CJR’s 10 most-read stories of the year

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The year 2016 was big for CJR: We welcomed a new editor and publisher, launched a new partnership with Columbia’s Tow Center, and experienced record traffic for CJR.org. We also published some notable content, such as our interview with Edward Snowden, an oral history of the 2016 campaign in collaboration with Guardian US, and our Delacorte study on news brands. If you want a good excuse to get away from your family during the holidays, feel free to revisit our 10 most read stories of the year. Here’s the countdown:

10. Why the controversy over an Iowa cartoonist is no laughing matter

A cartoonist named Rick Friday had been publishing cartoons in rural-Iowa newspaper Farm News for 21 years before his tenure was ended by a cartoon targeting Big Ag. A client affiliated with one of the companies mentioned in the cartoon pulled its advertising from the paper, and the publication dropped Friday. Former Delacorte fellow Jack Murtha looks at the history of cartoonist controversies as well as the reason why they draw so much scrutiny and anger.

9. ‘The Finkbeiner Test’ 

World Federation of Science Journalists President Curtis Brainard discusses how “journalists treat every female scientist they profile as an archetype of perseverance.” Brainard explains the seven-part test reporters can use when writing about female scientists to avoid “gratuitous gender profiles.” To pass the test, the story cannot mention the fact that she’s a woman, her child-care arrangements, her husband’s job, and other gender-oriented facts. (By the way, this is an archived story from way back in 2013; we have Buzzfeed to thank for giving it another run.)

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8. Maneuvering a new reality for US journalism 

Nic Dawes, who heads media at Human Rights Watch in New York, warns journalists that things are about to change under Trump’s administration. Dawes encourages journalists to get acquainted with tools they will need to fight for access in an autocracy. He warns that Trump will act on his vow to review America’s libel law framework, and get rid of presidential access as we know it. In response, journalists must “band together around positive principles—independence, accountability, ethical standards, and the defence of your rights, which must be fought for.”

7. What the media really should focus on with the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails

Months before the election, Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm pointed out a flaw in the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Despite having been accused of lying to the press and over-classifying information, news outlets regarded the CIA as a “neutral, all-seeing arbiter when it comes to secrecy.” Timm urges the media to “stop treating the contents of the email like they are huge national security secrets that imperiled the nation just because US intelligence agencies said so.”

6. Eight steps reporters should take before Trump assumes office 

The results of the 2016 election caused journalists to do some soul searching. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest offered reporters eight steps to take before Trump enters the White House, including joining forces to put together news tips. She also advises newsrooms to donate to legal defense organizations that will act when Trump attempts to squash press access.

5. What media companies don’t want you to know about ad blockers

In June, The New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson took a strong stance, announcing plans to prevent users with ad blockers from accessing its website. A week after, CJR columnist Timm wrote a column for CJR highlighting the fact that the Times was one of several major news outlets that gave users harmful malware through its ad networks. Additionally, Timm explains that advertisers often track users of news outlets. A Princeton study found that news sites were more likely to feature trackers than porn sites.

4. For journalists covering Trump, a Murrow moment

As news outlets began aggressively calling Trump out for falsehoods, we published a piece about journalists shedding detachment and objectivity. David Mindich, a professor of media studies at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, references Edward R. Murrow’s famous report condemning Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s fearmongering. Mindich argues that because Trump’s views continued to fall outside acceptable societal norms, journalists were free to push explicitly against him just as the CBS broadcaster had done against McCarthy in 1954.

3. Vice shows how not to treat freelancers

Journalists who worked with Vice revealed to CJR that the edgy publication has not exactly coddled its freelancers. Our late-August report revealed works were published without payment, promises of assignments were later rescinded, and questions about compensation were dodged. The report was written by freelancer Yardena Schwartz, who had a similar experience with Vice. After the report was published, the publication sent a memo to its global editorial staff detailing a series of steps to improve working relationships with freelance journalists.

2. In David Bowie coverage, the media forgot to mention a major aspect of the rockstar’s life 

The world lost David Bowie within the first two weeks of 2016 (which, in hindsight, may have been a harbinger for other horrible events of the year). Bill Wyman, former arts editor of NPR and Salon.com, wrote a piece pointing out that many obituaries glossed over the rockstar’s sexuality. He disclosed his same-sex attractions several times throughout his life despite having public relationships with women such as supermodel Iman. Wyman points out that Bowie came out at a time when homosexual acts were still criminalized in Britain.

1. Facebook is eating the world 

Our most-read piece of 2016 was a lightly edited version of a speech given by Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. She notes social media now controls the distribution of news, and news publishers have decided to work with the machine–not against it. Bell explains that tech companies did not create the technology with the goal of owning news and are “alarmed that this is the outcome of their engineering success.” Bell ends the piece arguing that “to be sustainable, news and journalism companies will need to radically alter their cost base.”

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Justin Ray is the digital media editor of Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter @jray05.