, so what we did at the end of year was we restructured to focus on the areas where we were seeing lot of growth, like show development, commerce, programmatic, turnkey ad products and so on. The UK was a bit of a different situation, it was a tough business climate, and we invested more than we should have earlier than we should have.”

CJR: What were some of the things that didn’t work well in 2017?

Peretti: “Some of the products that were really big for us in 2016 didn’t grow the way we had hoped, some of the higher touch, labor-intensive creative work, the really strategic stuff where we partner with a brand and help them solve business problems. These were things that were more akin to a 30-second commercial. It’s pretty labor intensive and it’s less differentiated and it’s less social. There was demand from the market but it wasn’t an area where we felt we had enough of a competitive advantage, and it was something that was really underperforming relative to other products we had.

CJR: Those kinds of expensive, sponsored content deals seemed to be the core of BuzzFeed’s advertising and revenue strategy at one point. So they’re not any more?

Peretti: “We’ve always liked making really social types of content — we like making things that the audience will really love, and that people will share and have conversations around. It’s actually the stuff that was less native, and in some cases that was driven mostly by advertiser demand; it ends up being harder to make those, and it doesn’t play to our strengths. So the market was asking for something maybe it shouldn’t have been asking for, and we sometimes obliged more than we should have. In some ways I think we’re seeing social companies like BuzzFeed and Facebook kind of going back to their roots: With this recent change, Facebook is saying we want actual social content, not the kind of content you’d see on YouTube or TV. And what BuzzFeed has found is similar. We want to be organized around more social formats that causes people to have conversations, and to share and engage.”

CJR: You made a fairly big change recently by deciding to use programmatic and display ads on BuzzFeed, something that you have historically been pretty negative about. Why the reversal?

Peretti: “We figured that there are also ways we can generate additional revenue from all the content we’re creating that don’t take a lot of extra effort, like licensing our products or running programmatic across all the great content we’re creating. We were very careful as we tested programmatic, we took a small proportion of our audience and showed it to them, and we saw zero impact on engagement. So what I realized was that some of my thinking (about how bad it was) was out of date. One way of looking at it is we were already doing programmatic, just not on our own site — so we looked at how much revenue we were generating from YouTube and Snapchat and Instant Articles and thought, whoa, this is meaningful, why are we not doing this on our own site?”

CJR: A lot of media sites seem to have come to the conclusion that advertising is dead or dying, and that subscription models are the only way forward, but you seem committed to ads.

Peretti: “Really small outlets that are doing quality work definitely shouldn’t be embracing a business model that is about reach. If you have loyal fans, Facebook’s algorithm shouldn’t matter that much to you — ad-based business models that are based on algorithms giving you scale and reach are not great for smaller players. If you reach hundreds of millions of people a month like we do, advertising is a pretty good model, but if you reach a hundred thousand, it’s probably not a good model. But we’re also seeing that ads can be part of group of business models that can benefit from scale, such as Tasty licensing cooking products. There are also business models that benefit from deep engagement or small scale — so we did a test with early access to one of our shows, and lots of people were prepared to pay $2.99 to watch a show a week ahead of everybody else. So if you have a dedicated fan base that loves your content, there could be room for models like that.”

CJR: After the revenue miss, some analysts said the plans for an IPO were off. Have you given up on that idea or is it still a possibility?

Peretti: An IPO is one option among many. Our focus has always been to just build a good company for the long term and then you’ll have a lot of options.

Facebook’s latest changes could make the misinformation problem worse

When Facebook announced the latest changes to its News Feed algorithm, most of the attention focused on how the new ranking system might affect the amount of traffic coming from the social network—which isn’t that surprising, since many media companies depend on that traffic for a large part of their digital revenue.

An even more important question, however, is whether these changes will actually help to solve any of the major problems Facebook claims it is trying to solve, such as the proliferation of “fake news” and misinformation on its platform. The answer remains to be seen, but there are good reasons to believe that the latest algorithm tweaks could make the problem worse instead of better.

Here’s why: Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Mosseri—the man in charge of the news feed—said in separate blog posts that the new algorithmic approach is designed to get away from passive consumption (which they agree might not be good for users, a somewhat surprising admission) and to focus more on personal posts that generate discussion and engagement.

Zuckerberg said the changes would promote content that is likely to “encourage meaningful interactions between people,” while Mosseri said it would highlight posts that “inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments” and content “that you might want to share and react to.”

Media outlets are justifiably afraid this emphasis could hurt the reach of their news posts, because the assumption is that they won’t appear in a user’s feed unless someone shares them and they get lots of comments. What Facebook seems to be devaluing is the kind of passive consumption that makes up a lot of the news-related activity on Facebook–reading without commenting, watching videos with captions, etc.

The company says it plans to promote “reputable” publishers into feeds even if they don’t get a lot of engagement, but it’s not clear how it will define that term, or how much promotion such posts will get.

