a Friday, April 1st, 2022

WNYC removes dozens of articles over attribution issues

WNYC removed forty-five stories from its websites, wnyc.org and Gothamist.com, according to an announcement on the site today, because they contained “unattributed passages from other sources,” in forty-two of the cases, and had been “published on other websites by the author” in three of the cases.

It is the latest development in a long-running series of investigations at the station and its websites over attribution, which CJR detailed as part of a longer story about the newsroom’s recent struggles

The articles were all written by one person, as Audrey Cooper, the station’s editor in chief, told her staff in a newsroom-wide meeting today, according to a recording of that meeting. She declined to name the person, but said the time frame for the retracted stories stretched back to 2010. 

The stories were uncovered after the station commissioned an outside auditor, she said. Cooper then reviewed the articles herself using Grammarly and Copyscape software. Cooper said the station appended editors’ notes to each article “as soon as we confirmed the findings of an outside auditor.”

She said the station will continue to remove articles that violate editorial standards as it finds them, and that the station has searched for plagiarism on air, though that process is much more challenging.

“We take these issues really seriously and we are addressing them as part of a process with our legal and HR teams right now. Due to the fact that we are doing that process and the confidentiality of those processes, I’m afraid I don’t have a lot more to say than that,” she said. 

 

 

a Friday, April 1st, 2022

Unionized journalists at Miami Herald, sister papers to walk out

Unionized staff at three newspapers in Florida—the Miami Herald, its Spanish-language sibling El Nuevo Herald, and the smaller Bradenton Herald—are refusing to work for one day Friday amid ongoing contract negotiations with their owner, McClatchy.

The union has been engaged in more than two years of bargaining over demands including the introduction of paid parental leave and pay equality between Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald journalists.

Joey Flechas, a city hall reporter at the Miami Herald and a union cochair, cited a fifteen-year veteran of El Nuevo Herald still earning $49,000 a year—while a ten-year employee at the English-language paper is earning $80,000. “It’s the same work,” Flechas said. “And it’s especially offensive in Miami, where our culture is deeply tied to the Hispanic diaspora and Spanish-speaking population.”

In October 2019, prompted by rounds of layoffs and buyouts, a majority of the combined newsroom of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald (which totals about 100 people) voted to unionize with the NewsGuild–Communications Workers of America. Employees of the Bradenton Herald unionized in 2020 and are in the midst of negotiating their own, separate contract.

“They unionized to save their own publications and their jobs,” said Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA. “The thing that always surprises me with these companies like McClatchy is how aggressive they are at fighting journalists.”

A McClatchy spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The company, based in Sacramento, operates thirty daily newspapers, seventeen of which are unionized. It has owned the Miami Herald since 2006, when it purchased Knight Ridder, the paper’s previous owner. 

Herald employees described today’s action as a “walkout,” but they don’t mean it literally. There’s nowhere to walk out of. In the summer of 2020, McClatchy gave up the lease at its physical newsroom in a Miami suburb, citing the covid-19 pandemic and cost-cutting measures. Just before contract negotiations began, in February 2020, McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; Chatham Asset Management, a New York hedge fund, bought it for $312 million.

During the virtual walkout today, the union bargaining committee and its supporters are gathering at a hotel conference room downtown. There they will talk to McClatchy (and their lawyers from Jones Day, a firm famed for fighting unions). 

Other union demands include experience-based salary floors, protections against outsourcing, and higher gas mileage reimbursement. Their current rate is 33 cents per mile, though the IRS standard mileage rate is now 58.5 cents per mile. 

Many union demands have been met by McClatchy since bargaining began—they are just not extended to union employees. Last year, McClatchy implemented a company-wide parental leave policy, its first ever, but denied it to a new mother in the Miami Herald newsroom.

a Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

The government compelled Microsoft to turn over emails, Project Veritas says

US attorneys investigating the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary during the 2020 election campaign compelled Microsoft to turn over emails from nine accounts associated with Project Veritas, a conservative group known for hidden-camera sting operations designed to embarrass liberals and mainstream news outlets, according to a court filing from Veritas that Microsoft confirmed.