If the system is designed to encourage conversation and spark reactions, the risk is that the sites which could get the biggest boost from these changes are the least credible ones–publishers who specialize in either completely fake stories, or stories that have a grain of truth but are wildly exaggerated. Why? Because misinformation is almost always more interesting than the truth.

After all, fake news stories don’t have to stick to the actual facts, and they don’t have to go out of their way to be balanced or objective. The real news is complicated and often boring. As a former Facebook product manager put it during the 2016 election: “Sadly, News Feed optimizes for engagement [and] as we’ve learned in this election, bullshit is highly engaging.”

In a recent report from First Draft News that looked at how disinformation works, Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan pointed out that for many social-network users, sharing is performative—in other words, they don’t share fake news posts because they believe that they are think they are factually accurate, but because doing so fits the worldview of a specific group they would like to belong to.

Given all of these factors, which posts are likely to get the magic combination of comments and engagement that Facebook says it will now optimize for? The worst of the worst.

We already have some evidence that this is the case, because Facebook has been doing a “split feed” experiment in several countries for the past several months, in which users get a feed made up primarily of content from their friends and family, and news posts appear in a separate feed.

Slovakian journalist Filip Struharik, who has been studying the impact of the change on the media in his country, said that his research shows mainstream news sites have seen engagement on Facebook (reactions, comments and shares) decline much more than lower-quality sites. Serious news sites saw engagement by almost 40 percent, while sites that are known for misinformation saw a drop of less than 30 percent.

A survey done by BuzzFeed in 2016, meanwhile, showed that the top fake election news stories generated more total engagement than all the top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.

In other words, unless Facebook takes extraordinary steps to insert reputable news into people’s news feeds regardless of what the algorithm says, sensationalized or outright fake news stories are likely to spark far more engagement and discussion than serious news stories, and that is going to make it even more difficult to stop the misinformation problem from accelerating.

The media today: The relationship between trust and journalism is complicated

As media companies struggle to deal with the twin threat of financial collapse and Trump’s accusations of “fake news,” many have focused on trust as a solution. If readers trust them—or so the theory goes—they won’t be seen as fake news, and then readers might be inclined to support them financially. Unfortunately, the relationship between trust and journalism is more complicated than we like to admit, as a new survey released Tuesday confirms.

The joint study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation found most Americans don’t trust the news media to do a good job of making sure they have the knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs, but it also found trust was split along ideological lines: Almost 70 percent of Republicans said they had an unfavorable opinion of the media, compared with 54 percent of Democrats. For a combination of trust factors, including whether the media was biased or objective, the trust level of Republican voters was just 21 percent, while Democrats scored the press twice as high.

These kinds of results shouldn’t come as a surprise, since other polls have also found a decline in trust with a distinctly ideological bent. The annual Trust Barometer report from PR giant Edelman found an even larger gap in a survey conducted a year ago, just after the election: 85 percent of Trump voters said they didn’t trust the news media, compared to less than half of Clinton voters. And a survey from the Pew Center last year found a similar divide between Republicans and Democrats when it came to trust.

This problem extends to the idea of “fake news,” which experts like Claire Wardle of First Draft News say has become almost meaningless. According to the Gallup-Knight poll, most Americans said the term could even apply to accurate stories that portray politicians negatively, and 40 percent of Republicans said such stories are always “fake news.” Not surprisingly, the survey also found an ideological divide when it came to the severity of the problem: Three quarters of those who defined themselves as very conservative saw fake news as a very severe threat to democracy, while only 46 percent of Liberals agreed with that statement.

Here are some related links on the issue of trust and journalism:

Trust and media globally: The Pew Center recently released a new survey looking at trust and the media not just in the United States but globally, and there were some interesting differences between countries. Canada ranked highly for reporting on various subjects accurately, with about 75 percent of respondents saying they did, while the US ranked among the lowest, with just over 50 percent saying US media reported things accurately.

Can you automate trust? The Trust Project is an international consortium of news organizations–including Google and Facebook–led by journalist Sally Lehrman and hosted at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. One of the project’s most recent initiatives was the development of “trust indicators” that a number of media outlets have agreed to add to their publications. Google, Facebook and Twitter have also agreed to use them.

Building bridgesThe News Integrity Initiative was launched last year by Jeff Jarvis, who runs the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York, with $14 million in funding from Facebook, Mozilla and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. It plans to fund research and other activities that will “build bridges between the public and journalists to foster collaboration and develop mutual respect and trust.”

Good journalism isn’t enough: In a forecast for 2018, Molly De Aguiar–who runs the News Integrity Initiative–said that simply doing good journalism and hoping people will trust you is no longer enough. “If journalists want the public to listen, then journalists have to listen to the public,” she wrote. And if journalists want the public to care, “then journalists have to care about the public.” And that means listening to their concerns, not just seeing them as passive consumers.

Other notable stories:

Newspapers owned by Digital First Media are bracing for buyouts and layoffs after an announcement on Friday. The company, which is controlled by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, owns papers such as The Los Angeles Daily News, The Orange County Register and The Mercury News. Management warned of “significant” buyouts coming at most of the chain’s papers, as well as “involuntary terminations,” due to declining revenues.

A site called Babe.net touched off a firestorm of criticism and debate on the weekend when it published a woman’s account of a painful and humiliating date with actor Aziz Ansari. What is Babe.net? According to The Cut, the site is a women’s news and lifestyle site that has only been around about a year and is a spinoff from a site called The Tab, which is published by Cambridge University students.

The Awl, an independent arts and culture site created in 2009 by former Gawker Media staffers Alex Balk and Choire Sicha (who is now the editor of the Style section at The New York Times) announced on Tuesday that it is ceasing publication, with what an unsigned note on the site said was “a mixture of disappointment and relief.” The Awl’s sister sites The Hairpin and The Billfold will also close.

In an essay for Wired magazine, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci argues that while we may be living in a golden age for free speech, it is a golden age that brings with it a raft of social problems. In the past, the problem was that people were prevented from speaking, but now we have too much speech–a problem that has been exacerbated by platforms like Facebook and Google, who are monetizing the war for our attention.

YouTube announced some changes to its Preferred program, which gives video creators who gain a certain number of followers special treatment and access to premium advertisers. The company says all videos will now be reviewed by human moderators, a move that comes after former Preferred member Logan Paul was criticized for posting a video of a dead body in a Japanese forest that has become a popular location to commit suicide.

Facebook changes could be a way to kick media’s algorithm addiction

Changes to Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm often have the air of a Biblical pronouncement: Media companies know they will likely face serious consequences, because of their reliance on Facebook for traffic and advertising revenue, but the extent of the damage is often unknown.

Friday brought another in a series of such announcements, triggering a wave of anxiety at some outlets. But there are those who believe the bad news could have a silver lining, in that it might force publishers to wean themselves off their addiction to cheap social traffic.

There have been rumors for some time that Facebook was planning to tweak its algorithm to de-emphasize content from media companies, and the social network confirmed Friday that it is doing so, with blog posts from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Mosseri, the man in charge of the newsfeed.

Zuckerberg said users have told the company that “public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” So it is going to emphasize content that people find engaging (i.e., they comment on it) rather than posts where they passively consume information.

The result of this change in focus from information to sparking conversation, Mosseri said is that some professional pages “may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease.”

https://twitter.com/CaseyNewton/status/951619699829219328

The changes aren’t likely to be quite as dramatic as the split-feed test that Facebook has been conducting in a number of countries such as Sri Lanka and Cambodia, where media outlets said their traffic fell by as much as 60 percent, but it could have a significant impact for some publishers that rely on Facebook traffic.

In particular, companies that have chosen to focus specifically on short-form video because that kind of content seemed to work well on Facebook—such as Mashable, BuzzFeed and NowThis—could find their traffic impacted severely.

Some are hopeful that Facebook’s changes, while painful, could convince publishers that cheap traffic from a social network is no replacement for real engagement with passionate audiences.

In The Atlantic, Franklin Foer said Facebook is doing the media a favor. “It has forced media to face the fact that digital advertising and ever-growing web traffic will never sustain the industry,” he wrote, “especially if that traffic comes from monopolies like Facebook.”

While that may be true, the fact remains that if media companies are addicted to Facebook’s algorithm-directed traffic, Facebook is the one who helped get them hooked on it. The company has spent years pushing media outlets to integrate themselves into its network, via video broadcasts and mobile formats like Facebook’s Instant Articles.

For awhile, this seemed like a win-win situation: Media companies got to increase their reach at low cost, and in some cases they even got a share of the advertising revenue from Facebook (if they were large enough and important enough to be partners).

Over time, however, some publishers say they have seen smaller and smaller returns from the social network, either in traffic terms or in revenue terms. And in order to achieve the same kind of reach they had before, they have had to resort to paying for their content to be promoted. That’s a win for Facebook, but not necessarily for cash-strapped media companies.

https://twitter.com/dskok/status/951636110404304896

With these changes, Facebook may improve the newsfeed for users who want to connect with their friends and family and not be disturbed by news and other content. But it will also likely boost revenue by forcing more of those publishers to pay up in order to promote their content.

And will these changes have an impact on the misinformation problem that Facebook says it is concerned about, where “fake news” created by Russian trolls and other malcontents has reached millions of users and possibly affected the outcome of the US election? That’s harder to say.

In some cases, the focus on posts that encourage engagement could actually make the fake news problem worse, since hoaxes and conspiracy theories often draw huge amounts of engagement, as former New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers pointed out on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/espiers/status/951799510887526400

Facebook says it will highlight “reputable” news stories in the feed, but it’s not clear exactly how it plans to define that term. The company has said one criteria is whether a publisher has a paywall or subscription model (based on the theory that if people pay for it, it is more likely to be high quality), which would help The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, but not other advertising-reliant outlets.

While it may be better in the long term for media companies to rely less on Facebook-generated traffic and advertising revenue, the reality is that many of them are already in that situation, and extricating themselves from it isn’t going to be easy.