According to the filing, beginning in November 2020, under Attorney General Bill Barr, attorneys for the Department of Justice obtained secret warrants, nondisclosure orders, and a subpoena demanding Microsoft share emails and contact information from the Veritas members, who use Microsoft cloud software.

In a motion filed yesterday, Veritas condemned the surveillance as overly broad—in one case stretching back eight months before the group began pursuing the diary—and asked a judge to halt use of the information obtained via Microsoft.

A Microsoft employee shared the information with Veritas earlier this month after the nondisclosure orders were lifted. “It is our policy to always push back on legal demands for enterprise customer data and to notify the customer as soon as we’re legally able if we’re forced to comply with such orders,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. “We did both in this instance.”

The American Civil Liberties Union lent Veritas its support, with a caveat. “We deplore Project Veritas’s deceptions, and we don’t have a full picture of the government’s investigation,” said Brian Hauss, a senior ACLU staff attorney. “But we’re concerned that the precedent set by this case could have serious consequences for press freedom.”

A Department of Justice spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

James O’Keefe, Veritas’s founder, says his organization did purchase the Biden diary, which it ultimately did not publish. But he said in an interview that Veritas was not directly involved in its theft, and is therefore protected under the law.

“If it was illegal for someone to receive a document that a source stole, then you should incarcerate all people at the Washington Post and New York Times,” O’Keefe said by phone yesterday.

Government lawyers seem to be suggesting that Veritas’s involvement was more direct, and they have resisted categorizing the group as journalists. “There is no First Amendment protection for the theft and interstate transport of stolen property,” they wrote in a filing. In November 2021, roughly a year after the first subpoena of Microsoft, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York found probable cause to authorize a search warrant of O’Keefe’s apartment related to federal crimes including “conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines” and “interstate transportation of stolen property.” Searches were also executed at the homes of two other Veritas members.

A month after the raids, a judge agreed to appoint an independent third party, known as a special master, to review the materials seized by FBI agents. But even after the raids were highly publicized, US attorneys sought to extend the nondisclosure orders against Microsoft.

a Monday, February 14th, 2022

Project Veritas pokes at the New York Times but loses a legal battle

Project Veritas, the right-wing website that often publishes surreptitiously recorded and selectively edited videos to embarrass liberals and mainstream media outlets, continued a battle against the New York Times this weekend by posting edited video of two depositions from a lawsuit the Times is engaged in against Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and candidate for vice president in 2008. 

Palin alleges that the Times libeled her in a 2017 editorial that inaccurately linked her to the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that wounded US representative Gabby Giffords and killed six people. In the videos posted by Project Veritas two former members of the Times editorial board answered questions about the editorial process. The videos were “sliced and diced,” a lawyer for the Times in the Palin trial said. The Times’ legal team argued that the evidence, which was not admitted at trial, could interfere with jury deliberations.

Separately, last week, a New York State appeals court stayed an order that had kept the Times from publishing certain material about Project Veritas. First Amendment advocates and a group of sixty-three media organizations that joined a legal brief on behalf of the Times had decried the unusual order as an unconstitutional example of prior restraint, a form of censorship before the fact.

“Prohibiting a news organization from publishing information of public interest is clearly unconstitutional,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which filed the amicus brief. “It was unconstitutional on day one, and it’s unconstitutional on day eighty-five, and we’re glad to see it lifted.”

Justice Charles Wood, a Westchester County trial court judge, had signed the order against the Times on November 18. It blocked the paper from publishing attorney-client privileged materials from Project Veritas—something the paper would normally be within its right to do, so long as it hadn’t actively stolen them.

In their arguments against the order, lawyers for the Times warned that it could set a dangerous precedent. In the future, they wrote in a filing, “any individual or organization wanting to limit unfavorable news coverage could simply file a libel suit over an earlier story and then use discovery orders to censor or prevent future reporting.” 

A four-judge panel agreed to the stay last Wednesday, February 9, until a formal appeal is heard on or before March 11. But the appellate court did not agree to vacate the order permanently, noted Libby Locke, an attorney for Project Veritas, who said she was confident that the court would ultimately side with her client.