Even BuzzFeed and Mashable, two entities that seem purpose-built for Facebook and the algorithmic newsfeed, have found it difficult to generate as much revenue as they thought they would. BuzzFeed reportedly missed its 2017 targets by as much as 20 percent, and Mashable was forced to sell itself to Ziff Davis at a fraction of its previous value.

Moving from an advertising-focused model to one that relies on reader subscriptions may be the prudent move, but getting from point A to point B could be difficult, and some companies may not be able to make the transition. For them, Facebook’s latest algorithm could be what Mother Jones senior editor Ben Dreyfuss called “an extinction-level event.”

Europe tries to fight hate, harassment and fake news without killing free speech

A toxic combination of misinformation, hate speech and online harassment is pushing several European countries to take action against social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but some believe their actions — however well-intentioned — run the risk of stifling free speech and putting dangerous restrictions on freedom of the press.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom are all either discussing or are already in the process of implementing requirements for social networks to take measures to remove or block online hate speech, harassment and so-called “fake news.”

“The real concern here is that all of these measures cede control to unaccountable actors,” says Jillian York, the director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who is based in Berlin. “These are knee-jerk proposals that fail to take into account the ways in which companies have utterly failed to protect important speech, and are therefore unqualified to do the job.”

Facebook, for example, routinely removes content or blocks accounts without saying why, and even if the content or accounts are later reinstated, the company rarely explains why it made the decisions it did, except to cite its “community standards” rules.

French president Emmanuel Macron said in a speech to journalists last week that he is considering introducing legislation that would require social networks such as Facebook to be more transparent about who pays for sponsored content, and he is also thinking about giving the French media regulator more power to block or remove “fake news” content during elections.

“If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules,” Macron said, adding that France’s media watchdog, the CSA, would be given the power to fight against “any attempt at destabilisation” by media outlets controlled or influenced by foreign states, such as the Kremlin-linked TV network Russia Today.

Observers say the topic of fake news is of special interest for the French president because he sees himself as the victim of fake news stories that ran during the most recent election, including rumors that he was being bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, that he has offshore bank accounts and that he is engaged in a secret homosexual affair.

Critics, however, say Macron’s proposed legislation would not actually solve the problem. “The law focuses on the trees rather than the forest,” French law professor Alberto Alemanno wrote in an essay for Politico responding to the news. “As such, it will remain irrelevant and aggravate the root causes fueling the fake news phenomenon.”

In Germany, the primary concern is hate speech, and the German government is much farther down the road than most other European nations when it comes to implementing new rules governing such behavior. The recently implemented Enforcement on Social Networks Act requires social networks to remove specific kinds of content or face fines as high as $60 million.

The risks of this kind of measure backfiring have also become obvious, however: Citing the German law, Twitter recently removed an account belonging to Titanic, a satirical magazine that posted tweets designed to be a parody of anti-Muslim sentiment.

Despite such incidents, observers say that a number of other European countries including France and the UK are watching Germany with interest, and are considering following its lead when it comes to introducing legislation aimed at forcing social networks to police their content.

Alison Langley, a freelance journalist and adjunct professor of communications at Webster University in Geneva, said that the moves by France, Germany and the UK come amid a growing concern about the actions of the Russian government in conducting a misinformation war online, something that she says predates the U.S. election. A recent report by the U.S. Senate came to a similar conclusion.

“The EU has been fighting this for some time, and even NATO is worried about how this is affecting the Baltic states and Ukraine,” Langley said. “The problem with disinformation in general is a lot more sophisticated than what people see in the United States. And when it comes to hate speech, Europe has been rocked by self-radicalized extremists, and they feel they need to combat that problem while still keeping the right to free expression.”

While France is concerned about fake news and Germany worries about hate speech, in the United Kingdom the government has put pressure on the social networks — and raised the threat of potential legislation — because it believes that online harassment aimed at politicians and other public figures is putting democracy at risk.

A recent report from the Committee on Standards for Public Life took Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to task for aiding and abetting in harassment of politicians.

“Social media can lead to widespread access to ideas and information, but they can also facilitate abuse by those who seek to see certain individuals pushed out of public life,” the authors of the report said. “Some MPs and candidates have disengaged entirely from social media due to the intimidation they have received.”

Among other things, the committee recommended new legislation to make social-media companies liable for illegal content and to force them to remove content that might be legal but could also be seen as “intimidatory.”

Critics such as the Index on Censorship, however, say a requirement that media outlets consider whether their content might “undermine public trust in the political system” would be a gift to any politician who wants to challenge a news story, according to Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “Rather than enhance democracy and freedoms, as this report claims to want to do, this risks damaging it further,” she said in a public statement.

Alison Langley: Freelance writer and adjunct professor of communications at Webster University in Geneva; two really separate issues — one is how to combat disinformation; has been a campaign going on from Russia well before the US election, EU has been fighting this (EU vs disinformation website), NATO is worried about how this is affecting the Baltic states and Ukraine, working to debunk this misinformation — so problem with disinformation in general, way more sophisticated than what people see in the United States, have been dealing with Russia for a lot longer; when you talk about hate speech, there’s a whole range — extreme groups like ISIS, Europe has been rocked by self-radicalized extremists, they feel they need to combat it while at the same time keeping to constitutional rights of free expression… then there’s a whole continuum of speech including teenagers bullying someone or homophobia, etc.; European Commission has attempted to define it, came up with a code of conduct that Internet intermediaries signed, referring to illegal content such as pro-Nazi statements in Germany, they said we will police ourselves, in October of 2016 a review said it was mixed — YouTube was doing a good job but Twitter and Facebook not so much; EU is saying if you want to do business in our country you abide by our laws, Internet intermediaries will argue that they have to do business in many countries… companies have gotten away for too long saying we can’t do this, but finding that they can but only under pressure, they’re trying to find a cheap and easy way to do it; European countries say they are dealing with extremism, there’s been too many bombs, many governments believe much of the extremist behavior and rhetoric is coming from really borderline comments made by far-right groups… the anti-Muslim videos, is that legal? Is it an incitement to violence? German law builds on that, that’s why the Titanic thing raised — EU has said they don’t believe it’s time yet to start fining (Jourova, EU commissioner for digital issues)… she was harassed and vilified on Facebook to the point where she had to delete her account; then went out and referred to it as “a highway for hatred.” She said they want to see if the voluntary code will work… May says they want to do it, France says they’re looking at Germany and saying if it works then we will probably start doing it too; proponents say it will only affect criminal content, incitement of violence against a group, but the opponents say that Facebook, Google and Twitter and Facebook are not media law experts and so far not doing a great job of deciding what to remove; when Titanic was blocked, somebody asked the Justice Minister Heiko Maas for help, used the hashtag Je Suis Charlie; if they are trying to prove that they can self-regulate, they’re not doing a great job… second issue is society’s desire to crack down on impolite speech that is still legal, and third issue which Macron is eager to address is fake news, because he’s been the victim of fake news during the election; he’s got parliamentary majority, when he says I’m going to do it this year, pretty likely it will go through, that’s how French politics works; will force transparency as to who is paying, and will give authority to block or remove it, but they will have the right to contest — says will allow speedy trials for those whose content is blocked or removed; is it you’re going to be censored and then you get to contest it, or are you going to be censored and then you have to contest it? Big difference. Written into the EU statement of rights, in addition to freedom of expression there’s also the right to dignity, lot of people who have been victims of hateful speech are saying I have a right to be on the Internet and be spoken to with dignity… lot of female politicians like Eva Glavishnik are taking hateful commentators to civil court, she said that’s the only way to get these comments taken down, Facebook says she is a politician so she’s a public figure; everyone always talks about free speech in libertarian terms, but there was a view of speech that used to exist that was more communitarian, does it support the community… obviously that is a slippery slope; Rights of Man in France, same year as the First Amendment, there were three newspapers and all were heavily censored, after the Rights more than four thousand papers were published, incredibly polarized, every little viewpoint had their own paper; same thing happened in the US; Sam Adams was so fed up with fake news that he proposed to censor them, came out with the Seditions Act, put newspaper editors in jail; just as the Paris Council did; then Jefferson, a former newspaper guy, prevailed and repealed the Seditions Act, widely believed by 1st Amendment historians that he’s the one who saved free speech, while Napoleon came into office in France; so maybe US can’t do anything about it, but Europe can… are the Internet companies going to regulate themselves or are they going to try and get governments to do it? The Internet companies will say they are worried that EU laws will become the norm for the world, but there is a precedent for selective regulation — they do it in Spain with the right to be forgotten, Twitter does it with Germany and Nazi content

The Ingram Family — A Year In Review

The Ingram Family — A Year in Review

I would like to start off by apologizing to all the devoted readers of the annual Ingram Family Christmas Letter (you know who you are) who may have noticed that they didn’t get one this year. That’s because I — as the sole editor and publisher of said letter — decided to hold the presses for some breaking news: Namely, the New Year’s Eve wedding of our oldest daughter, Caitlin Lee. If you have any complaints about this decision, please forward them to this address: youredead[email protected].

Describing Caitlin’s wedding as breaking news might be a bit of an exaggeration — after all, we knew that it was coming ever since they got engaged last November. We were all overjoyed at this news, because her fiance turned husband Wade is a terrific guy, a fellow nurse who fits Caitlin to a T and is also a great co-parent to my favourite grandson, a Border Collie named Kip who joined their family in 2017. The three of them took some amazing engagement photos in the fall.

Caitlin and Wade met after a mutual friend introduced them, and we all knew they were fated to be together when Caitlin started a quote from Lord of the Rings about potatoes, and Wade completed it with “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.”

The couple planned the entire wedding themselves (with some valuable and much-appreciated advice from their parents, of course) and it went off without a hitch. It was held at a historic paper mill turned boutique hotel in St. Catherines, Ontario called the Stone Mill Inn that has a big sweeping staircase where they took most of their pictures. Also, by a weird twist of fate, Caitlin’s dress came from the Rebecca Ingram line, because that’s the designer’s daughter’s name.