A spokesperson for the Times, Danielle Rhoades-Ha, said she was pleased with the decision. “The use of prior restraint to prohibit newsgathering and block the publication of newsworthy journalism is unconstitutional,” said Rhoades-Ha. “No libel plaintiffs should be permitted to use their litigation as a tool to silence press coverage about them.”

The background to the case is here

a Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

What it looks like to decenter the official story

Among the many browser tabs I toggled between yesterday in nervous anticipation of a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial were two video livestreams. One showed a static, unfocused close-up of the Minnesota state seal, at the courthouse. The image was quiet, still, neutral-looking, as if the world were waiting in silence for the judge to appear and make a definitive pronouncement of the truth. This video was from the New York Times. The other frame couldn’t have been more different: it was crowded, busy, and filled with noise from protest chants, speeches, and conversation in George Floyd Square, a memorial to Floyd at the site of his death. This video came from Unicorn Riot, a decentralized media collective. The camera, moving from the rally’s speakers to a mural on the wall of Cup Foods to chalk drawings and flowers, never showed a reporter; the camera’s operator spoke only to give bare exposition and interview people at the scene. 

Screenshot from Derek Chauvin Trial Day 28, Jury Verdict, on Unicorn Riot’s YouTube channel

 

Like most major news outlets, Unicorn Riot had streamed from inside the courthouse for the duration of the trial. But alongside that footage it had also provided extensive live coverage of demonstrations. In doing so, it provided an alternative to the picture viewers saw on cable news. In the past year, professional journalists have become more aware of their complicity in police narratives—especially the practice of basing stories on official statements and shrouding police violence in obfuscating language like “officer-involved shooting.” But even as copy style and headlines have changed, the imagery widely shown upon the announcement of Chauvin’s verdict revolved, still, around the activities of the state—the courthouse, the legal actors—and the opinions of media pundits. By contrast, Unicorn Riot’s ongoing presentation of resistance, documented without commentary or narrative shaping, put protest on equal footing with the trial itself. It is of course meaningful that Chauvin was convicted of murder (now, some journalists observed wryly, we can finally use the word “murder” and drop the “alleged”), but it is just as important to show the emotion unleashed within Floyd’s community—relief, grief, celebration, “revolutionary joy.” This is what it looks like to treat coverage of the “official” story as just one story among many.

This article has been updated to correct a description of Unicorn Riot.

a Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

The Trump press corps prepares for a new era

As the Trump administration ends, and the Biden administration begins, major news networks and outlets are shaking up their White House reporting staff.

At the New York Times, Maggie Haberman will be stepping down from her role as White House correspondent to write a book about the Trump presidency. She will continue covering politics. The Washington Post announced yesterday that Ashley Parker, who covered the Trump administration closely, will become the paper’s new White House bureau chief, replacing Philip Rucker. And at CNN, Kaitlan Collins will be replacing Jim Acosta as chief White House correspondent. Acosta will become the network’s chief domestic correspondent. ABC, CBS, NPR, and others have also shuffled their staffs.  

At PBS’s NewsHour, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, producer Meredith Lee, and anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff will remain in position for the Biden administration. “It would be great to be able to take a vacation and go out, but we’re living in the middle of a pandemic,” says Alcindor.

Reflecting on the past four years, Alcindor said she felt particularly proud of a November 2018 exchange in which she asked Trump whether he was emboldening white supremacists. Trump called the question racist. “It was a question that revealed where the president stood,” she says. 

“I think the Trump presidency really revealed that journalism is a core part of our society and a critically important part of our democracy,” Alcindor said. “If we don’t embrace journalism in a way that’s fearless, and in a way that is blunt, and in a way that pushes this country to really look at itself fully, then we’re not doing it right.”

She hopes that covering the Biden administration will provide the opportunity to focus less on the president’s behavior and more on policy. “We were all kind of drinking out of a firehose, trying to process all of the different things that were happening,” Alcindor says of the past four years. The challenge, she says, is to address “the different aspects of our society that we just haven’t spent time delving into, because we were instead focused on sort of reality TV, and rhetoric, and rallies.”