It was a great party, and a great way to ring in the new year, with friends and family all gathered in a cozy hotel away from the polar vortex outside. Zoe and Meaghan were gorgeous as bridesmaids, Becky looked fantastic and made a great speech that included some of her mother Edie’s memories of when she first met Caitlin as an baby, and Caitlin and I danced to a recording of me playing and singing Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird,” which was a real treat. I even managed to make it through without crying like a baby.

I also managed to make it through the night in a standing position despite having about nine shots of Don Julio tequila with a variety of friends and family members, something that may come as a surprise to those of you who know that I rarely drink!

As I said in my speech, Becky and I are delighted to have added Wade to our family because he is clearly head-over-heels in love with Caitlin and they make such a great couple. I like him so much that I’m prepared to overlook minor flaws in his personality, such as the fact that he drinks tea instead of coffee, occasionally pronounces the word “milk” as “malk,” and likes musicals and country music, both of which I have an aversion to.

Even if you exclude the wedding, we had a pretty great year, all things considered. We started as we almost always do, with great food and winter-type festivities with friends in Buckhorn, including an unusual sport called Snow Frisbee, which I think Barb and Lori invented. In early February, I made a quick trip to Paris and stayed in a lovely little hotel near the Boulevard St. Germain, where I indulged in two of my favorite Parisian things: A coffee at Les Deux Magots Cafe (where philosophers like Sartre used to hang out) and a “croque monsieur” — basically a ham and cheese sandwich made of French toast — near the Louvre.

We also made our usual trip to Ottawa to skate on the canal for Winterlude, but there was a heat wave and the ice was almost unusable, it was so slushy. So we just walked around and got Beaver Tails and hot chocolate and poutine and tried to pretend that it was winter.

In March, Becky and I joined her brother Dave and his wife Jenn and some friends on a cruise to San Juan, St. Maarten and St. Kitts. It was a great ship with lots of features and great food, and we did a bunch of trips including a hike around the old fort in San Juan, a catamaran snorkel tour in St. Maarten and a glass-bottom kayak trip in St. Kitts. Unfortunately, many of the places we saw were later destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

In April, we made our annual trip to Italy for the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, and this time after the conference we took a few days and went to Turin, which is in the north. I was invited by my friend Anna Masera, who runs the journalism school at the university there, to speak to her class and then she took us on a tour of the city — including a trip to the famous Cafe Bicerin, where they invented the delicious coffee and chocolate drink of the same name.

From Turin we took the train to Cinque Terre, a string of five picturesque old fishing villages that cling to the hillside in what’s called the Italian Riviera. We stayed in a tiny room at the top of a staircase that had about a hundred steps, a room with a balcony from which we could see the whole coastline.

In addition to some great restaurants — we ate one night on the parapet of an old fort from the Middle Ages looking out over the sea — there are hiking trails between each of the villages. Normally you can hike the entire route, but several of the trails were closed due to rock slides when we were there, so we hiked from Vernazza (the second village) west to Monterosso, which took about two hours but was ridiculously picturesque.

Then we took a train to the far eastern village of Riomaggiore, walked around there a bit, took the train back west to the next village of Manarola and did some sightseeing, then took the train to Corniglia and had a bite to eat before hiking the hillside trail back to Vernazza, which took another two hours or so. We got in just in time to see the sun set.

We got back home just in time for torrential rains to cause widespread flooding in Ontario, which brought the level of the lake at our cottage up about four feet higher than normal. We were okay because the cottage is elevated, but others were not so fortunate. I took a trip around in my kayak and paddled right up to the doors of some cottages. I also rented a kayak and paddled over to the Toronto Islands, most of which were closed due to flooding.

June brought with it the first Ingram-family wedding: The marriage of my niece Lindsay to her husband Keenan Viau, which took place at a nature reserve north of Toronto, where they were married under a wooden bower in the forest by Keenan’s father. It was a lovely wedding, and much fun was had by all.

The summer brought with it some good news — lovely sunsets and many coffee-cruise boat rides with my mom and Becky, as well as plenty of beach and kayaking and bonfire time. But it also brought some bad news, as I was laid off from my job with Fortune magazine. On the upside, I had the summer off, so I bought five tons of river rock and spent a couple of months using it to build up the bank that got washed away by the flood.

We also rented the same cottage on Lake Muskoka we did last year with Becky’s family, and spent a great week near Bala swimming and playing board games and just generally laying around in the sun and water. One night it was so clear and warm that I paddled my kayak over to the legendary Kee to Bala concert hall, which is right on the water.

Then we visited our friends on Go Home Lake, where we had our annual French toast breakfast on the dock, among other things. We also went for a great canoe trip, which I had pictures of until I rolled my kayak in the rapids and lost my phone 🙂

In August, Becky and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary by spending the weekend at Bartlett Lodge, a quaint little resort in Algonquin Park that is reachable only by boat. We rented a lovely little suite in a cabin on the property and went for an epic four-hour hike on one of the nearby trails — one that involved a lot of sliding around in mud, unfortunately, since it poured rain after we started out. We decided it was a metaphor for marriage! On the upside, once we got back tired and muddy and cold from our hike, we had a nice hot shower and an amazing gourmet meal waiting for us in the lodge, so it wasn’t all bad.

As if we hadn’t had enough of a workout, we then went on a three-day canoe trip with our friends Marc and Kris and Sandra, with two 350-metre or so portages from lake to lake. Along the way, we took some time to watch the total eclipse of the sun from our canoes and kayak, which seemed like a very Canadian thing to do. It rained one day, but the other days were beautiful and we did some great star-watching from the rock face near our campsite.

September was unusually warm for some reason — close to 30 degrees Celsius — which made for some great beach time after a cool and wet summer. Luckily, our friend Anna Masera chose that time to come for a visit from Italy, so we had a beautiful few days of kayaking and hiking and sunsets. She saw a bald eagle up close, and had a loon pop up right beside her kayak, so I feel like she is part Canadian now.

In October I made a quick trip to Munich for a web conference, where I saw as much of the city as I could in a few days, and was quite impressed. From there it was down to New York to meet the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, where I accepted a job as chief digital writer, which I was pretty excited about. Columbia has a great journalism school, and CJR is a great magazine all about the issues that interest me most about the evolution of media.

On my first day, I took the train from New York to Washington to sit in on the Senate and Congressional hearings into Facebook, Google and Twitter and how the platforms were used by Russian troll factories to spread misinformation during the U.S. election.

After that it was pretty much just a countdown to the wedding of the century. Becky and I went to Kingston to see Elton John with Becky’s brother and sister-in-law, which was hugely fun. And we saw Zoe perform in a play called Concord Floral at the University of Kingston, where she is now in her second year taking psychology and drama.

We did some other fun things too, like going for a Beaver Tail and a skate down by Ontario Place one December night, and visiting the Christmas market at the Distillery District. We even got some skating in on the pond at The Farm between Christmas and New Years, because the temperature went down to around minus 20 Celsius — so it turned out to be a short skate. And I got to play with my Christmas present, an awesome “vacuum syphon” coffee maker just like the ones they used to use back in the 1800s. I love it because it looks like something Jules Verne would have used.

And then we had the nuptials of Caitlin and Wade to cap off a great year, and now we are into 2018! Hope you and yours had a great 2017 as well, and that 2018 will be even better. You can reach me at [email protected] and Becky is [email protected], we are both on Facebook and you can see all of these photos as a Flickr slideshow if you want to. Happy New Year from the Ingrams!

The media today: Bannon gets the boot from Breitbart

Michael Wolff’s blockbuster book about the White House — Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which arrived with a bang a week ago — appears to have claimed its first victim: Not only has former Trump adviser Steve Bannon been ousted from Trump’s inner circle and also publicly renounced by the president, on Tuesday he was removed from his position as executive chairman of Breitbart News.

According to reports from multiple outlets, Bannon was terminated at the request of Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire who has given significant amounts of money to Trump and to Breitbart News. In a statement posted at the Breitbart site, Breitbart CEO Larry Solov called Bannon “a valued part of our legacy,” and the former chairman said he was “proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world-class news platform.”

Privately, however, the Mercers were said to be furious at some of Bannon’s comments to Wolff, including the part where he called Donald Trump Jr. “treasonous and unpatriotic” for meeting with a Russian agent in an attempt to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. After the book came out, Rebekah Mercer gave a rare public statement in which she rebuked Bannon publicly for his remarks and said he didn’t have her support either financially or ideologically.

Bannon’s case wasn’t helped by a report that he had helped shop around an opposition research report during the Republican primaries that was designed to call into question Trump’s ability to act as president. After the Wolff book blew up last week, Bannon tried to mend fences by releasing a somewhat grovelling statement to the New York Times saying he was sorry for some of the things he said in Wolff’s book and had nothing but the highest respect for Trump and his administration. But by that point the writing was clearly on the wall.

Here’s more on the rise and fall of Steve Bannon:

Staffers stunned: One Breitbart employee told CNN that staffers at the site were taken aback by Bannon’s sudden departure. He has been seen by many as the ideological leader of the site since founder Andrew Breitbart died in 2012.

The answer is no: Just a few days before Bannon’s ouster, the New York Times wrote a story entitled “Bannon Needs Breitbart. Does Breitbart Need Bannon?”

Calling Trotsky: Zero Hedge, a financial blog popular with the alt-right, says Bannon broke with Trump because he “became infected with the Trotskyite virus of ‘permanent revolution’ and turned against his benefactor out of ideological spite.”

Accommodation wanted: Many in Washington are wondering whether Bannon’s falling out with the Mercers means he will have to give up residence in the Washington townhouse/party complex that is also Breitbart’s office.

Other notable stories:

— The Committee to Protect Journalists gave Donald Trump an award for “Overall achievement in undermining global press freedom,” saying he has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with other repressive leaders such as Turkish president Reycep Erdo?an and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

— Harper’s magazine is reportedly working on a cover story that will identify the woman who created the “Shitty Media Men” list, an Excel spreadsheet that surfaced late last year listing men who were known for harassing or abusing women. Some have argued that identifying her could put her life in danger.

— Reporters at a Newseum event discussing sexual harassment in the newsroom talked about how the New York Times continues to employ reporter Glenn Thrush despite multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior towards women. Some argued that the Times has not been transparent enough about the process.

— The internet and social media may be everyone’s favorite hobby-horse, but there was a time when low-power FM radio stations were a big deal, and apparently they are becoming popular again despite an abundance of digital competition. Dozens of communities and interest groups have filed for licenses or are already running their own mini-radio stations.

— The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interviewed an 11-year-old boy whose newspaper delivery job is disappearing because two of the country’s media chains swapped ownership of dozens of community newspapers and are shutting down more than 30 of them.

No, Twitter shouldn’t ban Donald Trump

Let’s face it—Donald Trump, the 65th president of the United States, is a classic Twitter troll. The Troll in Chief, if you will. He routinely uses the platform to lash out at his critics , he peddles fake news and conspiracy theories, and he has repeatedly threatened to start a nuclear war with North Korea.

But does all of this bad behavior mean Twitter should ban him from using the social network? No, and there are several compelling reasons why.

Calls to ban Trump have been around for some time, based on the idea that his routine harassment of other users represents a breach of Twitter’s code of conduct. But the pressure on Twitter to take action has ramped up recently, driven in part by tweets like the one he posted Tuesday, in which he belittled North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and bragged about the size of his “nuclear button.”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/948355557022420992

Leaving aside the fact that there is no “nuclear button” on the desk in the Oval Office, a number of commentators—including some journalists—argued that this behavior was beyond the pale, and that Twitter should take action not just for the sake of other Twitter users but for the safety of the U.S. as a whole. A scientist working with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (the ones who run the Doomsday Clock) called Trump’s tweets about North Korea “an existential threat to humanity.”

Writing in The Atlantic, meanwhile, Conor Friedersdorf said Trump’s tweet was “the most irresponsible tweet in history,” and called for the platform to block not just the president but all world leaders. Twitter “encourages impulsive hostility” and the results of such behavior are “potentially catastrophic,” he said.

Twitter has said that Trump’s tweet about North Korea didn’t breach its rules because it isn’t a specific call for violence against an individual. And in the past, when the topic of his tweets has come up, the company has said it makes an exception for statements that are considered newsworthy.

The company has a point. Whatever its flaws, Twitter is one of the primary news-delivery mechanisms of the 21st century, and the statements made by the president of the United States are by definition newsworthy. After all, according to both former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the Department of Justice, Trump’s tweets are considered official statements from the president.

Apart from their news value, Trump’s tweets also provide something else, and that is a real-time look inside the mind and psyche of the president of the United States. It may be a dark place, and looking into it repeatedly may be soul-destroying and depressing for a number of reasons, but it is still arguably valuable to have those thoughts out in public where we can see them.

“We learn an enormous amount about his mindset from his tweets,” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter said in an interview earlier this year about Trump and Twitter. “It’s a raw, shocking use of media by a president, like he’s hosting a late-night talk show—picking fights, getting even with enemies.”

Banning Trump would also be an example of the kind of censorship Twitter and Facebook arguably already do too much of.  It’s true that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private corporations like Twitter, who are allowed to regulate their content in any way they wish, but the idea that we should ban people from using dominant social platforms because we don’t like what they say is problematic.

Obviously, Donald Trump has innumerable other ways to get his message out to the American people, but that doesn’t change the fact that banning him from a platform like Twitter just because we don’t like the things he is saying would be a drastic overreaction.

This all leads to the third point, which is that blocking Trump from Twitter would be a big, fat present to the alt-right and conservative movements in the U.S., and to any of his supporters, because it would give them even more ammunition to argue that left-wing social media platforms are out to get conservative voices and remove their content whenever possible.

Are there risks in having the president tweet whatever pops into his mind? Of course. The idea that he could tweet his way into a nuclear war with North Korea seems like a bit of a stretch, but he can certainly complicate negotiations with all sorts of countries (and probably has), not to mention affecting the share price of public companies, targeting people for criticism unnecessarily and so on.

Another risk is that the media will pay too much attention to specific tweets by Trump, some of which could be designed to distract or shift attention away from other things, like the investigation into ties between his campaign and Russian government operatives. For a press corps that is desperate to generate traffic and revenue by any means possible, Trump’s Twitter pronouncements can be like manna from heaven.

These are all valid points to make when criticizing the president’s tweets and/or the media’s response to them. But that doesn’t mean the president should be removed from Twitter completely—and doing so could have far more negative consequences than it would positive ones.